November 12 (PR): The Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2012 were announced at an Awards ceremony held at the World Travel Market 2012 hosted by renowned BBC Hardtalk host, Stephen Sackur. The Khaplu Palace & Residence (KP&R) of Gilgit-Baltistan region restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture received ‘Highly Commended’ in the ‘Best in poverty reduction’ category of the responsible Tourism Awards 2012. This was the only project from Pakistan that won an award at the prestigious ceremony.
The Responsible Tourism Awards, founded in 2004 are the most prestigious awards of their kind in the world and are organised by founder responsibletravel.com, with support from media partners Metro, Geographical Magazine (the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society), and World Travel Market, where the Awards are given out. The Responsible Tourism Awards celebrate and inspire change in the tourism industry. The Awards rest on a simple principle – that all types of tourism, from niche to mainstream, can and should be organised in a way that preserves, respects and benefits destinations and local people. Since they were founded, the Awards have attracted over 10,000 nominations from members of the public, leading to 201 unique organisations awarded from 51 countries around the world.
Khaplu Palace was restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s local company Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan with the generous support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy Islamabad. The Palace has been open since July 2011 in Baltistan as a heritage hotel managed by Tourism Promotion Services offering 21 rooms, of which six are in the Palace itself. Over 70 percent of income is spent locally, allowing for Khaplu Palace to be an anchor-point for development.
The judges wrote that, “The Aga Khan Trust for Culture focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalization of communities in the Muslim world fostering community-based cultural heritage development. They have successfully combined conservation, restoration and re-use for tourism; and the rehabilitation of cultural crafts and historical assets. They have used an entrepreneurial approach, building capacity and developing skills to enhance cultural and natural tourism, improving living conditions and reviving local pride and sense of identity”. The judges noted that, “The restoration work at Khaplu has taken five years, building on previous experiences at Baltit, Altit and Shigar, the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan has maximized the local economic impact and the judges were impressed by the detailed measurement and reporting of both the social and economic impacts of the restoration programme in the construction and operational phases.”
The judges also noted that, “…between 2006 and 2012 individuals from over 400 households in Khaplu were employed and trained in construction work and the hotel employs individuals from 35 households”.
Previously Shigar Fort, also restored by the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan, was awarded the winner in the ‘Conservation of Cultural Heritage’ category at the Responsible Tourism Awards held in 2008 in London.
The Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCS-P) won its first international award in 1997 following the restoration of the historic landmark Baltit Fort in 1996. Since then, AKCS-P has won another 16 awards which include 11 consecutive UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation, two Pacific Asia Travelers Association Awards, two Virgin Responsible Tourism Awards, and two British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.