The trophy was awarded in Hyderabad, India, at the 78th Skål World Congress. It is certainly one of the most prestigious trophies in the sphere of eco-tourism as Skål International is the largest tourism association in the world.
The Skål ceremonies have been increasingly successful since their launch in 2002 to highlight the best tourist practices in the world and also to familiarize the rest of the tourist industry with this new concept, which emphasizes the interactions of the physical, cultural and social environment, the responsibility of the traveler and the need for active community participation in the protection of the planet. 2017 being the year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the ceremony took on a whole new dimension.
Ten categories were rewarded, Transportation was one of it. The selection was based on a set of criteria such as nature preservation, carbon footprint, climate change mitigation, human rights protection, local employment, etc.
Grégoire Moutardier, General Manager of Okeanos Sustainable Sea Transport Ltd. Vanuatu, said he registered online early this year for the nomination. “I had to fill in forms about all different kinds of topics to make sure that we were strong contestants,” he said. “I decided to apply for this award for the incredible renown that Skål has but also because it was an open registration. Contrary to many labels and contest for which you have to pay to surely get the certificate of prize, Skål didn’t ask for money.’’
Okeanos Sustainable Sea Transport Ltd is a young company in Vanuatu. It is mainly about a traditional canoe, “vaka”, propelled by technologies which do not use fossil energies: Coconut oil for their engine, and solar panels for their electricity. On board, plastic is avoided as much as possible. « Our toothbrushes and sunglasses are made of bamboo, our flip-flops are biodegradable, no straw, our food comes from the local market, we recycle everything that can be recycled in Vanuatu etc. », says Grégoire Moutardier.
Okeanos Vanuatu aims to propose an alternative means of transport for the archipelago. « We are committed to eco-tourism, always in partnership with communities, to promote the protection of the ocean in a country so exposed and so little informed. Our activities also include awareness-raising campaigns, assistance in the event of a cyclone, and safeguarding the culture of celestial navigation by bringing the premises to this almost extinct practice. »
For the young company Okeanos Vanuatu this award means that they are moving in the right direction, the Skål award encourages them to continue their way.
« This award is likely to attract the attention of some tourism stakeholders in Vanuatu and, I hope, inspire them. », says Moutardier. « Okeanos Vanuatu is such a young company, and being recognized by this renowned entity, in our first year of operation, is an honor and a blessing. »
The vaka motu Okeanos Vanuatu is a fossil-fuel free vessel, mixing sustainable transportation, ocean conversion and tradition revival. It is a sailing canoe built according to traditional Polynesian design that runs only on solar panels and has a coconut oil powered engine. It was built to make a difference, and it does.
The vaka is not exactly new in Vanuatu. It has been here and there for almost two years, right after cyclone Pam. The boat and its crew have helped with disaster relief work by delivering crops and seedlings to the different islands where the agriculture was weakened or destroyed. Today the vessel mainly offers tourist services or is used for scientific expeditions.
« Join our one-day tour and sail around the island of Lelepa and you can be submerged by its history, bath in its water before enjoying local food made by the nearest community. It is also possible to charter the boat for a day or more », says Grégoire Moutardier. « The crew will talk about our sustainable boat and its impact fighting climate change as well as about the cultural history of Vanuatu but also give crash courses in traditional sailing. A la carte and bird watching tours are also among our future activities. The vaka and its crews aim is to raise awareness and be a suitable way of discovering Vanuatu’s wonders. Get on board! »
Article by Flo Vanua and Grégoire Moutardier; all pictures: Okeanos Foundation for the Sea