The WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards’ winners are selected by a unique judging process. Lead judge Graham Miller explained to Ian Taylor

The 15 finalists for the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards have already been subject to a stringent selection process, with up to 70 applications in some categories whittled down to just three.

But the real judging process begins now with onsite evaluations of the finalists.

Lead judge Professor Graham Miller of the University of Surrey describes the process as “rigorous”, insisting: “I wouldn’t take part in an awards process where I couldn’t go on site and test. You can’t come to any kind of decision you can have confidence in.”

He explains: “We have a pool of judges, academics and consultants, people from government and previous winners, with a geographical spread, a gender spread, a spread from the developed and developing world.”

The onsite evaluators are chosen from among these “on the basis of geography, language, diversity, gender. An Australian expert may carry out an on-site visit in Indonesia, for example.”

Site visits take place through February and March “typically over three to four days each” and an assessment “can extend to mystery shopping”.

Miller says: “In general, one person visits one place with a briefing document to make the assessment. Sometimes two may assess a bigger company where there is a need to look at multiple components.”

He reveals: “We’ve had assessors come back from [evaluating] finalists which have won other awards and say ‘Over my dead body should they win’.”

Miller says: “The job of the onsite evaluator is to test whether what is said in the application is true, that there is evidence of what they claim. It can be they are just good at PR.

“If it is simply a case of who has saved most carbon, that is easy – check the electric meter. It is who is working hardest in the context they are in. It’s easier to recycle if there is a weekly recycling van, for example.”

In selecting the finalists, he says: “The first thing we want to see is something different. Second, we’re looking for scalability. Could this get bigger and have an effect on the industry? Third, is it replicable? The aim is not just to congratulate people, but to change something. We want to develop best practice. If the circumstances are unique, you can’t replicate it.

“Fourth, it needs to be financially sustainable. Things that are grant-dependent don’t do well as soon as the funds dry up.”

Miller adds: “I’d like to see more applications from bigger organisations.” But he insists: “We don’t favour an organisation because it is achieving more in absolute terms.

“When we get applications from big organisations we divide their achievements by the resources they have and then look at what a smaller company is achieving.

“We should hold bigger organisations to a higher level of expectation. Some small organisations are achieving relatively a lot more with smaller resources.”

Miller says: “I’ve been involved in the awards for 10 years. It’s hard to say whether standards have risen. What is different is the seriousness with which people are managing sustainability. That has changed, particularly in the last five years.

“We see more evidence of measurement and monitoring. People have more sense of what they are doing and why.”

*Graham Miller is executive dean of the faculty of arts and social sciences at the University of Surrey.