The Tourism for Tomorrow Awards for sustainability form a key part of the World Travel and Tourism Council’s global summit in Dallas which opens today. Ian Taylor reports

Credibility is crucial to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, according to lead judge Graham Miller.

Professor Miller, head of the school of hospitality and tourism management at the University of Surrey, presides over the process of picking 15 finalists from around the world and organises on-site evaluations to inform the selection of five winners.

He believes the rigour of the judging process makes the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards unique.

Miller, who took over as chair of the judges two years ago, is sensitive to criticism that sustainable tourism awards can highlight small examples of good practice while less-sustainable practices dominate. He said: “It’s important we have winners that could make a significant difference across the industry.

“The awards provide fantastic examples of sustainability, but are they enough to keep pace with the scale and growth of the industry? The awards only have credibility if projects are financially sustainable, replicable and scalable.”

That does not rule out smaller projects, especially as a ‘bigger’ project or programme may not be large relative to the size of a business, but Miller insisted: “We want winning projects to be scalable and replicable.”

Miller and his fellow judges examined 160 applications this year. He explained: “Baseline sustainability criteria apply across all the awards. Then there are specific criteria for each category. Projects need to have been in operation for three years, except in the innovation award category where it is just a year. We want to spin out new sustainability ideas.”

The initial screening of applications involves 15 judges – a mix of practitioners, academics and government representatives. “They are people who know their stuff,” said Miller.

The judges ‘score’ the entries, but Miller said: “It’s not like the Eurovision song contest. Three or four judges look at each category in detail, normally ending up with a top four. Then there is a process of due diligence.”

Miller chairs two-hour phone conferences with the judges in each category to identify three finalists for each award.

It’s what happens next that sets the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards apart. A fresh team of judges carry out on-site evaluations of the finalists. Miller said: “I believe we’re the only awards to send people to verify the information in applications. We had people in the field for more than 60 days in January and February.”

Assessing just one of the finalists involved three evaluators in “40-plus interviews in three countries”.

Miller said: “I look at each assessment as a different research project.”

Citing the example of the Innovation Award, he added: “You have to look under the bonnet, at what data is put in and what assumptions are made.

However, the process is two-way. Miller said: “We’ve introduced feedback for applicants and the quality of on-site inspectors helps the projects. It is three days free consultancy.”

The final part of the process is led by chair of the judges Fiona Jeffery, who joined Intrepid Group chief executive Darrell Wade, Caribbean Tourism Organisation secretary general Hugh Riley, and Forum for the Future deputy chief executive Stephanie Draper in picking five winners.

The winners will be announced at the WTTC Global Summit in Dallas on Thursday (April 7).