Fiona Jeffery OBE, chair of water aid charity Just a Drop, explains why she is spearheading the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards

It was almost 20 years ago, shortly after I became head of World Travel Market (WTM), when I realised the importance for our industry of the looming environmental debate.

I was struck by the simple fact that if we didn’t do more to protect the places our industry sets out to promote then we would have nowhere to promote and no businesses to run.

So I felt there was a job to be done in educating our industry how to take greater responsibility for the protection of the places we visit and the communities we engage with.

That was the thinking behind the launch of WTM’s World Environmental Awareness Day in 1996.

This ultimately evolved into World Responsible Tourism Day in partnership with the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) at WTM, which is now a three-day educational programme dedicated to the full range of environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability challenges that affect and impact our industry.

From water to rainforest, climate change to community development and species protection, there is probably nothing that is an issue for the planet or our industry that has not been discussed within WTM’s responsible tourism programme.

When I left WTM after 26 years in 2013, I wanted to continue devoting my time to things that make a difference to our industry such as chairing Just a Drop, the charity which galvanises our sector to provide fresh water and sanitation to communities around the world.

I jumped at the opportunity to take on the newly-created role of chair of the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards when David Scowsill, president and chief executive officer of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), asked me.

I am not an environmental academic or expert but, like millions of others, I care passionately about our industry and its future and have a desire to make this issue relevant, accessible and important to industry professionals wherever they are in the world.

The Tourism for Tomorrow Awards do exactly that by celebrating the best examples of sustainable tourism business and destinations around the world.

Winners have to go through the most-rigorous assessment process of any awards in our industry.

In an area that is often seen as a bit esoteric, academic, full of jargon or too ‘big picture’ the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are a way of bringing sustainability back to earth and making it relevant to every one of us.

The awards have been an established part of our industry for more than 20 years and are among the most prestigious in the industry.

They provide a way of sharing best practice which everyone in our industry can understand.

The Tourism for Tomorrow Awards can help set standards and make a real difference to businesses wherever they operate in the world.

I feel honoured to be leading them to the next stage of their development.