The heroes of travel 2019 named: The inspiring people behind your holidays

Travel is a little like theatre – much of the magic happens behind the scenes. We all know that a great guide can help to bring a destination to life, but they are not the only ones who lift your holiday to the next level.

Often, our travel experiences are shaped by people that we never meet – from the behind-the-scenes hotelier who creates a one-of-a-kind boutique hideaway to the environmental campaigner who tackles difficult local issues and encourages travellers to do their bit.

These people are travel's heroes, as recognised by Traveller on Sunday in this, our third annual edition recognising their achievements and their positive impact on our travels and the ways in which we travel.

From India to Fiji, from Mongolia to West Africa, this issue celebrates the people who make a difference to the way we travel. Their ranks include restaurateurs and eco-warriors, architects and of course tour guides – all people who help us experience the world in a new way.

WENDY MORRIS, CAMPAIGNER FOR THE GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA

Depending on the day, Wendy Morris may be giving a speech in Shanghai, attending a board meeting of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Association or working on her clothing collection, which draws on the colourful patterns of reef fish and raises money for the reef. And that's the thread behind everything this marine biologist gets up to – a passion for conserving the reef and sharing its beauty with other people. See reefsociety.com.au

GIRISH JHUNJHNUWALA, FOUNDER, OVOLO HOTELS, HONG KONG

Who would have thought you could make a killing with a free mini-bar? Girish Jhunjhnuwala did. The Hong Kong-based entrepreneur recently celebrated the 10th birthday of his Ovolo brand – coinciding, unfortunately, with the ongoing unrest in the former British colony – known for its good-value room rates that include breakfast, Wi-Fi, snacks and even laundry. Not content with six hotels in Australia and two in Hong Kong, Jhunjhnuwala has launched a second brand, Mojo Nomad, and is eyeing new territories with rumours there is a Bali property up next. See ovolohotels.com.au

MANJIT SINGH, CALCUTTA PHOTO TOURS, INDIA

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Manjit singh
Image supplied via journalist for use in TRAVELLER.

You will come home with much more than just brilliant photos when you take a tour with Manjit Singh because you connect with locals in a way that you didn't think was possible. Singh has been shooting in Calcutta's most colourful neighbourhoods for years and knows not just the most scenic spots, but all the behind-the-scenes stories. He also has strong relationships with the locals, ensuring a warm welcome for his clients. See calcuttaphototours.com

JOHN AND PAULINE GANDEL, CREATORS, POINT LEO ESTATE, VICTORIA

For some people, planting 20 hectares of vineyards might be the culmination of a dream. For the Gandels, it was just the beginning. Since establishing their Mornington Peninsula vineyard 13 years ago they have dotted 60 artworks around their sprawling grounds to create a memorable sculpture park, as well as opening not one but two acclaimed restaurants. With so much to do at Point Leo Estate, we suspect that some visitors never get around to tasting the wine. See ptleoestate.com.au

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ROBINA HANLEY, SIEM REAP ART TOURS, CAMBODIA

Want to see street art by some of the best names in the business, or slip on a handmade silk piece by a designer who has worked for Christian Lacroix? Then you need to get in touch with Robina Hanley, the founder of Siem Reap Art Tours. She has the stars of Siem Reap's creative community on speed dial, and can tailor a tour to suit your interests, from contemporary art to traditional handicrafts. See siemreaparttours.com

GRAHAM AND JUDE TURNER, OWNERS, SPICERS HIDDEN VALE, QUEENSLAND

The Turners aren't short of a quid, being the owners of the multi-national Flight Centre travel agency empire, and they are willing to direct some of their wealth to the best of causes. Not content to create one of the country's finest regional retreats in the form of the bucolic Spicers Hidden Vale, an hour west of Brisbane, the Turners have also funded a state-of-the-art wildlife conservation research and teaching centre on the property. The centre's project includes an intensive koala population study in a part of Australia, where the iconic marsupial is seriously threatened. See spicersretreats.com.au

KENGO KUMA, ARCHITECT, TOKYO OLYMPICS STADIUM, JAPAN

This legendary Japanese architect and Tokyo University professor uses ethically sourced wood and other natural materials to bring nature to urban environments. His temples to timber include the new, and at one point controversial, Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium and the giant basket-like Darling Exchange building in Sydney. You can even stay in one of his creations: ONE@Tokyo, near Tokyo Skytree, has a host of innovative minimalist rooms ideal for solo travellers and then there's Kuma's arresting lobby and entrance at the Japanese capital's reborn Capitol Tokyu Hotel. See tokyo2020.org/en/; onetokyo.com; tokyuhotels.co.jp

NAN HAUSER DIRECTOR, COOK ISLANDS WHALE & WILDLIFE CENTRE

They call her "the whale lady" around Rarotonga, but then Nan Hauser has devoted the past 30 years to working with humpbacks. As the principal investigator for the Cook Islands Whale Research Project, she was a key player in creating a 2 million square kilometre whale sanctuary across the Cook Islands. If that's not enough, she uses her spare time to help locals in the remote Northern Group (of the Cooks) in her other role as a nurse. See nanhauser.com

CHRIS MORRIS, OWNER NORTHERN ESCAPE COLLECTION, QUEENSLAND

With the opening of Mount Mulligan Lodge in Tropical North Queensland, Northern Escape Collection has completed the trilogy of reef (Orpheus Island Lodge), rainforest (Daintree Eco Lodge) and outback secluded getaways. Chris Morris conceived the Northern Escape Collection to allow travellers to experience the region's natural beauty while treading lightly on the planet. Morris, together with his daughter Hayley and family, are committed to sustainability and giving back through Northern Escape Collection's charitable fund, the Morris Family Foundation. See northernescape.com.au; morrisgroup.com.au

GRETA THUNBERG, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST, SWEDEN

After inspiring more than 4 million people in 185 countries to strike for climate action last month, Thunberg made headlines for her impassioned speeches at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September. The "Greta effect" is influencing travel too, particularly in Europe where the controversial flygskam (Swedish for flight-shame) has sparked a boom in train travel to reduce carbon emissions. Thunberg may not be exactly travel's best friend, but she has awakened us to the issues around how we travel. See fridaysforfuture.org

PHRED COLLINS, NATURALIST, HAIDA GWAII, CANADA

The wildlife surveyor, naturalist and bird expert has been living and working on the remote stretch of wilderness known as Haida Gwaii,Canada's answer to the Galapagos, for nearly 20 years. Collins works closely with Haida communities and is careful to acknowledge it is Haida land and he is a settler there. When he's not conducting field research to help protect, conserve and better understand the region's delicate ecosystems, he works towards finding more sustainable ways for its decades-old logging industry to operate. See gohaidagwaii.ca

MATT LEEDHAM, FOUNDER, TRAVEL TO CHANGE THE WORLD, AUSTRALIA

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MATT LEEDHAMFounder, Travel to Change the World
Image supplied by Matt Leedham for use in TRAVELLER only. Contact Matt Leedham for any other usage matt@karryon.com.au 

Recognising a growing appetite for sustainable travel stories on his travel trade website KarryOn, Byron Bay writer and creative director Matt Leedham, originally from the UK, created Travel to Change the World in May. The new website is a platform for positive, inspirational stories about individuals and businesses making travel more sustainable and aims to inspire travellers to make better decisions when journeying. See traveltochangetheworld.com

HENRY FITCH, MANAGING DIRECTOR, TEARDROP HOTELS, SRI LANKA

Since opening its first property in 2008, Teardrop Hotels has been reshaping the hotel scene in Sri Lanka. The group has refurbished a trio of heritage tea bungalows in the hill country with great sensitivity, as well as dilapidated mansions in Colombo and Galle Fort, giving them new life as boutique hotels. Teardrop is run by a trio of Englishmen, but Fitch is the man on the ground, criss-crossing the country he now calls home, to ensure the properties are running smoothly, and leaving the country in a better state than when they found it. See teardrop-hotels.com

MASANORI SHINTANI, FOUNDER, EN-YA MT FUJI ECOTOURS, JAPAN

Conservation starts with community, says environmental scientist Masanori Shintani. After working on ecotourism projects in developing countries, he decided to apply this idea to his home village, and others like it, at the base of Japan's highest peak by setting up En-Ya Mt Fuji Ecotours in 2017. He now runs day hikes and bike rides, and soon an eco-camping experience, in Fuji's forested foothills, creating employment and empowering communities to protect the environment. See mtfujiecotours.com

CAMERON GRANT, CO-FOUNDER, UNYOKED, AUSTRALIA

Cameron Grant and Chris Grant - Unyoked
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Cameron Grant, founder, Unyoked
Credit: Tommy Cunningham
Image supplied by Unyoked for use in Traveller only.

Cameron Grant and Chris Grant.

Three years ago, Grant and his twin brother ditched their corporate jobs to create Unyoked, pioneering architect-designed tiny house weekenders they call "hideouts". These low-impact escapes outside Sydney and Melbourne aim to reconnect city dwellers with a simpler, more natural way of life. Over the next year, their original six hideouts will be joined by 15 new ones, most in new locations outside Brisbane and Canberra, in northern NSW and in Tasmania. See unyoked.co

CAITLIN GARCIA-AHERN, FOUNDER, THREAD CARAVAN, MEXICO

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Thread Caravan
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Through her week-long artisan workshops in Mexico, Guatemala, Morocco, India and Panama, 29-year-old Caitlin Garcia-Ahern employs local artisans to help educate travellers on the cultural importance of their work. Whether she's escorting travellers to Guatemala to learn natural dyeing and weaving techniques, or to Mexico to dig clay from the earth to create ceramics, Garcia-Ahern is helping conserve these centuries-old craft techniques. "Preserving these cultural traditions is so important – for humanity, but also for the health of our planet," she says. See threadcaravan.com

BEN DEVLIN, OWNER, PIPIT RESTAURANT, POTTSVILLE, NSW

Ben Devlin walked away from his job as executive chef at two-hatted restaurant, Paper Daisy (at Halcyon House) to open his own sustainable restaurant Pipit on NSW's Far North Coast, which recently received a chef's hat in the Good Food Guide 2020, published by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Serving dishes cooked simply on a wood grill in an open kitchen, he won't serve you hoofed animals – just produce grown locally and seafood caught sustainably, including pipis foraged by Indigenous groups on the beach next door. See pipitrestaurant.com

MONIQUE FISO, CHEF AND OWNER, HIAKAI RESTAURANT, NEW ZEALAND

Monique Fiso loves a challenge, from teaching Gordon Ramsay to forage in the new National Geographic series, Gordon Ramsay: Unchartered to opening a fine dining restaurant that specialises in authentic Maori cuisine. Through her Wellington restaurant Hiakai (meaning having a desire or craving for food) New Zealand-born Fiso is pushing the boundaries on Maori food while keeping Indigenous food culture alive. Hiakai's eight-course degustation takes diners on a journey across New Zealand via ingredients such as horopito, mamaku, kawakawa and red matipo. See hiakai.co.nz

STEVE ROSS, OWNER, NIGHTFALL, GOLD COAST HINTERLAND, QUEENSLAND

Steve Ross bought 104 hectares of private land beside Lamington National Park with the intention of restoring it to its former rainforest glory. He built six glamping tents powered by solar and hydro energy, developing one of Australia's leading ecotourism properties. He spends his spare time planting native species across the property, which he'll never develop, keeping it a haven for endangered birds and animals. See nightfall.com.au

VICTORIA SOUZE, PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, WHATCOM MARINE MAMMAL STRANDING NETWORK(WMMSN), US

If there's an oil spill in the Salish Sea, a seal pup that needs sitting or a stranded grey whale in distress, Victoria Souze will be there. As well as her work for the non-profit WMMSN, Souze is an educator, marine naturalist and tireless conservationist in the battle to save the endangered southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea. She is also a naturalist for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, guiding guests through the San Juan Islands, British Columbia, Great Bear Rainforest and Alaska. See wmmsn.org; expeditions.com

THOMAS GOETTER, EXECUTIVE CHEF, SCENIC ECLIPSE

Aboard the new and exclusive Scenic Eclipse luxury adventure ship there is no such thing as an ordinary meal. Depending on your mood, you might settle in for a night of teppanyaki in the oh-so-chic Koko's restaurant, or seven courses of fine French fare at the intimate Lumiere. Feeling more casual? Then tuck into a Thai bento-box meal or order a plate of handmade pasta in your room. Goetter's talented chefs deliver all this and more – including fresh bread at every meal. See scenic.com.au

CHRIS BRAY, FOUNDER OF SWELL LODGE, CHRISTMAS ISLAND

Cast aside any preconceptions you may have about Christmas Island and take a look at Swell Lodge, an eco-stay perched on a sea cliff on the island's far side. Chris Bray, the lodge's owner, is betting that Australians are ready to fall in love with Christmas Island's spectacular natural assets, from its jungle-shrouded waterfalls to its deserted beaches. Guests at Swell enjoy not only a luxurious place to bed down, but also an array of excursions that showcase the island's wild beauty, including its birds and sealife. See swelllodge.com

MARK SHUTTLEWORTH, HOTELIER, PRINCIPE

Few people would peg a small island floating 300 kilometres off the African coast as a potential tourist hotspot, but Mark Shuttleworth sees things differently. The South African venture capitalist has invested heavily in the sleepy island of Principe, opening a number of luxurious resorts along with associated infrastructure. Along the way he has become the biggest employer on the island, and given adventurous travellers a good reason to visit this paradise island. See hbdprincipe.com

JACQUES GARCIA, HOTEL ARCHITECT AND DESIGNER

At the age of 72, Jacques Garcia is busier than ever. His seductive blend of rich fabrics, romantic shapes and plenty of mood lighting turns every hotel he touches into a getaway that is both sexy and sophisticated. His most recent projects include NoMad Hotels in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as well as his first London project, L'Oscar, which features a two-metre high chandelier and Lalique butterfly taps. See loscarlondon.com

DAVID FREEMAN, OWNER, FREEMAN'S ORGANIC FARM, CURRUMBIN VALLEY, QUEENSLAND

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It's the best kept secret on the Gold Coast; an organic cafe and produce stall with the best views of the hinterland, where kids can pick their own produce free of charge. Fourth-generation owner David Freeman has knocked back seven-figure offers from international investors to keep his farm for the people, teaching the next generation about sustainability. He's so passionate about his farm he'll eat soil just to show you how good it is. freemansorganicfarm.com.au

EVANSON FAMILY, FOUNDERS, TURTLE ISLAND, FIJI

Four decades after American businessman Richard Evanson decided to share his private Fijian island with paying guests, his family continues to run one of Fiji's most inviting luxury resorts. Turtle Island's battalion of loyal guests keep coming back because of, not in spite of, the fact that there is no in-room wi-fi and meals are served family style, without menus. Son Richard Jr and granddaughter Racheli keep the emphasis on sustainability, a feature of the resort since the very beginning. See turtlefiji.com

ANDREW ZOBLER, FOUNDER OF HOTEL BRANDS NOMAD, THE LINE AND FREEHAND

Andrew Zobler clearly picked up a thing or two while working for Andre Balazs Properties. When he went out on his own in 2012 and opened the sumptuous Nomad New York, the hotel and its signature restaurant were an instant hit. Sister properties in LA and Las Vegas soon followed. To prove he is not a one-trick pony, Zobler has since launched not one but two additional high-style hotel brands: the hip The Line, and the hotel-hostel hybrid, Freehand. See sydellgroup.com

ANDRE FU, DESIGNER KING OF MINIMALISM

Hong Kong designer Andre Fu loves low-key luxe. A decade after his pared-back interiors for The Opposite House made it Hong Kong's hippest hotel, Fu has become the designer of choice for many of the world's most renowned brands. This year he takes things to a new level with his opulent designs for the St Regis Hong Kong and the Waldorf-Astoria in Bangkok. The design for the latter, Fu says, swoops like the arms of a Thai dancer. See also.net; theoppositehouse.com; st-regis.marriott.com; hilton.com/en/waldorf-astoria

ORI MENASHE AND GENEVIEVE GERGIS, RESTAURATEURS

Are husband-and-wife chef team Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis clairvoyant? When Bestia opened seven years ago, the restaurant, immediately acclaimed as one of the best in town, was talked about as much for its location as its food. Back then, LA's Arts District was still considered a dicey neighbourhood. By the time the pair doubled down with another outlet, the equally acclaimed Bavel, the Arts District had become one of LA's hippest hoods. See bestiala.com; baveldtla.com

ROXANNE JOYAL, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ME TO WE, CANADA

For two decades, Me to We has helped provide economic opportunities to impoverished communities in Kenya, Ecuador and India. Now under the leadership of chief executive Roxanne Joyal, the social enterprise has launched a new initiative: culturally immersive travel. The company runs eco-lodges in all three countries and operates tours that combine community development work with sightseeing. See metowe.com

JALSA URUBSHUROW, FOUNDER, NOMADIC EXPEDITIONS, MONGOLIA

Jalso Urubushurow is passionate about Mongolia. Born in the US after his parents fled there to escape Stalinist persecution, Urubshurow has devoted decades to building a sustainable tourism industry, pioneering private touring and small group trips in this under-explored country. Urubshurow also founded the country's first eco retreat, Three Camels Lodge, designed to put travellers in touch with the traditional lifestyle of the locals. See nomadicexpeditions.com

VILLAINS OF THE YEAR

BOEING

The software error in Boeing's 737 Max cost the lives of 189 people in a Lion Air crash and another 157 people in an Ethiopian Airlines crash before the entire fleet was grounded, throwing the plans of travellers around the world into disarray.

HURRICANE DORIAN

The worst storm ever to hit the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian caused around $7 billion in damages and left at least 70,000 people homeless. It also wreaked havoc on the Atlantic coasts of Canada and the US.

THOMAS COOK DIRECTORS

Presiding over the collapse of a venerable travel company never looks good, particularly when you strand hundreds of thousands of travellers in the process. If you have pocketed huge salaries and bonuses along the way, it makes things look even worse.

THAILAND'S TIGER ZOOS

Three years after Thai authorities seized 147 tigers being mistreated at the Tiger Temple zoo, the number of captive tigers in the country has tripled. At least 20 zoos are catering to visitors who want to interact with tigers, with many of the animals badly mistreated.

EVEREST CLIMBERS

One of the deadliest climbing seasons on record has thrown into sharp relief the number of inexperienced climbers who tackle Everest for no other reason than bragging rights – risking not only their lives but also those of other people.

HEROES OF TRAVEL: HALL OF FAME

THE CRUISE KING

GLEN MORONEY, SCENIC LUXURY CRUISES & TOURS

Having started as a coach tour company in the 1980s, Scenic later developed an impressive fleet of river cruising vehicles in Europe and Asia. Moroney has now set his sights on ocean cruising, with Scenic Eclipse, the first in his fleet of luxury ocean cruising vessels, now sailing. See scenic.com.au

THE COLLECTOR

DAVID WALSH, MUSEUM OF OLD AND NEW ART

It's called the MONA effect: the surge in Tasmanian tourism that followed the opening of the Museum of Old and New Art. David Walsh, a former professional gambler, has also launched two festivals – MONA FOMA festival and Dark MOFO – and is working on a five-star hotel. See mona.net.au

THE ADVENTURE TRAVEL GURU

DARRELL WADE, INTREPID TRAVEL

No one, least of all Darrell Wade himself, imagined that the company he founded with his best mate, Geoff Manchester, would one day service more than 430,000 travellers a year. Intrepid is also a champion of sustainability and has been climate-neutral since 2010. See intrepidtravel.com

THE HOTELIER

CHRIS ONG, GEORGETOWN HERITAGE & HOTELS

Sydney investment banker Chris Ong restored a series of old shophouses and mansions on the Malaysian island of Penang to create some of Asia's most individual boutique hotels. "This is my passion," says Ong. "I want this to be my legacy." See georgetownheritage.com

THE DESIGNER

MARC NEWSON

He has a global client list, but among Marc Newson's most enduring professional relationships is his partnership with Qantas. The airline has commissioned the Sydney-born industrial designer to create everything from lounges to airline seats. See marc-newson.com

Here are Traveller's heroes of travel 2018 and 2017.

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