The top accolade is shared between South African Selwyn Davidowitz who guides in the Western Cape, and Danut Marin, a guide from Romania who specialises in the Carpathian Mountains area. The runner-up is Goyotsetseg Radnaabazar who is based in Mongolia and is the first female guide to reach the finals.
Set up to recognise the difference that a great guide, whether a naturalist, a sherpa, or a tour leader, can make to your travel experience, a shortlist of six was whittled down from more than 160 guides from around the world who were nominated for this year?s award.
Selwyn Davidowitz has a fascinating story to tell and has been recognised, not only for his outstanding contribution to tourism and making a true difference to people?s travel experiences, but also for his tireless work within the local community and ensuring the interaction of the two.
The judging panel was led by Bill Bryson and included Lyn Hughes of Wanderlust, top naturalist Mark Carwardine, and Mark Ellingham, founder of Rough Guides. In addition, the panel was thrilled to be joined this year by Michael Palin.
Selwyn has been an independent guide for the past eight years, realising his passion for the profession from many enjoyable trips showing visiting friends around his native Cape Town. A former owner of a clothing factory, he creates personalised itineraries for his guests and combines these experiences with trips to the township of Kayamandi. Here his foundation funds two creches and runs projects such as ?fruit for trash?, encouraging up to 250 children to clear up rubbish in return for fresh fruit.
"Selwyn has changed my life"
Judge Michael Palin, well known for his TV travel documentaries, was particularly impressed and commented: ?Selwyn seems to have the ability to listen to his clients, rather than just talking to them. Listening is such an important quality and it enables him to connect with travellers from all backgrounds and ages.?
Among the dozens of nominations which Selwyn received for the award, an email from Lara Vancans from the US who met Selwyn on a family holiday at the age of 12 stood out.
"Selwyn has changed my life. The most poignant memory is the day we visited Kayamandi near Stellenbosch. He spoke to everyone without any air of superiority and described the people?s plight honestly. Instead of the usual zoo-like experience we were really given an insider?s view. In the years that followed I kept in touch with Selwyn by email and then, with his guidance, I decided to take a gap year, raise $1600 and return to Kayamandi to give something back to the community. He has encouraged and mentored with during the most amazing three months of my life."
Prize will help uplift Kayamandi
Lyn Hughes of Wanderlust commented, ?The main qualities we were looking for were knowledge, communication and empathy. It became clear that Selwyn had the respect and admiration of his peers ? his fellow guides. And he has touched, and in some cases changed, people?s lives. He is a remarkable individual and I very much look forward to having Selwyn guide me the next time I visit South Africa.?
In addition to cash awards and equipment, Selwyn wins a bursary of #5000 to spend on community projects. He intends to use the award to fund a soup kitchen, community centre and a fruit-for-trash scheme at Kayamandi.
?It is an amazing opportunity for the kids to learn to earn and not rely on handouts. I hand them plastic bags at the start of my travels around the township with visitors. By the end of our trip, they return the bags full of trash in return for an apple a bag.?
The annual award was created in 2006 as a tribute to Paul Morrison, Wanderlust?s co-founder, who died in 2004. Lyn Hughes, Paul?s widow and co-founder and editor of Wanderlust, says: ?I am thrilled we have had such a great response to the awards. A travel guide is the one person who can inspire you to climb that mountain or get as excited about spotting an elephant shrew as an elephant. More importantly they can often be an important bridge between your travel experience and an understanding of the local community. Selwyn is an outstanding ambassador for his country.?
The full results of The Paul Morrison Guide Award 2007 will appear in the November issue of Wanderlust. To order a copy online go to www.wanderlust.co.uk.