Safe & Sustainable Tourism Awards

Best Destination Winners 2021




After Iceland’s financial crash in 2008, the sudden surge in tourism in the years that followed presented both a challenge and an opportunity. Iceland has responded admirably, welcoming visitors to its stunning landscape of waterfalls, glaciers, fjords, volcanoes and relaxing geothermal pools, while also striving to preserve it.


Iceland is working hard to draw visitors to its wealth of natural, cultural and gastronomic attractions all around the island, simultaneously preventing over-tourism around Reykjavík.

The Icelandic Pledge reminds tourists to keep their visit respectful and sustainable, and that’s not hard to do in a country where sustainability has been core to everyday life for many years. There's very little single-use or disposable plastic, nearly 100% of electricity generated is from renewables, and Iceland makes the very most of its most valuable natural resource: geothermal energy.


Iceland regularly occupies top three positions in indexes for lifestyle indicators such as peace, social mobility and gender equality. As for COVID safety, swift and efficient case tracking and vaccinations have kept both case and death rates very low. At the time of writing, Iceland has the lowest COVID death rate per million in Europe—and at 82.39, it’s way below that of Norway, with the next lowest rate of 147.55. That means you can travel there confidently.


When assessing best destinations, our panel of judges particularly look for an underlying ethos of sustainability, rather than a smattering of outlying initiatives. They also look for responsible, innovative use and preservation of a country’s natural assets, be they physical or cultural. Iceland ticked all these boxes with ease and had the same measured and wise approach to the pandemic.


A winner among winners!








From its Venetian-influenced Ionian islands in the west and its mountainous mainland to its Byzantine-influenced Dodecanese islands in the east, Greece has myriad of diverse landscapes for visitors to enjoy. It’s famous for its beaches, crystal blue waters, warm weather and rich history, but it also offers amazing green spaces to enjoy, alongside a rich culture and cuisine.


In some ways, Greece has not so much sought sustainability but never left it behind. Organic food production and the use of local produce, including freshly caught fish off the coasts of its mainland and many islands, has continued there for centuries.


In recent years, it’s worked hard to try to protect its biodiversity, cultures and historic sites from the effects of mass tourism. Greece has also ventured into sustainable mobility, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), renewable energy, energy-saving technologies and single-use plastic bans in some areas. As a result, various islands and mainland regions have begun to appear regularly in sustainability indexes and award schemes.


Like many countries, Greece is currently seeing a rise in cases, but they are forging ahead with their vaccination programme, with many residents on popular holiday islands vaccinated with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine before summer began. Safety protocols are in place and proof of vaccination, a previous infection or a negative PCR test are required.


Greece is a prime example of what a country can achieve when pooling all its resources to ensuring that the tourism experience remains safe for visitors. We were impressed to see Greece overcome challenging circumstances to continue delivering their sustainable tourism offer.







Istria is deservedly popular for its blue seas, huge forests, beautiful beaches, historic buildings, medieval hilltop villages, magnificent mountains, good weather and gastronomy. This charming peninsula offers a vibrant mix of cultures—Croatian, Italian and Slovenian—and is celebrated for its award-winning wines, olives oils and truffles. But it’s also made a name for itself as a top choice for a sustainable stay.


Authentic cuisine and cultural experiences, provided by locals, provide employment and help to preserve this peninsula’s heritage and while offering a warm welcome to visitors. But Istria isn’t stuck in the past. It recognises the need to protect the environment and local biodiversity. It boasts not just numerous Blue Flag certified beaches but a number of Green Flag beaches too, and plentiful choices for sustainably managed accommodation, denoted by the EcoDomus label and other eco-certifications. There are plenty of charging points for electric vehicles, and an extensive network of walking and cycling trails.


Most of the peninsula lies in Croatia, and Istria is currently ‘green’ on the country’s COVID map, meaning case numbers are very low. Croatia has been given the ‘Safe Travels’ label by the World Travel & Tourism Council. Its own ‘Safe Stay in Croatia’ scheme identifies those companies and places in the tourism industry following its prescribed epidemiological measures and health safety recommendations.


All in all, Istria has shown some of the greatest resilience to the COVID crisis and has maintained its status as a leading sustainable tourism destination even in the face of uncertainty and adversity. Its efforts to make travellers feel welcome and safe, while still offering them as many genuine, eco-friendly experiences as possible, won this green peninsula its award.






Slovenia is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, towns and cities rich in history and culture, snow-capped mountains and beautiful, clean beaches. Numerous rivers flow through a countryside bursting with biological diversity and forests that cover half of the country’s landscape. Add that to its mix of Slavic, German and Romance cultures and its Mediterranean to Alpine climate, and this small country has a lot to offer.


With over 10% of its population working in tourism, Slovenia wisely decided some time ago that its future lay in combining tourism with sustainability and a care for its environment. Slovenia has received a host of accolades for sustainable tourism and was declared the first Green Country by the Green Destinations organisation in 2019, after scoring 96% against its detailed sustainability indicators. Its Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism uses global criteria to certify sustainable destinations, service providers and parks.


Slovenia declared an end to the COVID-19 epidemic in the country on the 15th of June this year, but certain restrictions still continue to apply. These are dependent on Slovenia’s ‘recovered-vaccinated-tested’ requirements. Slovenia has been given the ‘Safe Travels’ label by the World Travel & Tourism Council, and launched its own GREEN&SAFE logo to highlight superior hygiene protocols and sustainability standards among tourist service providers and destinations.


This Green Country’s response and resilience to the pandemic, and its hard work to maintain tourism and its incredibly high sustainability standards throughout, made it a worthy award winner.





The beautiful island of Malta is famous for the delicious seafood caught off its coasts, its high-quality local produce, and the combination of these ingredients in tasty traditional recipes. It also has eleven Blue Flag beaches and lush green spaces to enjoy, including the Buskett Woodlands, brimming with biodiversity and birdlife, and Majjistral Park with its historic sites and protected coast.


After a slow start, Malta is now very focused on a sustainable future, with ambitious plans. For inspiration, it need look no further than its sister island, Gozo. Its highly successful ecoGozo directive has sparked initiatives such as solar panel installations on public and many private buildings, rainwater harvesting, and construction of a wastewater treatment plant. While the island of Comino, with its Natura 2000 site status, no cars and a welcome absence of major pollutive activities (save the non-electric visiting boats), is one of the safe and sustainable tourism hotspots of Europe.


The Malta Tourism Authority’s ECO certification scheme, recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, covers environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability criteria alongside quality, health, and safety standards. Over 25 hotels and farmhouses on these alluring islands hold the certification. Malta has also recently launched its Tourism Strategy 2021-2030, intended to strengthen the sector.


Malta has responded well to the COVID crisis. Death and case rates have remained very low, partly thanks to its speedy vaccination rollout. As of 1st August, it has the highest vaccination rate in Europe, and is accepting qualifying travellers with the European Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC) to enter Malta without the need for quarantine.


All of these factors combined have contributed to Malta being bestowed this year's award, but watch this space, because the best of sustainable tourism in Malta is yet to come.

© 2021 Safe and Sustainable Tourism Awards