10 November 2009, London HILARY BRADT, the founder of the publishing company that Michael Palin describes as producing “travel guides longer on local detail than any others”, has received the British Guild of Travel Writers’ (BGTW) Lifetime Achievement Award 2009.
The award was presented by Guild Chairman Melissa Shales at the British Guild of Travel Writers’ 13th Annual Gala Awards Dinner at the Marriott Grosvenor Square, London, on November 8, on the eve of the World Travel Market.
Industry top award
The event was attended by more than 300 of the UK’s top travel media professionals as well as high-profile representatives of the international travel world. It was sponsored by the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Elite Island Resorts and Virgin Holidays and guests enjoyed a rum punch/champagne reception, a gourmet Caribbean menu and a steel band from Antigua at the reception. The keynote speech was made by Antigua and Barbuda's Minister of Tourism John Maginley, with a presentation by GMTV’s Jenni Falconer, and hosted by TV travel presenter Alison Rice and BBC Radio 4 Travellers’ Tree producer David Prest.
Hilary and her former husband George wrote their first guide on a river barge floating down a tributary of the Amazon in South America in 1973. It was a journey that led to the creation of Bradt Travel Guides, today one of the most respected and specialised travel publishing companies in the world.
Bradt quickly garnered a reputation for getting there first. Among its early titles were the first guides to Vietnam and Cambodia and the trend has continued ever since with a range of unique guidebooks to places including Rwanda, Sudan, the Congo, North Korea and Kosovo. The current catalogue contains over 150 titles. A significant number of these cover destinations recovering from war or natural disaster where tourist revenue can be a significant help in reconstructing people’s lives.
Still pioneering after 35 years, Hilary has led a company that has grown to be one of the industry’s highly-regarded publishers. Its uniquely personal guides have been lauded by travellers from Dervla Murphy and Kate Humble to Sir David Attenborough and Michael Palin. The company was voted the Sunday Times Small Publisher of the Year in 1997, and won Wanderlust’s Top Travel Guide Series award in 2008.
Guild member and Bradt publishing director Adrian Phillips says: “An excellent author herself, Hilary has always used her writing to promote responsible tourism (particularly in Madagascar, a country she adopted long ago); others have jumped recently on the eco bandwagon, but Bradt Travel Guides has been championing positive, low-impact travel for over 35 years – and can justly claim to be the original ‘green’ publisher.”
Hilary has led by example in writing 11 guidebooks herself and winning the BGTW’s Guidebook of the Year Award. She is also a prominent figure within the travel-writing world more broadly, contributing regularly to newspapers and magazines, chairing travel-writing seminars both for Bradt and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, and launching the Bradt-Independent on Sunday travel-writing competition (which is now in its seventh year).
Alongside travel publishing, however, Hilary is equally known for her commitment to sustainable tourism initiatives across the world. She continues to fund raise and campaign on behalf of Madagascar’s street kids and to promote many other worthy projects including the winner of the BGTW’s Best New Overseas Tourism Project Award 2009: conCERT Cambodia (Connecting Communities, Environment & Responsible Tourism in Cambodia, a one-stop information service NGO that allows tourists to volunteer or contribute to local projects of their choice during their travels in Cambodia.
It was in recognition of these activities that she received an MBE for ‘services to charity and tourism’ in 2009. Perhaps even more telling was her place on this year’s Independent on Sunday ‘Happy List’ (alongside, among others, Sir David Attenborough and Thomas the Tank Engine); this list – published as an alternative to the annual ‘Rich List’ – aims to ‘celebrate some of the people in Britain who give back, enhance the lives of others, and realise that, in an acquisitive society, there’s a crying need for values other than materialism’.
Two years ago, she stepped back from the helm of the company she founded in 1974 to enjoy retirement in Devon. However, her energy remains undiminished. Returned recently from a stint travelling in Cambodia, she has since thrown herself into writing a new Bradt guide to Go Slow travel in Devon and Exmoor. Despite the title, there’s clearly no imminent danger of Hilary slowing down at all.
Following the Awards dinner, Guild Chairman Melissa Shales commented: “Rarely have I been more delighted and honoured to give an award. Hilary represents everything that is best about our industry – she is innovative, selfless, modest, original, funny, and immensely talented. She has been a true pioneer, extraordinarily generous to the world and best of all, from the Guild’s point of view, she has been one of our members for many years. It is rare that we get to award our highest accolade to one of our own.”