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Travel Philanthropy: How luxury hotels and tour operators give back

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Travel Philanthropy: How luxury hotels and tour operators give back

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Alila Villas Uluwatu does it. So do Chiawa and Old Mondoro Camps. Count Belmond, andBeyond, Anantara, Soneva and many others in this group too.

Indeed, a growing number of luxury hotels and tour operators are involved in travel philanthropy.

Or to put it more simply, they “give back” to local communities through travel.

Travel philanthropy

When you go on a trip, you probably want to learn about the local culture and wildlife. Do the local people have electricity? How are endangered animals protected?

Indeed, there’s a growing desire for more enriching travel that connects us with the places we visit.

travel philanthropy - orphaned elephant
How about working with orphaned baby elephants in the wild on your next trip? (Credit: Elevate Destinations)

Well, as more luxury travelers seek to experience meaningful trips, more and more resorts and tour companies are donating to charitable foundations and partnering with non-profit travel and tourism organizations to help boost local conservation and economic development efforts.

It’s a “win-win” all around.

The resorts and tour operators set themselves apart from the competition by showing they have a heart – and they lend a much-needed helping hand too. At the same time, their affluent guests are introduced to charitable projects, which they often end up supporting as well.

Think. If you’re a nice hedge fund manager and you visit an African orphanage, you might be moved to pay for caregivers’ salaries and food for the kids, right?

The non-profit Tourism Cares, a charitable arm of the travel and tourism industry, has even recently established the Legacy in Travel Philanthropy Award. The first winner was Micato Safaris, a luxury African safari operator. Their non-profit foundation, AmericaShare, pays for orphaned and vulnerable children from Nairobi slums to go to reputable boarding schools; Micato pays all of AmericaShare’s administrative costs. (Wonder who will be the 2015 winner?)

travel philanthropy - Nairobi school children
These kids from Nairobi’s Mukuru slum are just some of the children Micato Safaris has supported at the Kwa Njenga primary school (Credit: This and lead photo Micato Safaris)

Here we highlight more luxury travel hotels and operators making a difference in the following places around the world:

Rwanda, Botswana and Zanzibar

Lions became extinct in Akagera National Park in Rwanda after the country’s 1994 genocide. AndBeyond aims to reverse that.

A leading luxury safari company, andBeyond recently donated five genetically diverse lionesses from its Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa to Akagera. No easy feat!

travel philanthropy - lion, photo andBeyond
A tranquilized lioness is transported to Rwanda (Credit: andBeyond)

The lionesses had to be tranquilized, put in individual crates, loaded onto trucks and driven to Johannesburg, placed on a charter flight and flown to Kigali (Rwanda’s capital), and then driven to Akagera – accompanied by a vet team the whole time. Whew!

But the people at andBeyond know a lot about lions. AndBeyond Phinda was one of the first private game reserves in South Africa, and since the first 13 lions were introduced there back in the 1990s, almost 220 lions have been born on the reserve.

travel philanthropy - andBeyond
We all want to see lions protected for the world’s benefit – photo andBeyond

AndBeyond is also helping to move up to 100 rhinos from South Africa (a high-risk poaching environment) to Botswana (known for its anti-poaching initiatives).

Through the “Rhinos Without Borders” project, the first batch of rhinos have already been airlifted and released into the wild into Botswana’s Okavango Delta. And if you think moving lions is hard, airlifting rhinos is even trickier (read this National Geographic news story).

travel philanthropy - saving the rhinos
The plan of “Rhinos Without Borders” is to relocate 100 vulnerable rhinos from South Africa to safer Botswana – photo andBeyond

We’ve chilled out at andBeyond’s barefoot private paradise on tiny Mnemba Island, just off the coast of Zanzibar.

Here too, andBeyond has put into action its company ethos of “care of the land, care of the wildlife, care of the people.”

The island is one of only two protected nesting sites for endangered green turtles in Zanzibar. In partnership with the non-profit Sea Sense, andBeyond works to find out where nesting turtle mothers travel to once they’ve finished laying their eggs. (This information, along with other close monitoring of turtle activity on Mnemba Island, is shared with the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation organizations and ultimately helps with turtle conservation).

Elsewhere on Zanzibar, the Zanzibar Collection of privately-owned luxury hotels and resorts helped finance and build a new maternity and children’s clinic, which just opened in 2014. We have particularly fond memories of The Palms on Zanzibar – romantic, and a Zanzibar Collection hotel with lots of heart.

Maldives, Thailand and Myanmar

When Sonu and Eva Shivdasani built their home on a deserted island in the Maldives in 1995, they didn’t plan on it evolving into a resort. But it did. Soneva Fushi was born. And the environmentally-responsible castaway resort became a trendsetter among luxury, back-to-nature getaways. 

The couple later added the Soneva Kiri in Thailand to the Soneva group (the Thai version of their “no news, no shoes” resort concept).

Travel philanthropy - Soneva Fushi
Over 1 billion people in the world don’t have access to clean and safe water. Soneva bottles their own drinking water (still and sparkling) and donates 10% of their water sales to the WHOLE WORLD Water campaign, which works to solve this problem. (Credit: Soneva)

They’ve also since established the Slow Life Foundation to implement their charitable goals.

To mitigate the carbon footprint of their hotel guests, they donate 2% of their annual hotel evenues to a carbon fund (over $5.5 million U.S.). Proceeds pay for clean, energy-efficient cooking stoves for people in Myanmar (the plan is to distribute 12,000 stoves a year) and have helped reforest a large area of northern Thailand.

Soneva (which produces its own resort water) has also helped over 600,000 people around the world get access to safe water.

travel philanthropy - Myanmar stoves project
Wouldn’t it be nice if 1 million households in rural Myanmar could cook without having to breathe in toxic smoke? That’s the plan behind the Myanmar Stoves Campaign (Credit: Slow Life Symposium)

As well, the Slow Life Foundation hosts the annual Slow Life Symposium. This event brings together business leaders, scientists, NGOs and renowned thinkers and policy makers to help develop new initiatives that will lead to a more sustainable world.

For their pioneering efforts in environmental resort sustainability, Soneva recently received a  prestigious 2015 Tourism for Tomorrow award from the World Travel & Tourism Council. Congrats Soneva!

Also in Thailand, Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas launched a “Dollars for Deeds” program. For every dollar you as a guest donate at the end of your stay, Anantara matches that.

Funds raised will help rescue Thailand’s street elephants, protect Phuket’s sea turtles and treat children with facial deformities at a Bangkok hospital.

travel philanthropy - Anantara
Sea turtles are released back into the sea at Anantara Lawana Koh Samui (Credit: Anantara)

Anantara has 13 hotels in Thailand, by the way, so if you’re thinking of a trip there, they’ve got you covered from Bangkok to Koh Samui and Chiang Mai.

Bali

A private pool we could dive into from our living room. A ginormous bathroom with indoor and outdoor showers. Cool iPad technology for ordering room service. Looking around our exquisite villa, we didn’t know that Alila Villas Uluwatu was the first resort in Indonesia to be awarded the highest EarthCheck certification for eco-friendly design.

All we knew was that our villa was one of the most exquisite we’d ever had the pleasure of checking into.

The Bali resort is one of several unique design hotels in the luxury Alila group.

And we’ve since found out that, in addition to its commitment to the environment, Alila Villas Uluwatu helped build a new orphanage to house up to 60 children for the Bali Life Foundation, a charity for abused, abandoned and orphaned kids.

travel philanthropy - Bali Life Foundation
The Bali Life Foundation runs several charitable projects, including a children’s home, street kids shelter and women’s shelter (Credit: Bali Life)

Alila Villas Uluwatu also supports the R.O.L.E. Foundation which helps women break out of the poverty cycle. It trains underprivileged female students onsite in housekeeping, cooking and restaurant service, giving them the practical skills they need to find jobs.

South Africa, Peru, Cambodia and Haiti

We like this: “Buy a Trip, Give a Trip.”

That’s the motto for Elevate Destinations, a luxury adventure travel operator founded in 2005.

Every trip organized through Elevate Destinations allows a group of local children to go on an outing in their own country. Working with local NGOs, they sponsor trips for kids who would otherwise never get to see the places in their own country that visitors see.

travel philanthropy
This photo of a Peruvian weaver is by Lana Byal for Elevate Destinations

In South Africa, kids who had never ventured outside their township in Cape Town have been taken on a one-day trip to see penguins at Boulders Beach and visit Table Mountain. Peruvian youth have climbed Machu Piccu. Cambodian students have visited Angkor Wat.

Zambia

Conservation and sustainable tourism aren’t just buzz words for Chiawa and Old Mondoro Camps. They’re two of Africa’s finest safari camps – elephants ate noisily just feet away from our outdoor bathtub at Old Mondoro!

But we don’t want to get distracted. If you want to know more about the authentic safari experience, read our post: Chiawa Safari Camp Nails Glamping in Zambia.

travel philanthropy - hippos at Chiawa
We saw hippos galore like these at Chiawa and Old Mondoro – photo Chiawa

What we want to talk about here is that conservation and sustainable tourism have been a way of life for these family-owned camps in Lower Zambezi National Park ever since they welcomed their first guests (Chiawa opened in 1989).

How does Chiawa give back?

They employ local Zambians. Through Chiawa’s training and mentoring programs, some have risen from laborers to become guides and camp managers.

They pay fair wages.

They supply school uniforms, stationery supplies and sporting goods each year to 300 AIDS orphans.

They use red filters on spotlights for night drives, which don’t disturb the lions and other wildlife (white spotlights used in many other African safari camps could be blinding and disturb their natural behavior).

They give guests refillable stainless steel water bottles (no plastic bottles are used).

They helped establish the charitable Conservation Lower Zambezi to support anti-poaching.

They are the first operator to practice catch-and-release sport angling in Zambia, and they successfully lobbied the government to impose a ban on the killing of any fish species in the Lower Zambezi National Park (they’re now lobbying the government to extend the ban to other parks in Zambia).

Travel philanthropy - Chiawa
Chiawa pays fair wages and trains and employs local Zambians as guides and camp managers (Credit: Chiawa)

Chiawa and Old Mondoro are also the first safari lodges in Africa to become carbon-neutral.

While they create a very light environmental footprint, they still use generators for electricity, vehicles for game drives and boats for river transportation. To counter-balance this impact, they buy carbon credits from BioCarbon Partners, an African-headquartered social enterprise working to reduce deforestation.

Travel philanthropy and luxury travel

It’s sometimes hard on the conscience when traveling in style to developing countries. But luxury travel and philanthropy often go hand-in-hand, as demonstrated by these and other players in the travel business.

Knowing how your tour operator or hotel gives back to the local community can help make you feel a little better. As it has for us…

travel philanthropy

More on travel philanthropy

See our post on “Luxury Myanmar River Cruise – and the Art of Giving Back” on the Velvet Escape blog.

Luxury Myanmar river cruise and the art of giving back (Velvet Escape, 2015)-page-001

Do you prefer to travel with companies and stay at places that practise a little travel philanthropy?


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Shikha

Tuesday 11th of August 2015

Another fascinating read from you both - I had no idea about these projects but I love the concept of larger scale luxury hotels giving something back to local communities in this way. Ps, can't even begin to imagine the logistics of air lifting rhinos! About to check out the link you shared now!

Alana

Tuesday 11th of August 2015

Fantastic round up of companies doing the right thing. I definitely think more and more travelers are looking for a way to give back during their vacation even if they don't have the time to actually volunteer their time and services. Supporting companies who give back is an easy way to do so. We're dreaming of a luxury safari experience in Africa and will definitely choose an outfitter who supports conservation efforts.

Janice and George

Tuesday 11th of August 2015

Crossing fingers for your luxury safari experience! Thankfully several safari camps and organizers, as you can see, support local economic-enhancement and conservation initiatives.

Suzanne - Travelbunny

Sunday 9th of August 2015

It's good to see so many companies taking up a philanthropic ethos. As a tourist taking a trip it always feels good to be putting something back into a destination.

Janice and George

Sunday 9th of August 2015

We agree with you whole-heartedly :-)

Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Thursday 6th of August 2015

It is delightful to hear that so many luxury travel companies include philanthropy in their business plan. What a win-win situation. I've worked with andBeyond before and am pleased to hear they are helping helpless animals.

Janice and George

Thursday 6th of August 2015

Yes, andBeyond is a great outfit. We'd be delighted to travel with them again in future :-).

[email protected]

Thursday 6th of August 2015

It's fabulous to read that more and more properties are taking the philanthropic road. I was first introduced to this in my travels through Kenya a few years ago but it seems that it has now spread far and wide.

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