Find all the tips you need for an unforgettable getaway as we uncover the most unique stays in Asia.
It’s easy to be taken in by buzzwords such as “eco” and “green” when you’re booking a holiday – but be warned, not everyone who claims to be responsible and sustainable really is. To determine a hotel or tour operator’s true credentials, you’ll need to read the fine print. What does it actually do? Also look out for “Green Globe” certification, which rewards sustainable tourism operators.
Travel has changed: it is no longer just “flop and drop”, no longer a mere tourist experience. A new generation of travellers is changing the idea of what a holiday can be, giving back to the communities they visit, ensuring sustainability in the projects they support. And the operators are listening.
One of the most notable changes in travel recently is the rise of ecologically sustainable accommodation options. These are not just carbon-neutral hotels, but places that truly commit to the idea of ethics, renewables and sustainability.
One of the leaders in this field in Australia is the Daintree Eco Lodge, set in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest. Given the sensitive nature of the lodge’s location, it’s set up to have the smallest impact possible on the forest. There’s a self-sufficient water supply for the resort, plus at least one tree is planted for every guest who comes to stay. The Daintree Lodge also works closely with the local Aboriginal community, consulting on conservation strategies and offering hotel guests a range of Indigenous experiences, including art workshops and cultural walks.
Nearby to the Daintree, Thala Beach Nature Reserve in Port Douglas offers a similar eco-friendly experience. The company is actively involved in the rehabilitation of its 145-acre property, as well as the surrounding area, and offers its guests plenty of experiences with the local Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal community.
Environmentally friendly accommodation doesn’t, however, have to be based in the wilderness. In the UK, the Green House, a four-star boutique hotel in Bournemouth on the country’s south coast, is leading the way in terms of environmental sustainability. The hotel uses solar-powered water heating, energy-efficient lighting, has placed locally produced woolen carpets in all of its rooms, uses wooden furniture made solely from fallen trees, and the company car, a pretty stylish Kombi, runs on recycled cooking oil from the hotel kitchen. Pretty impressive stuff. And it’s also a lovely place to stay.
The Hi Hotel in Nice, France, meanwhile, also has an impressive commitment to sustainability. This boutique hotel has a “Green Globe” certification, thanks to its use of recycled paper, organic paint, eco-friendly cleaning products and organic food. The hotel also has bicycles available for its guests to use, meaning fewer taxi rides, and less pollution. Though, given its location right in the middle of the French Riviera, there’s no reason to go too far anyway.
You might be tempted, after seeing kids struggling in Nepal, or going without food in Kenya, or having to work at a young age in Central America, to try to start up your own charity, or to make a difference by yourself. However, research has shown that your money and efforts would be far better spent with an already-established charity that has the infrastructure and expertise in place to provide help and care.
The idea of sustainability, of a hotel or a tour operator or anyone working in the travel sphere having a positive effect on the world around them, isn’t limited to the traditional notions of being eco-friendly. There’s more to being a good global citizen than simply recycling waste and using solar power. There are companies now who are not just looking after the local environment, but the people who live in these popular tourist destinations, the ones whose homes and culture travellers pay all that money to come over and see.
One of the leaders in this responsible field is Intrepid Travel, an ethically run company that has been making efforts to help rebuild in earthquake-hit Nepal via its Intrepid Foundation. The foundation recently partnered up with Plan International to fund the building of more 160 schools across the country, helping kids restart their education. The foundation – funded through donations, while all administration costs are taken care of by Intrepid Travel – also supports a large number of other charitable initiatives and hands-on building works around the world, including providing shelter for poor children in Peru, providing hospitality training for youth in Vietnam, and supporting well-known entities such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Fred Hollows Foundation, and Médecins Sans Frontières in their work providing infrastructure and support.
Another large global tour company, G Adventures, conducts similar charitable work through the not-for-profit Planeterra Foundation. G Adventures supports the operating costs, as well as a portion of the project development costs, meaning donations from its clients go straight into the projects they want to help. Some of those projects currently underway include helping to build guesthouses – meaning communities will have a long-term way of making money – for the hill tribes in Thailand, and for the Mayan communities in Guatemala, as well as providing solar power for remote villages in Bangladesh – again making a difference in the long-term – and engaging with minority groups in places such as Kenya and Costa Rica to help them set up infrastructure to survive well into the future through visitation by tourist groups.
The Starwood Hotels group, which owns brands such as Sheraton, Westin and the W, also has a charitable foundation, which provides disaster relief for communities in which its hotels are based, as well as encouraging its employees to participate in volunteer work in those same areas.
One of the best ways to travel ‘green’ is to avoid the use of motorised transport while you’re away, if you can. And you can make that happen by jumping on a bike. Plenty of tour companies now offer cycling adventures in some of the world’s most popular destinations, including outfits such as Intrepid Travel and G Adventures that will hook you up with a set of wheels and a guided itinerary. All you need to provide is the pedal power.
The travel experience can be quite a voyeuristic one, when you think about it. You arrive in these amazing, exotic locations, you look around, take photos, and then jump back on the plane and go home. Nothing is really altered for the people you’ve met in those destinations. No genuine, long-term change is effected by your presence.
Except, in some instances, it is. Part of the whole sustainability thing is, of course, making local communities sustainable, making lifestyles and history and culture sustainable. And there are plenty of companies that are playing a part in doing that, companies that you can travel with and support.
Once again, Intrepid Travel is a leader here, through its Intrepid Foundation. The not-for-profit organisation provides skills training for women in Nepal, helping them secure long-term employment. It helps Syrian refugees resettle in Turkey. It helps adults with learning disabilities in China, and in Morocco. And it provides training for unemployed youth in Tanzania. All of this is excellent, important work that travellers can support by booking travel with Intrepid.
Africa is actually well represented in terms of companies and even government agencies that have similar community engagement initiatives. Sabi Sabi, a luxury safari lodge in South Africa, encourages its guests to interact with the local Shangaan people in the villages that surround the game park. These interactions involve touring the villages, visiting schools, calling in to see practitioners of traditional medicine, and meeting the local chief. All of the proceeds from these activities go straight to the villages that are visited, allowing them to preserve their way of life.
The City of Cape Town government, meanwhile, has introduced the “Cape Care Route”, a way of connecting visitors with local artisans and entrepreneurs. The idea is that tourists go into some of the townships that surround Cape Town, places like Langa, Gugulethu and Cape Flats, meet the people who live there, sample local cuisine, and buy products that are manufactured in the local area. It’s a two-way gain – the tourists get a truly local experience in a place they wouldn’t normally visit, and the residents get a sustainable way to survive.
Over in Latin America, Sumak Travel provides ethical, sustainable travel experiences. The UK-based company puts travellers together with community-based tourism providers – often in indigenous communities, or small villages, or even shanty towns – to create a unique travel experience that also effects long-term change in parts of the world that have traditionally struggled.
Eating locally produced food when you’re travelling isn’t just great for your taste buds – fresher is always better – but it’s also beneficial to the environment. After all, the less energy that’s used to cart food around the world, the better. And in buying local you’re supporting farmers, shopkeepers and restaurateurs in the local area. Truly, everybody wins.
Ethical, eco-friendly tourism doesn’t have to be something you view from afar, something you spend money on and never see working. One of the fastest growing sectors of the ethical travel industry is “voluntourism”, the chance to do some work yourself, to get in there and lend a hand in local communities as you see the world. These opportunities can range from building houses, to teaching children, to providing medical care, to helping to look after animals. All have something in common: voluntary work that gives back to a place you’ve come to love.
In Kenya, the charity One Horizon – which is linked to Australian-based travel agent Classic Safari Company – is doing some amazing work in the slums outside of Nairobi. Instead of simply going on safari and then leaving the country, travellers have the chance to join the One Horizon team in their efforts to provide locals in Kenya with a long-term solution to poverty. That can include serving lunches at schools, or helping out cooking in the soup kitchens, or even going to markets to help buy live pigs, which are then donated and raised on urban farms by local women. These experiences can last for just one day, or several weeks if you really enjoy it.
Down in South Africa, Calabash Tours offers placements for volunteers in local schools. These placements have to last for a minimum of four weeks, so they’re a fair time commitment, but they’re also a great way for travellers to truly connect with the communities they go to visit, and for those communities to benefit from the time and help that they receive.
For those who would like to spend time caring for animals, Australian-based company GVI offers a huge range of volunteer opportunities over a variety of timeframes around the world. These opportunities could take the form of helping out with marine conservation in the Seychelles, helping to care for elephants in Thailand, doing wildlife research in South Africa, or even helping out with turtle research in Fiji. The organisation also has placements for volunteers looking to help out in construction, healthcare, sports, or even women’s empowerment. It’s a much different way to have a holiday than the usual – but these are experiences you will never forget.
Find all the tips you need for an unforgettable getaway as we uncover the most unique stays in Asia.
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