The Simplicity of Style
You can do your part for needy communities while enjoying a getaway from your hectic schedule, says Karen Fong.
Famous Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy talks about his design philosophy.
Luxury hotels and travel agencies constantly endeavour to make exotic and isolated locations accessible to those eager to explore the world.
Recently, a growing sense of environmental awareness and social responsibility within the industry is seeing many companies look for ways to give back to the very areas they have established themselves in. And as it turns out, travellers have proven eager to contribute and make a difference too, whether monetarily or via a hands-on approach.
“We are seeing big growth among tour operators offering philanthropic travel or ‘voluntouring’,” says Tim Russell, Director for Sales and Marketing in the Asia-Pacific for Remote Lands, a bespoke luxury travel agency. He adds: “We and our clients gain an enormous amount from meeting local communities. Without them, we would not be able to offer many of the unique experiences that make our trips so special. It is only right that we give something back and spread the message that tourism isn’t just a one-way street.”
Giving back can be as easy as booking a trip. Soul Sanctuaries, a Hong Kong-based agency, has a programme called Give A Little Soul that works with credible charities like Bali Kids and Angels For Orphans, who receive a percentage of the total payment. For those who prefer getting into the
thick of the action, agencies like Remote Lands can arrange tie-ups with the Tibetan Village Project, a Remote Lands-affiliated NGO located an hour’s drive from Lhasa. Visitors can help villagers build greenhouses and hiking trails, perform site clean-ups, and construct waste bins.
Luxury resorts are also getting more involved with social initiatives, and travel agents have been quick to leverage on this. Lightfoot Travel collaborates with Indonesian resor t Nihiwatu, which suppor ts The Sumba Foundation’s community development and funding effor ts in the area. Travellers who visit the foundation can help with the distribution of eyeglasses, the repairing and painting of local schools, and the feeding of malnourished babies.
At other luxury resor ts in Asia, travellers are presented with the oppor tunity to learn more about wildlife and the ecosystem. Resor ts like Coco Collection in the Maldives employ resident marine biologists, who conduct regular sessions for guests to learn about marine biodiversity in their vicinities.
Coco Collection’s environmentally-friendly fishing expeditions allow guests to embark on research fishing expeditions to help monitor and document marine species in the area, and its Coral Nursery Project supports coral reef care and regrowth. Chiara Fumagalli, the group’s marine
biologist, says: “Having guests discover that some of their usual activities or practices may be harming the environment, and prompting them to then ask what they can do differently or how they can help preserve the Ear th, is a fabulous thing.”
In northern Thailand, the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle partners with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) to give guests the chance to get up close and personal with these majestic mammals. Guests can also help with research activities investigating elephant behaviour, and this in turn enhances GTAEF’s ability to care for the animals.
Other resorts go the extra mile to ensure that their operations methods are aligned with conservation efforts in their vicinities.The Song Saa Private Island Resort in Cambodia, which has 27 luxurious villas, adopts a “triple bottom-line” business model which measures the company’s success in revenue as well as the positive impact it has had on the people and the environment. This involves running sustainability programmes such as establishing the country’s first marine protected area, and teaching local fishermen sustainable methods that will ensure fish populations remain healthy.
But even as jumping onto the do-good bandwagon becomes increasingly popular, Brenton
Whittaker, Project Coordinator for Bali Kids, warns travellers to be wary of scams. Some “orphanages” around the world are reported to be seedy operations that prey on tourists’ eagerness to give back. It has also been discovered that some “orphans” were bought off their parents to populate these private ventures. “Do your homework first and do not make vast outlays when volunteering,” says Whittaker, who advises that reliable bespoke agencies often have direct contact with the charities and initiatives they suppor t.
It is imperative to exercise discretion when choosing travel agencies, or you could end up causing more damage instead of helping. A study done by British and South African academics several years ago revealed that shor t-term philanthropy missions could actually be counterproductive – affluent traveller-volunteers may prevent locals from getting paid jobs; orphans or abused children may suffer additional trauma from severed emotional connections when their benefactors leave for home.
Scams and ill-intentions aside, however, this sort of travel always promises greater rewards than the getaways themselves – when undertaken correctly, of course.You would, after all, have played a part in making the world a better place.
01-05 Coco Collection in the Maldives educates guests about marine life during their stays in luxury villas with breathtaking views of the ocean.
06 Travellers get to find out more about elephants at the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Thailand. 07 Wind down on the luxurious grounds of Nihiwatu after helping out with community development effor ts in the day.