8 Ways to Make an Impact on Your Next Vacay
With post-pandemic travel at the forefront, there’s never been a better time to plan a trip with a deeper purpose. As we approach this new phase, we find ourselves pondering how we can do good as we seek out the places pulling on our heartstrings.
Over the course of nearly thirty years and counting, SmartFlyer has built a community comprised of thousands of loyal clients, hundreds of experienced travel advisors and dozens of dedicated support staff, each chipping away at their respective bucket lists. From checking into the world’s most iconic hotels to setting sail on voyages winding through the planet’s most remote waterways, we’ll travel practically any lengths in the pursuit of adventure. But as we approach a new decade, we find ourselves pondering how we can do good in the world as we seek out the places pulling on our heartstrings.
Fortunately, we’re not alone in our endeavors to make an impact. With increasing frequency, our guests are proactively seeking out their travel advisors’ guidance in finding both life-enriching experiences. Cue: our passion for matching each unique client with itineraries tailored to their specific interests. And with organizations doing impressive work in the sustainability and philanthropy sectors all over the world, there are more opportunities than ever before to finding deeper meaning while traveling.
But, that doesn’t mean every single one is right for you; it’s about finding the mission that sets your soul on fire, which is where we come in. Here’s a shortlist of some of our favorite philanthropy efforts happening around the world:
- Abercrombie & Kent Philanthrophy | Worldwide
- Sumba Foundation | Indonesia
- Eve Branson Foundation | Atlas Mountain
- Six Senses Lab | Across all properties
- Laucala | Fiji
- Grumeti Fund | Tanzania
- Soneva | Maldives
- Me to We | Kenya, India, and Ecuador
Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP)
…an increasing number of thoughtful travelers, especially families, who are seeking opportunities to support the communities that they are visiting. It’s inspiring that so many people are interested in using their vacations to make a positive influence.
On a recent Abercrombie & Kent trip to Vietnam, we learned first-hand about the incredible work being done by these industry titans. So we were eager to dive deeper with Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP) Program Manager, Cristina de Guia, to learn more about the mission behind their 42 projects spread across seven continents. She shared, “As the philanthropic arm of Abercrombie & Kent, we are mindful of our A&K travelers and their complete travel experience. We’ve experienced an increasing number of thoughtful travelers, especially families, who are seeking opportunities to support the communities that they are visiting. It’s inspiring that so many people are interested in using their vacations to make a positive influence. In selecting our program initiatives, we collaborate with our partner communities in vetting projects that will have long-term, sustainable impact. This entails ongoing discussions with community members such as village leaders, Ministries of Health, and school administrators. It is critically important for AKP to include these stakeholders to ensure that we are supporting programming that will have enduring benefits.”
The motivation to support is a beautiful, human response – that can transform lives on the ground and transform the entire travel experience.
When asked what some of the ways are that A&K clients can specifically contribute to a project, Cristina elaborated, “Guests visiting Cambodia can make a donation to build a clean water well, with the opportunity to meet the benefitting family. It’s a profound experience – and we are often told a trip highlight! Other amazing opportunities include, serving school lunch in Kenya, taking a cycle ride with female bike mechanics who operate their own bike shops (offered in Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana), and kite-making at an educational program in India.” At the root of each of these initiatives, A&K’s firm belief is that instead of focusing on donating ‘stuff,’ channeling energy into these long-term projects is going to have optimal impact. Cristina concludes, “The motivation to support is a beautiful, human response – that can transform lives on the ground and transform the entire travel experience.”
Heading just west of Bali, the island of Sumba offers a barefoot luxury experience at the spectacular all-villa resort Nihi Sumba, set amongst breathtaking landscapes and fascinating culture. Beyond the stunning accomodations, guests have the opportunity to give back during their stay thanks to the Sumba Foundation, a charitable entity working side-by-side to better the lives of the Sumbanese people. We checked in with Kenny Knickerbocker, General Manager of the foundation to learn more about the work they are doing on the island. He shares, “The Sumba Foundation’s mission is to empower the people of Sumba while preserving and respecting their cultural traditions. The major focus areas are nutrition, education, healthcare, clean water, and economic stimulation through higher education, training, and employment. A key principle of the foundation is that it is ever-evolving to meet the current and future needs of the Sumbanese people.”
When asked how Nihi Sumba guests can get involved, Kenny shared, “A visit to the foundation is an incredible opportunity to see first-hand the work the foundation has been doing. During the visit, guests will tour our medical clinic and learn first-hand the variety of initiatives we have in place, as well as some of the daily challenges facing the Sumbanese people. They will also have the opportunity to walk through our farming project – which provides food, but is also a teaching grounds for the local farming community to expand their knowledge and capabilities and ultimately increase their tools and evolve the way they tend to their farmland. Last but not certainly least, is a visit to one of our schools to interact with our students. Guests may also choose to participate during the week in one of our school’s English classes which is an extremely fulfilling and interactive experience.”
Sumba has seen a reduction in the number of patients they are treating in our coverage area, due to the fact that more of the population is staying healthier.
What makes highlighting these initiatives even more meaningful are the lasting impact made on Allyson and James Blauvelt, clients of NYC-based travel advisor Suzy Xiu, during their around-the-world honeymoon. Allyson shares, “I’m not sure if it was coincidence or fate that Sumba was one of our last stops on our beautiful honeymoon. When getting picked up from the airport and driving over two hours [on broken roads] to our destination, the only thing on my mind was ‘how are we going to a luxury hotel when the surrounding community is living like this?’ But once we arrived at Nihi Sumba, we learned so much about how they help their surrounding communities.”
Allyson continues, “James and I decided to take a half day out of our honeymoon to go see the villages and volunteer; that day led us to a long-term partnership with Sumba Foundation on behalf of JDJ Foundation. With our latest project inspired by our visit, we are so excited to help renovate their flagship clinics and completely fund two new clinics being opened in the months ahead, for a total of six clinics in the area. We anticipate about 10,000 additional patients will benefit from these new health clinics and even better, each year, Sumba has seen a reduction in the number of patients they are treating in their coverage area, due to the fact that more of the population is staying healthier.”
Eve Branson Foundation (EBF)
“Since my first visit here, Morocco has been my second home and its people, the most warm and wonderful I have ever met – my work with the Eve Branson Foundation has been the most important of my life.”
– Eve Branson
Over in Morocco, a drive about an hour outside Marrakech finds intrepid travelers immersed in the crisp air of the Atlas Mountains. Winding up to the entrance of Kasbah Tamadot – an intimate oasis owned by iconic entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson – it’s no surprise that this area of the country pulled on his mother’s heartstrings decades prior. Eve Branson divulges, “My love of Morocco and the wonderful people that inhabit it stems back to the late 90s when my son Richard famously made a series of endeavours there – attempting to pilot a hot air balloon around the world, non-stop. While Richard was preparing his balloon for the voyage, I journeyed into the beautiful foothills of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. Here I stumbled upon Kasbah Tamadot, an exquisite property with breathtaking views. I persuaded Richard to buy it and we agreed that I would develop initiatives to give back to the surrounding community. Since my first visit here, Morocco has been my second home and its people, the most warm and wonderful I have ever met – my work with the Eve Branson Foundation (EVF) has been the most important of my life.”
On a recent visit to this treasured part of Morocco, we learned first-hand while hiking with our local guide how much of an impact the foundation’s work has made on the region. EBF leadership shares, “Prior to the hotel opening in 2005, Kasbah Tamadot formed an English school and hospitality skills were introduced. To this day, 98% of Kasbah Tamadot’s employees come from the local community and the team still provides staff with free weekly English lessons, this is for anyone who wants to go and either start to learn English or further improve their English skills.” To build on that empowerment of locals, through sensitive collaboration with Kasbah Tamadot and EBF, craft programs were developed that built on the rich diversity of Berber culture, their strong links to nature, creativity, family, community and spirituality. “EBF has since built two water wells, improved the facilities at three local primary schools, developed the local birthing center and through a partnership with the Dental Mavericks group, provided free dental treatment to over 2,000 children in the valley.”
‘It’s wonderful to see a shift in what travellers want from a luxury experience. It’s more than thread count that counts. It’s also about the people, purpose, culture and soul – and that’s exactly what keeps the magic of Kasbah Tamadot alive.”
– Sir Richard Branson
As part of its mission to sensitively support cultural tourism, EBF provides authentic Berber social impact experiences which are meaningful and enable Kasbah Tamadot guests to get close and involved with local culture, meeting with the artisans and learning about their crafts and traditions. Nestled in the mountains, 1300 metres above sea level, these peaceful villages are tucked away from the regular tourist routes. Travelers will take part in traditional Berber cookery lessons, savour the ritual of the Berber mint tea and get creatively hands-on at the craft centres with the artisans, trying out weaving on ancient horizontal looms or woodcarving in walnut and olive wood. 100% of the excursion cost goes back to EBF’s programs and because EBF’s overheads are covered by partners Virgin Unite and Virgin Limited Edition, every penny donated goes directly to funding the frontline programs. All of this has been made possible by iconic entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson who shares, “It’s wonderful to see a shift in what travellers want from a luxury experience. It’s more than thread count that counts. It’s also about the people, purpose, culture and soul – and that’s exactly what keeps the magic of Kasbah Tamadot alive.”
Six Senses Lab
As a brand known for creating incredible experiences across its portfolio, Six Senses Hotels, Resorts & Spas treats their team with respect and guests with empathy because they believe life is for living, love is for sharing and a smile is for everyone. Plus, with a focus on sustainability, no matter which property you check-in, you can check-out feeling good about your footprint. Jeffery Smith, Vice President of Sustainability, shares, “Starting from the dry, sandy climates to mountain tops, islands, wetlands to coastal zones, sandy beaches to rocky shorelines, we have managed to maintain the ecological balance as we help combat the challenges of rapid environmental pollution and adverse effects of climate change.”
At Six Senses, guests can see sustainability first-hand through the Earth Lab, Eat With Six Senses and Grow With Six Senses guest experience programs spread across their collection…
Guests have the opportunity to join in all theses aspects during their stays with experiences ranging from rehabilitate coral reefs, plant corals, contribute to hornbill and turtle conservation conservation, work on mangrove restoration, see semi-urban forestry projects as well as other fauna and flora studies. At Six Senses, guests can see sustainability first-hand through the Earth Lab, Eat With Six Senses and Grow With Six Senses guest experience programs spread across their collection in Asia and Europe. By getting a chance to help grow vegetables, collect their own eggs from the farm, learning to make body scrub, yogurt, kombucha and see the beauty of coral reefs, lending hand to grow some, the importance of sustainability resonates on a deeper level.
When it comes to the ultimate couple’s paradise, the island of Fiji spurs a real ‘wow’ factor. In particular, our guests swoon over Laucala Island, a private escape amidst coconut plantations, white-sand beaches, turquoise lagoons and lush green mountains. Considering the resort is set on a private island, there are many considerations that go into how best to engage the surrounding communities. Luciana Nijdam, co-General Manager of the property, shares, “We employ over 300 people, the vast majority from our neighboring islands – we could not do what we do in such an isolated location without the support from our local community and as such we endeavor in turn to support the local schools with materials – both for the kids and the infrastructure – and cultural visits from our guests where they can bring and participate in the traditional sevusevu ceremony.”
…experiences are more authentic, service more genuine, leading to mutual respect and understanding between two vastly different cultures.
Luciana elaborates, “In the sevusevu ceremony, offerings are extended to the Tui (chief) and in return, he will welcome guests and grant permission to visit his village. Once the sevusevu is completed, the visit to the village and school consists of games with the children and their teachers, often in the form of a game of volleyball or similar, as well as visiting where local artisans produce traditional Fijian weaving items. These craft goods adorn Laucala’s villas.” And the Laucala team’s advice to walk away more deeply understanding the local community? “The best way to effect change is to engage with our staff on a more personal level – Fijians are Melanesians and very different from other Pacific Island nations with rich tribal history that is still respected today, rich in ceremony dating thousands of years. Understanding that ensures that experiences are more authentic, service more genuine, leading to mutual respect and understanding between two vastly different cultures.”
When traveling to Africa for safari, our guests are often mindful of wanting to give back. While there are numerous opportunities across the vast continent, we love that our partners at Singita partner with a non-profit conservation and community development partner at each of the lodges in their collection. Specifically, in East Africa, the Grumeti Fund is the organization on the ground in Tanzania that is doing all of the conservation and community development work with Singita as the exclusive eco-tourism partner. There are a multitude of ways guests can get involved with their incredible work.
Safaris with a Purpose is an opportunity to combine a travel experience with a meaningful contribution to conservation and community development.
Beverly Burden, Head of Communications, shares, “Safaris with a Purpose is an opportunity to combine a travel experience with a meaningful contribution to conservation and community development…this could be through a rhino safari with a purpose, elephant collaring or the Serengeti Girls Run. These experiences contribute directly to the project and oftentimes are responsible for creating long-term bonds between the guests and the Grumeti Fund. Or, it could be seen the other way – an opportunity to combine luxury travel while you are engaged with and donating to a conservation or community development project. Serengeti Girls Run does fit into this category, albeit in it is its own way due to the added activity in that we do the run…there are usually three of these per year, including the Serengeti Girls Run with dates for 2020 to be released soon.”
For guests who are unable to join one of the special ‘Safaris with a Purpose’ but want to enrich their stay with one Singita’s Grumeti properties – which include Singita Sasakawa Lodge, Singita Fru Faru Lodge, Singita Sabora Tented Camp and Singita Explore – there are opportunities to donate to Grumeti Fund and participate in either a Canine Unit tour or community visit. The visit with the specially trained dogs and their skilled handlers is designed to show guests how this team works to deter poachers from entering the protected area. A community visit will take Singita guests off property and into a nearby village where they can get a better sense of the development work being done by Grumeti Fund to support education, enterprise development and women’s empowerment.
Over in the Maldives, it’s no secret that sustainability and environmental responsibility need to be top-of-mind in order for the destination to continue to prosper. Fortunately, the Soneva brand – with both Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani – has approached hospitality with this consciousness since their inception in the 90s. Co-founder Sonu Shivdasani shares, “Traditionally, people would say that if something is sustainable, it cannot be luxurious. If something is a luxury, it cannot be good for you. At Soneva, luxury, and sustainability are not opposites. They work together in perfect harmony and feed off each other and the result is that the more sustainable we are, the more luxurious we become.”
“At Soneva, luxury, and sustainability are not opposites. They work together in perfect harmony and feed off each other and the result is that the more sustainable we are, the more luxurious we become.”
– Sonu Shivdasani
Sonu elaborates, “Using reusable straws is a good practice, though it only addresses a small issue around plastic waste. Plastic bottle waste is, for instance, a much bigger issue. Furthermore, it is important to look at sustainability from a wide variety of angles, whether it is addressing energy, water, waste, chemicals, paper, biodiversity, human rights etc. As the custodians of pristine locations, at Soneva we constantly ask ourselves what we can do to preserve this environment for future generations. What is the best way to share these rich resources with our local communities for mutual prosperity? What kind of journey do we want to embark on with our Hosts who contribute so much to our business? How can we use our supply chain to encourage progressive environmental and social practices? What kind of partnerships can we forge to tackle urgent problems such as plastic pollution and climate change? Sustainability is often seen by investors as a tax on business. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, sustainability adds to our bottom line.”
When asked to delve further into the specific measures being taken, we learned, “The Maldives has a fragile environment and by its nature is threatened by climate change. Ideally, you should eliminate carbon emissions where it happens, for instance, by using renewable energy instead of fossil fuel, but not all can be reduced at source. At Soneva we consider indirect emissions that occur from guest air travel when they visit the Maldives. These cannot at the moment be reduced at source, hence, carbon offsets is a great way to compensate for these emissions. We do so through the Soneva Foundation’s Myanmar Stove Campaign. Not only do we offset the carbon emissions, but also we improve the health and lives of thousands of families in Myanmar. Hence, there is a win-win situation. And right in the Maldives, as part of our Social & Environmental Responsibility Fund (SERF) we have built local schools, conducted eye camps to treat cataracts, and created the ‘Learn To Swim’ programmes that teaches Maldivian children to swim. Guests can do their part and get involved in our eco-camps where they learn about waste management, how to snorkel and enjoy the spectacular underwater world, and why the coral and reefs are important to their existence.”
ME to WE
The world is changing rapidly and the world of travel is no different. Clients are asking for meaningful travel experiences that not only leave a lasting impact on themselves and their families but leave a lasting impact on the people and places they visit.
For guests who want to dedicate even more of their valued vacation time to giving back, we’ve partnered with Virtuoso supplier ME to WE, an organization who has worked for over two decades to empower underprivileged communities. Head of ME to WE trips, Nora Giffiths, shares, “The world is changing rapidly and the world of travel is no different. Clients are asking for meaningful travel experiences that not only leave a lasting impact on themselves and their families but leave a lasting impact on the people and places they visit. Requests for meaningful travel come in various shapes – clients may ask for responsible or ethical travel, sustainable travel, travel that gives back or even ask for experiences that allow them to escape the scourge of over-tourism. A ME to WE trip is the answer to each of these requests. ME to WE’s charity partner, WE Charity, has international development work underway in nine different countries around the world, three of those countries – Kenya, India, and Ecuador – have seen our partner communities transition out of the generational cycle of poverty at a rapid pace. This has enabled ME to WE to establish our bespoke lodge properties in these locations. On a ME to WE trip, where guests have the opportunity to meet and engage with local community members, pairs incredibly well with more traditional travel experiences that these destinations have to offer and this is where travellers can unlock the best of both worlds.”
…clients really can have the best of both worlds. They can enjoy those popular, traditional aspects of travel while also having intimate, meaningful experiences with local community members all while staying in the comforts and luxury that they’re accustomed to.
Nora elaborates, “In Kenya, many, if not most, of our guests will combine their ME to WE trip with a traditional African safari where they’ll have the opportunity to get up close with the Big 5. In Ecuador, the most popular travel experience by far is a visit to the Galapagos Islands, but many guests choose to spend time in the Andes including a visit to Macchu Pichu in Peru. In India, our guests almost invariably choose to spend extended time in Northern India, highlighted by a tour of the Golden Triangle, including a visit to the world famous Taj Mahal. I think the most important thing to remember is that clients really can have the best of both worlds. They can enjoy those popular, traditional aspects of travel while also having intimate, meaningful experiences with local community members all while staying in the comforts and luxury that they’re accustomed to. ME to WE can be the one-stop-shop for all of these, and these experiences are available exclusively through their Virtuoso advisor.”
Ready to begin exploring ways you can make an impact during your next trip? Chat with your SmartFlyer travel advisor to start planning.