Environmentally conscious travellers face an increasingly awkward dilemma: seeing the world undoubtedly increases our understanding of its glory and fragility – yet unthinking mass tourism can also cause great damage.
Now, though, responsible tour operators and hotel companies are paying more attention to the environmental impact of their own and their guests’ activities. Some are cutting waste, others cleaning up their own surroundings, others still reducing their dependence on fossil fuels – and sometimes to nothing.
The most proactive travel companies have turned the problem on its head, inviting guests and staff to join activities that actively benefit their surroundings, and the people and wildlife who share them.
Bali: cleaning the ocean with Alila Manggis
David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II focused attention on the plight of the oceans, specifically the damage done to them and their inhabitants by discarded plastic.
The Alila Manggis in Bali is taking action to clean up its patch – with the help of guests, who can join monthly “dive against debris” expeditions. Trained divers lead tours of a nearby reef and show visitors how to safely remove plastic bottles and other debris that pose a threat to sea life.
Alila’s Bali resorts have also set themselves the target of sending zero waste to landfill by the end of this year – an approach that will be replicated throughout the company. Other environmental initiatives include a tree-planting programme involving children from schools around the Alila Jakarta hotel.
Alila Manggis, from £105 per room, based on two people sharing, including breakfast and a snorkelling trip. To book visit alilahotels.com/manggis
Kenya: lion conservation at Ol Donyo Lodge
As well as spectacular game drives and luxury dining, Ol Donyo Lodge in southern Kenya offers the opportunity to spend time with the Lion Guardians, who promote a sustainable and harmonious relationship between people and big cats. Fear of the predators – and loss of livestock – is a big reason for illegal hunting of the animals across Africa.
To counter these concerns, the Lion Guardians tap into the cultural values of the Maasai people, who own the 275,000-acre Mbirikani Group Ranch on which Ol Donyo Lodge is situated. Guests are invited to help with their work tracking and naming lions, as well as reinforcing bomas (enclosures for farm animals) and recovering lost livestock.
Ol Donyo, from £4,000 per person for four nights, all inclusive. To book, visit theluxurysafaricompany.com
Tanzania: rhino patrol at Singita Grumeti
The Luxury Safari Company offers an even more exclusive “conservation safari” in neighbouring Tanzania, at the Singita Grumeti reserve. Guests are asked to make a donation of £42,000 to Singita’s conservation fund – a sum which would, for example, pay for two anti-poaching scouts for a year and fund the local Environmental Education Centre for six months.
During their six-night safari, guests will spend time at the Singita Sasakwa Lodge, an Edwardian manor overlooking the Serengeti, and the 1920s-inspired Sabora tented camp. Private guided tours will be led by a renowned conservation specialist, who will explain and illustrate the Serengeti’s complex ecosystems.
Singita Grumeti, from £6,200 per person for a six-night all-inclusive stay, plus a contribution of £42,000 per person to fund the Black Rhino Programme and Environmental Education Centre. To book, visit theluxurysafaricompany.com
Mexico: off the grid at Casa Xixim
“The best air conditioning is nature’s breeze,” says the husband-and-wife team behind Casa Xixim, an alluring private villa in Mexico. The name derives from the ancient Mayan word for “zero” – a reference to their ambition to minimise the environmental impact of their property.
Screened and louvered wooden walls allow in cool air, while vegetation on the roof insulates the rooms below from the heat. Solar panels provide a high-tech boost when required – and excess energy can be sold back into the Mexican grid, helping to power other homes in the area. Plastic is kept to a minimum and waste water is sent to a neighbouring artificial wetland.
Casa Xixim, from £910 per night, including chef service and housekeeping, for the four-bedroom villa. To book, visit casaxixim.com
China: history on the move at Amanyangyun
As an act of obsessive conservation, it would be hard to beat Amanyangyun, a luxury resort on the outskirts of Shanghai. It was built by a Chinese entrepreneur, who restored and reassembled 50 historic Ming and Qing dynasty dwellings which would otherwise have been destroyed.
They, along with a 1,000-year-old camphor forest, were saved from inundation by a new reservoir when Ma Dadong embarked on an ambitious scheme to dismantle the houses, move them more than 400 miles to their new location, and rebuild them brick by brick. Thousands of trees were also transported.
“My instincts told me what to do: to rescue everything from the area destined for the reservoir,” he told CNN. The project took 15 years and opened to guests in January. Accommodation includes 13 “antique villas”, which incorporate the ancient village homes.
Amanyangyun, from £570 per room per night, including breakfast. To book, visit aman.com
Rwanda: working for the common good at Nyungwe House
Set to open in October, the One&Only Nyungwe House resort (see also top photo) gives guests the chance to recharge amid the natural splendour of southwest Rwanda’s mountainous Nyungwe rainforest.
Trekking with chimpanzees – the country’s principle tourist attraction – is part of the draw, but so too is the chance to take part in Umuganda – a nationwide initiative in which Rwandans spend the last Saturday morning of the month working in their local communities. Roughly translated, the term means “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”.
Guests at Nyungwe are invited to join the common purpose by contributing to local infrastructure or environmental protection, thereby deepening their experience of a unique location.
One&Only Nyungwe House, from £470 per room per night. To book, visit oneandonlyresorts.com
Canada: sustaining a way of life at Ocean House
Tucked away in a tree-draped bay on the Haida Gwaii islands, a remote archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, Ocean House is pioneering eco-cultural tourism in Canada. Owned and operated by the indigenous Haida Nation, the luxury resort and spa – accessible only by seaplane – helps to protect and sustain their way of life.
Activities at the lodge encourage guests to explore the land and culture of the Haida people, who will conduct excursions via seaplane and kayak to settlements dating back thousands of years. Amid an untamed wilderness teeming with wildlife, cultural interpreters are on hand to tease out the details of Haida history and mythology, handed down through the generations in the oral tradition.
Ocean House, from £2,699pp including three nights’ accommodation, most meals and drinks, tours by local guides, flight and helicopter transfers from Vancouver. International Flights excluded. Departures, early Jun to early Sep with Trailfinders.com