We could say a lot of things about 2020 — but most of them would not be very nice. However, one half-glass-full way to think about the year is to consider it as one (very long) season of teachable moments. Slowing down brought important things into sharp relief — the precarious state of the environment, the reliable awesomeness of the natural world, the power of people who band together for a cause.
Though much of the world slowed way down and was even brought to a standstill at times, beautiful new hotels did manage to open — some of them paying particularly close attention to their environment, community, impact, and trying to do business differently. Those companies deserve extra attention, and we've highlighted the feel-good factors that stand out to us.
Where: Marakele National Park, South Africa
Why We're Excited: On this purpose-driven vacation, guests design trips that allow them to dig into aspects of conservation they are passionate about — notching and monitoring rhinos, for example, or joining the full moon census for nocturnal animal tracking. Unlike many other tour operations in the bush, Marataba accommodates families with children of all ages, creating experiences (rewilding orphaned animals!) that may inspire a lifetime of stewardship.
Feel Good Factor: The pioneering public-private conservation model (pooling resources and expertise for sustainable management of the land) means protection for the country's wildest places. Over two decades of thoughtful rehabilitation of the land has restored this sanctuary for the Big Five, providing a model of success across the continent.
Where: Tozeur, Tunisia
Why We're Excited: Easy access to Sahara Desert adventures, medina excursions, and mountain oases, after which guests return to a modern resort with Berber and Moorish design details, a spa, kids club, and a veranda overlooking serene swimming pools and the Chott El Djerid salt flats beyond.
Feel-Good Factor: Anantara has pledged to build and operate according to The Green Growth 2050 Global Standard, which includes a number of international benchmarks from ethics to economy principles. A section on their website describes their various sustainability projects as well as their commitment to water and energy conservation.
Where: Marrakech, Morocco
Why We're Excited: It's pure chemistry between landscape and architecture. The 28-acre estate is dotted with citrus and olive trees and the hotel showcases the work of master craftsmen (tilers, painters, woodworkers, plaster carvers). The views are spectacular, too.
Feel-Good Factor: In 2014, The Oberoi Group created a partnership with SOS Children’s Villages to provide children who are homeless, parentless, or abandoned throughout India with education and care. Hotel employees provide career counseling, host holiday parties, and organize cooking classes for kids and caretakers.
Where: Kruger National Park, South Africa
Why We're Excited: Along with wildlife conservation and community preservation, the ecological design of the lodge itself ensures minimal invasion and a light footprint — from materials to building methods. A full range of activities, including self-drive tours and guided bush walks, are meant to accommodate a range of guests.
Feel-Good Factor: A 50-50 joint venture (20 years in the making) has been set up between the local 45,000-person Mdluli community, who own the ancestral land inside the park, and private investors to open a luxury lodge that benefits locals (90 percent of the lodge employees are Mdluli, and the community receives direct and indirect compensation and financial benefit of the business). The camp, which opened in January 2020, created sustainable business opportunities and increased land value in this very unusual setup inside Kruger.
Where: Thornybush Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Why We're Excited: On the western fringe of Kruger, Liz Biden has designed the latest edition to The Royal Portfolio: a glamorous, cozy, and colorful lodge. (She's also responsible for The Silo, a stunning hotel overlooking the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town). Large suites and three-bedroom villas have stylish modern furnishing, private pools, and verandas with swinging daybeds. It's just down the road from sister property Royal Malewane, and guests have access to their services and amenities, not to mention their guides — including three of the world's seven master trackers.
Feel-Good Factor: Royal Malewane pays lease fees to the local community and employs their members for now. But in 40 years, the local community will own the lodge outright.
Read More on Fathom: Liz Biden Is South Africa’s Coolest Lady Hotelier
Where: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Why We’re Excited: Singita Grumeti’s refurbished camp has nine suites that have been physically lowered to the ground and fashioned as vintage tented camps, albeit with very 21st-century creature comforts like private meditation decks and a “guest deli” in the main area (a refrigerator and wicker baskets) filled with farm-to-table foods.
Feel-Good Factor: Singita has adopted the One Planet Living framework — a holistic approach to living happily within the Earth's resources — by utilizing everything from sustainable materials to cross ventilation to tactical off-grid design principles.
Where: Serengeti Kogatende, Tanzania
Why We're Excited: Sayari, which began as a mobile camp following the great wildebeest migration, took early steps toward carbon neutrality and offered poachers new livelihoods as guides. Award-winning Asilia's new, all-Tanzanian run, eco conscious safari camp has fifteen suites, a beautiful swimming pool, library, spa, a shop filled with ethically made items, and a solar-powered microbrewery — not surprisingly, the Serengeti’s first.
Feel-Good Factor: A state-of-the-art water filtration system means no more bottled water. They also provide drinking water to three local communities.
Where: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Why We're Excited: The owner-run safari lodge's new, uniquely designed seasonal tented camp is located in the remote southwestern Mara Triangle, a prime spot for migration viewing and home to cheetah, lion prides, and large elephant herds.
Feel-Good Factor: Guest fees fund community projects (education, conservation, healthcare) through the non-profit Angama Foundation. The Foundation also runs the Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year contest to celebrate the year-round destination as well as promote photographers and guides.
Where: NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Why We're Excited: The family-friendly camp is the first of its kind in these parts. On nearly 38,000 private acres of red desert dunes, a dozen thatched roof chalets, each with its own "stargazer room," opens to the sky for nightly celestial events. The NamibRand is Africa’s first designated International Dark Sky Reserve, so the level of viewing here is, shall we say, out of this world.
Feel-Good Factor: Solar power provides all of the camp's energy, and a percentage of all Natural Selection guest stays goes directly toward local wildlife conservation. The company partners with the government and other organizations to help protect and expand wildlife areas.
Where: Windhoek, Namibia
Why We’re Excited: Sustainably built suites on a hilltop overlooking a savannah dotted with rhinos and giraffes was constructed on former hunting grounds-turned rehabilitated land with minimal impact. It's conveniently situated less than an hour-drive from Windhoek airport, for maximum viewing time. Interesting programming, like live music sessions and sound meditations with local instruments, connects guests with the environment and themselves.
Feel-Good Factor: Habitas partnered with innovative non-profit Saira Hospitality to source, train, and hire local staff. (Listen to Saira Hospitality CEO Harsha Chanrai on the Fathom podcast.)
Where: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Why We're Excited: The luxury brand's foray into the land of gorilla trekking is eco conscious and unobtrusive — 21 freestanding rooms on stilts are tucked among eucalyptus trees and rose bushes and offer views of nature at its very best. Dining experiences happen in memorable locations around the resort, like next to a fire pit or under a canopy of trees. Activities like volcano climbing (there are eight in the mountain range), cycling, and moving through the gorilla sanctuary are once-in-a-lifetime affairs.
Feel-Good Factor: The country's sustainably-minded, forward-thinking approach to tourism ensures that resorts are connected to local areas for their economic benefit, in this case Kinigi and Musanze, and that wildlife encounters are respectful and controlled.
Where: Gishwati-Mukura National Park, Rwanda
Why We're Excited: There's more to Rwanda than gorillas. Like twenty chimpanzees who share the combined Gishwati and Mukura parks with golden monkeys, blue monkeys, and L’Hoest’s monkeys. This new primate tracking experience is the first tourism offering in Rwanda's fourth national park, which is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The simple accommodations for up to four people (meals included) opened in December at the Gishwati Research Station and will be managed by eco-minded safari pioneers at Wilderness Safaris. This is not a luxury hotel experience; this is an unforgettable way to see some of the last chimps on earth. The birding is awesome around here, too (395 species!).
Feel-Good Factor: Proceeds from visits will benefit not only the park and an ambitious reforestation initiative (guests are invited to plant their own tree), but also the surrounding communities.
Updates and Additions
Where: Franschhoek, South Africa
Why We're Excited: One of the country’s oldest wine estates is also a working farm in the Great Simonsberg Conservancy, an area dedicated to responsible and sustainable agriculture. Seven new tented camps allow for a taste of the country life, with beautiful mountain strolls, swimming dams, horseback riding trails, and orchard picnics.
Feel-Good Factor: After being acquired four years ago, the property underwent a large renovation and recognition of its social responsibility in regards to the history of apartheid across South Africa, investing in the communities surrounding the estate, positively impacting the environment, and building an agricultural model sustainable for future generations.
Where: Marrakech, Morocco
Why We're Excited: The legendary manse, with its grove of 700 orange trees and ornate hand carvings and tile work, got a little nip, tuck, and facelift during the pandemic — resulting in new places to lounge, eat, drink, and socialize. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten introduced two new restaurant concepts, chef pâtissier Pierre Hermé has a Moroccan tea room, and the landmark Churchill Bar has been reconfigured with a cozy little cinema. Custom furniture, including a huge Jouin Manku-designed chandelier and some spectacularly dramatic lighting designs, further liven up the historic space.