As part of our commitment to helping us all be better and more thoughtful travelers, we're introducing Round of Applause, a new column that will highlight the travel companies that are doing it their part to be — and inspire us to be — better global citizens through their good work. We're defining "good work" as initiatives and projects the companies are undertaking to help or support their environment and their community, and in turn the greater world around them. We tip our hat to them for leading the charge and setting the example for how to do it right.
Tour operator Intrepid Travel has long been a sustainability leader, going carbon neutral in 2010 and structuring the company around the principles of Science Based Targets initiative, which promotes “ambitious corporate climate action.” In addition to running 2,700 carbon-offset trips, Intrepid is now working to decarbonize its tours and itineraries. This means not generating carbon in the first place by swapping short flights for high-speed train rides or boat journeys and adding more walking and biking trips to their offerings — Walk Yosemite National Park and Cycle the Lake District, to highlight just two.
But wait, let’s give Intrepid a standing ovation: In addition to these climate initiatives, in 2014, the company became the first global tour operator to ban elephant rides, as well as other animals-for-human-amusement activities on their trips. Last year, they published an open-source Animal Welfare Policy Toolkit to help other travel companies adopt better animal welfare practices. Riding on an elephant, petting a baby lion, posing for a selfie with any “tame” animal that should be wild — let’s all promise we’ll never do any of these harmful and irresponsible activities again. By all means admire all creatures great and small, but do it from a distance.
Heckfield Place is the kind of grand and gorgeous English country estate that fuels many a modern Bridgerton fantasy. Located just south of London in Hampshire, the 250-year-old Georgian manor underwent a careful and considered renovation, resulting in guest rooms and public spaces that are at once striking and soothing, cool and classic.
But let's take it outside, to Heckfield's 400 acres of forests, fields, ponds, and, notably, its Home Farm, which in January 2021 earned 100 percent biodynamic certification from the Biodynamic Association — the first hotel in the United Kingdom to do so. Taking a bow for their part in the achievement are some two dozen British saddleback pigs, a flock of too-cute sheep, several hundred free-range Hyline chickens, twenty beehives, and seven greenhouses brimming with vegetables like lettuces, brassicas, squash, and tomatoes, as well as the many varieties of flowers that fill the house with blooms. During the pandemic, much of this bounty went into produce boxes sold to the community and through Spring to Go while the hotel was closed.
Credit, too, goes to the humans involved, like Head Market Gardener David Rowley for supervising the work, Culinary Director and beloved British chef Skye Gyngell for putting the flora and fauna to excellent use at the hotel restaurants Hearth and Marle, and General Manager Olivia Richli for helping define and impart to guests the importance of Heckfield's regenerative ideology that connects the house to the land to the farm to the guests. If organic is great, biodynamic is boss, bringing a holistic, chemical-free approach to using and nurturing the land to ensure it can sustain not only the present crop of lucky guests who visit but also, and arguably more importantly, many future generations to come.
Beks Ndlovu began his career as a professional safari guide in Zimbabwe. Today, his company, African Bush Camps, operates more than a dozen camps and lodges in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana. The ethos throughout is one of conservation and sustainability — ensuring not only that guests have a seamless and authentic safari experience, but also that the communities that support and surround the camps benefit, too. The company donates $10USD from every night of a visit to its African Bush Camps foundation, which funds education, conservation, and community empowerment initiatives like supporting orphans and vulnerable children in Botswana, a primary school play center in Zimbabwe, a health center in Zambia, and many, many more. Guests at the camps are encouraged to get hands-on and participate in the work by sharing their skills, from arts and crafts to business and architecture. It's always a good day when guests can give back to the places they visit. Of course, anyone from anywhere can also donate to their endeavors.
A certain set of travelers know hotelier Sonu Shivdasani for the luxury hotel companies he created: Six Senses (which he sold in 2012) and Soneva. Now in its 26th year, the company named for Sonu and his wife, Eva, has four eco-resorts in the Maldives and Thailand — each more postcard-perfect than the next. But Soneva is more than high thread count and manicured white sand beaches: Sustainability is as important as luxury to the company mission.
To wit: Soneva Namoona is a partnership between Soneva Fushi, its three nearby islands, and Common Seas designed to phase out single-use plastic, introduce recycling programs, ban the open burning of trash, and educate locals to be ocean stewards. Soneva Academy is the new, science-based program offered at Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani that teaches young guests (from age 12) about marine life, the cosmos, plastic pollution, and the dangers of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Speaking of bugs, the innovative, pesticide-free pest management practiced at Soneva Fushi has reduced the mosquito population on the island down to zero. Zero. Take that, dengue and chikungunya. Buzz off.
There's more: Soneva has been carbon neutral since 2012, and they recycle 90 percent of their solid waste. By banning commercial bottled water bottles at all resorts (why doesn't everyone do this?!) and producing their own drinking water since 2008, they have funded more than 500 clean water projects in more than 50 countries. What helps them do all this good work is the two percent environmental charge levied on all stays, which goes to Soneva Foundation to fund environmental, social, and economic projects. That small percentage adds up fast, because these resorts are not cheap. One project, the Myanmar Stoves Campaign, donated more than 36,000 cooking stoves to families, with each stove saving 2.5 tons of wood per year and reducing air pollution by 80 percent. Oh yeah, they've also planted 500,000 trees in Thailand. Good, impressive, and hopeful numbers.
We like Kimpton Angler's Hotel South Beach for its design (bold graphics, nautical overtones) and location (convenient to, but not engulfed by, the surrounding beach scene). But we especially like the Rescue Reef Discovery guest excursion we experienced a few years ago. Once suited up in scuba and snorkel gear, we joined a small group on a cruise out into Key Biscayne to visit the coral reef the hotel has adopted in partnership with the University of Miami’s Benthic Ecology and Coral Restoration Lab. So far, they've planted a few reef "trees" (as seen in the photo above) that are already home to hundreds of new coral. A great initiative to help restore the local ocean ecosystem.
In the late 1800s, Dunton was a Colorado mining town home to some fifty people. Today, the "town" is home to Dunton Destinations three upscale guest camps: Dunton Hot Springs, Dunton River Camp, and Dunton Town House. While the cabins and tents are beautiful, nature is the real star here, playing a key role in the horseback rides, mountain hikes, fly fishing, photography and art classes, and rock climbs that make a stay here so special. To help preserve the surroundings that give them so much, Dunton has planted 25,000 trees in partnership with the National Forest Foundation. These trees will not only capture approximately 12,500 tons of CO2 but also help provide a home for the wildlife that depends on them to thrive. It's just one of Dunton's sustainability initiatives.