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9 Destinations Where You Can Make a Difference This Holiday Season

By Greg Sullivan

Oct 24, 2017

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Courtesy of Rutherford Ranch Winery

At AFAR, we believe that tourism is the most impactful way to help a destination rebound after disaster strikes. If you’re looking to give back this season, consider spending the holidays in a recently affected area. We asked AFAR’s pro travel advisors for the best places to book, now.

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The past few weeks have been brutal. We’ve seen devastating hurricanes hit Texas, the Caribbean, and Florida; demonstrations in Barcelona; an earthquake in central Mexico; a mass shooting in Las Vegas; and now, fires in California.

It is obviously so sad for the people who are directly affected by these events. We have previously written about ways to help, and we continue to encourage you to consider giving to charities to support those in need.

I’m writing today to shine the light on another way to help: travel.

Events like these can often cause people to decide not to travel. Even destinations that weren’t directly affected get written off because people loosely associate them with wherever the trouble has happened. But travel is the world’s biggest industry, providing a livelihood to millions of people. In the aftermath of tragedy, what people in these communities need is more people visiting, not fewer.

And what better time to visit than the upcoming holidays?

It’s not too late to book a trip to places that are as safe and enjoyable as they have always been. Not only will you have a great vacation, you’ll be helping those whose lives depend on travelers.

We reached out to the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, some of the world’s most informed and connected travel planners, and asked them for their picks for the upcoming holiday season. I encourage you to get inspired and reach out to let them help you book and get the most out of these trips. — Greg Sullivan, AFAR cofounder


“Meadowood is still standing after this month’s fires. Meadowood is considered one of Napa Valley’s premiere luxury hideaways with cozy cottages and elegant suites located in a private 250-acre forest setting. Guests can relax, unwind, enjoy the spa, a glass of wine, the nine-hole golf course or dine at the Grill or The Restaurant at Meadowood, a three-Michelin-star dining experience located on the property. There are still many special places to experience and enjoy in the Napa Valley. Meadowood is one of those places.” — Eric Maryanov, Founder & President, All-Travel

“The beautiful Russian River Valley emerged unscathed and Farmhouse Inn is safe and open for business. With an award-winning restaurant, newly renovated rooms, and a brand new spa, it’s a great place to unwind over the holidays.” — Josh Alexander, Luxury Travel Advisor, ProTravel International


“I love the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas. This year, the hotel is planning an intergalactic New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball in partnership with Dom Perignon champagne. I love the Mandarin’s 23rd-floor bar: They have a champagne vending machine stocked with mini-bottles of Moet & Chandon as you get off the elevator and the most amazing view over Las Vegas from which to watch the city’s fireworks show. It’ll be the perfect way to ring in 2018.” — Katie Cadar, Director of Leisure Sales, TravelStore


“Mexico City is rebuilding after the 7.1 earthquake on September 19, and locals are eager to show visitors around. The tourism dollars will also help them with efforts to restore the city. Three top hotels, the St. Regis Mexico CityFour Seasons Mexico City, and Las Alcobas, all have good availability over the holidays, with no minimum-stay requirements. While there, be sure to seek out the mural of Frida, the rescue dog who helped rescue 52 people and whose goggled visage captured the hearts of Mexico City. It’s in the city’s Condesa neighborhood, which was hit especially hard by the earthquake.” — Kate Doty, Managing Director, GeoEx Premier Access


“The locals have worked first to get resorts and restaurants back up quickly and will focus on the damage to their own homes and property later. Going over the holidays will provide visitors with the full festive experience on Providenciales while also giving locals the needed tourism revenue to rebuild their own homes and lives.” — William Kiburz, Vice President, Coronet Travel Ltd.

“We have been receiving daily updates from our partners on the ground, and luxury properties such as Grace Bay Club, Amanyara, Parrot Cay, The Regent Palms, and The Shore Club are all opening on time. Many properties were closed in September for their annual closure, during which they made upgrades to the property and had their staff take time off. Other concerns, like restaurants, shops, and the quality of the beaches, have been put to rest by the Turks and Caicos Tourism Board, which has communicated to us that all will be in good order for the upcoming season.” — Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Co-Owner & Co-President, Valerie Wilson Travel

“Less than six weeks after surviving the eye of Hurricane Irma, we are excited to share that, with the exception of its five-star hotels, the island of St. Bart’s will be ‘back to business’ for the upcoming festive season. With a full range of services offered by an expert team of concierges, private butlers, and personal chefs, Eden Rock Villa Rental is enthusiastically waiting to welcome guests to some of its most luxurious and exclusive villas (including Villa Axel Rocks, Villa Ixfalia and Casa del Mar) just in time for the holidays. Although the hotel itself will remain closed until summer of 2018 for renovations, Eden Rock will be working its magic to provide its loyal guests with new and improved hotel experiences including JG food experiences within the villas and customized beach services. Even after all the damage the island experienced, it’s going to take a lot more than a category 5 hurricane to change the vibe of St. Bart’s! Almost all of the island’s hot spots have reported that they will operate this coming season (some of them are already open). Last but not least, the island’s 14 beaches will be in pristine condition for guests to enjoy swimming, watersports, and private picnics.” — Kristen Korey Pike, Founder & CEO, KK Travels Worldwide


“Several Caribbean islands suffered devastating losses caused by Hurricane Irma and Maria, but many others weren’t impacted or recovered within days. There are plenty of wonderful options if you need to revise your Caribbean holiday plans while at the same time help keep the tourism economy alive. A luxurious off-the-radar alternative is Grand Isle Resort & Spa on Great Exuma. This elegant property boasts a mile-long, family-friendly beach; a golf course, spa, and pool; as well as beautifully appointed one- to four-bedroom villas that can accommodate the smallest to the largest family gathering. As an added holiday bonus, surprise your loved ones with the incomparable gift of an opportunity to swim with the pigs at nearby Pig Beach—a holiday memory that they will never forget!” Judy Perl, President, Judy Perl Worldwide Travel

ST. KITTS & NEVIS“Many people think that, due to its proximity to St. Martin, St. Kitts is also in bad shape after Irma—but this is not the case. The island’s brand-new Park Hyatt St. Kitts will be the Caribbean’s first Park Hyatt when it opens on Banana Beach on November 1, 2017. The resort features contemporary design, 126 rooms and suites, spa, two restaurants, health club, etc. Beachside King rooms are still available for the holidays, with 527 square feet of space and a terrace.” — Ignacio Maza, Executive Vice President, Signature Travel Network


“As a native Houstonian with family still living there, I can confirm that the areas that were ravaged by Harvey are isolated to just one very residential section of West Houston. Why go to Houston? To support this local economy in need, discover the warmth and diversity of Houstonians, and experience the many intricate blending of cultures which are so evident in the interesting art and food scenes. Where can visitors stay? The Hotel ZaZa is right in the heart of the museum district—my favorite neighborhood in Houston. After enjoying an action-packed couple of days in the city, consider driving to the Hill Country to stay at a Relais & Château horse ranch called the Inn at Dos Brisas.” — Shelby Donley, President, Camelback Odyssey Travel


“Barcelona’s newly opened Almanac hotel has available bookings for the holidays. Barcelona offers great weather at this time of year and is right on the ocean with beaches. It’s a short flight from the U.S., a culinary epicenter, and great place to stay up late with bars and clubs going all night long. It’s a unique city with the combo of the traditional avenues as well as the winding streets of the old town—full of boutiques and galleries. And on top of all, you have the modern art presence of Gaudí in contrast with so much Gothic architecture.” — Cari Gray, CEO & Owner, Gray & Co.

A version of this story appeared in the January/February 2018 issue.

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