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These Travel Charities Are the Perfect Holiday Gift

By Eric Rosen

Dec 22, 2020

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AmericaShare supports education efforts for children in Kenya.

Courtesy of AmericaShare

AmericaShare supports education efforts for children in Kenya.

Tourism-based philanthropies can ensure that places you love will continue to thrive until you’re able to visit them. 

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During 2020, with its COVID-19-prompted lockdowns, continuing border closures, and other pandemic-related restrictions, even the most avid travelers have had their wings clipped. Due to current case surges, both in the United States and abroad, many folks have had to cancel holiday trips, or at least put them on hold.  

While on the road reporting for Conscious Traveler, a podcast that explores the world through stories of community, conservation, and culture, I’ve come across myriad hotels and hospitality brands that support philanthropic foundations. Their work ranges from wildlife conservation and environmental restoration to providing schooling, medical care, and clean drinking water to local communities. Unfortunately, with fewer travelers physically on-hand to donate time or money to them, support of these organizations has become more urgent during the pandemic.

If you or your favorite road warriors aren’t leaving home over the holidays this year, contributing to one of these commendable causes might just be the best way of putting your travel dollars to good use. You can continue supporting a place that you or your loved ones already know and cherish or connect with new destinations you hope to visit once you get back out in the world again. Here are several to consider this holiday season.

The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy started back in 1983 as the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary, a small-scale, last-ditch effort to save the black rhinos, which were on the brink of extinction. From its initial 5,000 acres, the conservancy has grown to over 65,000, and has one of the highest densities of wildlife in all of Kenya spread out across its forests, grasslands, and marshes. In addition to black and white rhinos, visitors come to see rare, finely striped Grévy’s zebras, reticulated giraffes with their geometric patches, and a preponderance of predators. One of the reasons the conservancy has been so successful is that it has multiple projects focused on the communities that surround it, including providing microloans to thousands of local women so they can provide for their families and building reservoirs and storage tanks that supply villages with clean water for drinking and agriculture.

Although there are several lodges in the area, the conservancy owns the tented Lewa Safari Camp and the colonial-chic Kifaru House, which are run by sophisticated safari outfit Elewana Collection. Donations typically account for 70 percent of the conservancy’s operating budget, and profits from the two lodges make up the remaining 30 percent of it. Not this year, though. If you’re a wildlife lover, or hope to spot elephants and even solitary servals on a future trip there, consider making a contribution

Song Saa Foundation, Cambodia

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With a name that means “the sweethearts” in Khmer, the private island resort of Song Saa in Cambodia’s bucolic Koh Rong Archipelago is a favorite with jet-setting honeymooners thanks to its secluded overwater villas and pristine seas. But the resort’s charitable foundation oversees such projects as providing health services to nearby villages, reforesting the coast by planting thousands of mangrove trees, and establishing a small marine preserve to protect the area’s precious reefs. You might not be planning an Asian beach vacation anytime soon, but you can donate to the foundation’s worthy causes then check out the impact on your next trip east.

Inkaterra Asociación, Peru

Inkaterra is known for its string of South American luxury lodges, including Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica and Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in Peru’s Sacred Valley. What you might not know, however, is that the company’s philanthropic arm helps manage 30,000 acres of Amazonian rain forest by monitoring its wildlife populations and biodiversity, and funding scientific research. The association has helped restore the natural habitat on the grounds of Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel so that over 200 bird species and more than 100 types of butterfly now thrive there, along with myriad orchids and ferns. Some of the association’s activities are currently on hold, including conservation education, training courses, and volunteering opportunities, but travelers can still take part by donating—and then planning a trip to South America to see all the good work later.

Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, South Carolina

You might be longing for a genteel getaway to South Carolina’s tranquil tidewaters for kayaking among dolphins before a round of (deceptively strong) Artillery Punch cocktails at the Montage Palmetto Bluff. But if a visit isn’t in the cards, you can still give to the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy. The organization maintains the coastal forests and tidal estuaries of this unique corner of the South and continually surveys the indigenous animal populations, including sea turtles, alligators, avian flocks, and white-tailed deer, among other fauna. An on-staff archaeologist also oversees the discovery and research of artifacts found on the property, some of which date back 12,000 years. Donations to the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy ensure that this heritage is preserved for generations to come.

Blue Project Atlantis Foundation, Bahamas

By now, you’ve probably seen pictures of (or visited) the Caribbean mega-resort, Atlantis Paradise Island, and gaped at its collection of marine exhibits and 14 lagoons, which house over 50,000 animals comprising 250 species. However, the hotel also underwrites the Blue Project Atlantis Foundation, a nonprofit that helps preserve Bahamian marine ecosystems and the animals they support, such as sharks, manatees, and turtles. The foundation’s work includes community outreach, scientific research, and education, all with the aim of protecting the Caribbean’s coral reefs. Although the Bahamas are currently open to U.S. tourists, if you are not considering a trip for now, you could instead make a donation to the Blue Project Atlantis Foundation so your dollars can do good in your absence.

AmericaShare, East Africa

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Micato Safaris custom creates itineraries that take travelers to see some of Africa’s most spectacular wildlife in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana, and beyond, plus opulent offerings in India. What might be more impressive, however, is that for every safari booked, Micato sends a child to school—specifically children from the Nairobi slum of Mukuru. The organization also sponsors children from Mukuru to attend private boarding schools around Nairobi, and its Shining Star Fund provides individual scholarships to send academically gifted students to high school (hopefully on their way to university). That’s in addition to running the Harambee Community Centre in Mukuru, with a nursery school, two libraries, and two computer labs, plus drinking water distribution points throughout the area. During the COVID crisis, AmericaShare has innovated in several ways—for instance, providing smartphones to hundreds of children so they can continue to attend virtual classes. As you might imagine, fewer people booked safaris this year, but the inhabitants of Mukuru have not left their problems behind. So even if you’re not going on a game drive anytime soon, you might want to make a donation to this laudable cause.

Sumba Foundation, Indonesia

Over the past decade or so, Nihi Sumba has collected accolades as one of the best beach resorts in the world thanks to its unparalleled perch above the unspoiled west coast of Sumba. While most guests probably make the journey here to luxuriate in their thatched-roof villas and be pampered in the jungle spa, they can also make a difference by donating to the resort’s Sumba Foundation. Its various projects include building learning centers for the island’s children, running English classes for over 1,000 kids, providing potable water to over 27,000 people per day, and establishing medical clinics for islanders. 

AccorHotel and PUR Projet, Australia

Given how eventful 2020 turned out to be, you might have forgotten about the devastating wildfires that swept through parts of Australia early this year. By some estimates, more than 42 million acres burned, and over 3 billion animals were harmed. Revegetation and rehabilitation efforts are underway across the continent, including AccorHotel and PUR Projet’s “Give a Tree” initiative in partnership with Greening Australia. It costs five euros (US$6.10) to plant a tree, and you can select the location of each sapling you purchase, as well as personalize any messages you’d like the beneficiary of your gift to receive. Then they can keep track of the arboreal progress with photos, videos, and GPS coordinates uploaded to their PUR Projet account. 

Tetiaroa Society, French Polynesia

The ultra-tony Tahitian resort the Brando made headlines recently as the setting for Kim Kardashian’s  “pandemiculous” (this is totally a word, infer the meaning on your own) 40th birthday party. But did you know it also funds an organization whose mission is to preserve and protect French Polynesia’s land and marine environments, as well as its traditional culture? The Tetiaroa Society’s initiatives include restoring ancient archaeological sites around the atoll, creating a sanctuary for seabirds and green turtles, researching reef sharks and ocean acidification, and supporting research by University of California, Berkeley’s Gump Station on nearby Moorea. Although French Polynesia remains open to some international travelers (with pretravel testing procedures in place), if you don’t feel comfortable heading there yourself just yet, you could consider making a charitable gift knowing that you’ll be helping to protect a place you can enjoy on a future trip.

Fogo Island Shorefast Foundation, Canada

The tagline for this small-town Canadian charity is, “Many luxury properties have a charitable foundation. Our charitable foundation has a luxury inn.” The “inn” in question is Fogo Island Inn, a design-driven gem surrounded by Newfoundland’s wild beauty. The foundation that owns and operates it reinvests the proceeds into economic development for the community of Fogo Island through projects like micro-lending funds, academic residency programs, and the preservation of historical buildings and sites. Canada’s borders remain closed to U.S. visitors for the time being, but you can make a dedicated donation to the Shorefast Foundation to help the island’s inhabitants until you’re able to get there yourself.

>>Next: AFAR’s Gift Guide for Shopping Small Businesses

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