As international travel slowly resumes, many of the world’s perennially popular destinations have seen a gradual return of visitors, while other places remain off the traveler’s radar—yet the latter spots are where vaccinated tourists can have a great positive impact. Here are three places where your travel dollar will go further to help a destination get back on its feet.
In an arid, history-filled landscape about 700 miles southwest of Beijing, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region sits along the ancient Silk Road and is filled with lively markets, as well as mosques that serve the area’s sizeable population of Hui Muslims. Today, an emerging wine scene in the province has slowly been putting the destination on the travel map. An itinerary with tour operator WildChina allows visitors to explore and support the nascent wine industry and provides glimpses of the area’s culture-rich heritage, including a visit to the imperial tombs of the Tangut people dating back to 1038 C.E.
Before the pandemic, the combination of untouched mountain landscapes, centuries-old nomadic culture, and visa-free travel had begun to lure more travelers off the beaten path to Kyrgyzstan. However, even in a good year, this Central Asian country’s tourism season is limited, due largely to heavy winter snowfall entailing road closures for several months. It poses a challenge to visitation numbers— but that means your trip will have a bigger impact on communities that struggle to get through cold winters and cyclical droughts. A trip with Steppes Travel, the U.K.-based purpose-driven travel company, often includes horseback rides, individual encounters with seminomadic people, and yurt stays by one of the country’s nearly 2,000 picturesque lakes.
When Canada reopened its borders to vaccinated travelers from the United States in August 2021, it offered hope to the country’s devastated tourism industry. U.S. visitors, who make up the second largest visitor count after Canadian tourists, spend more than twice the amount Canadians do on overnight trips within the country. But as he watched another wave of COVID cases slow travel’s recovery again, Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, feared his constituents would suffer the most—especially if a lack of visitors might lead some Indigenous travel professionals to abandon the industry.
“The entrepreneurs we work with are our cultural ambassadors, and when they leave, they don’t just take the business,” says Henry, a member of the Métis Nation whose organization provides marketing and support to 842 Indigenous-owned businesses. “They take their cultural expertise with them, too.”
In 2019, Indigenous tourism accounted for an estimated $1.9 billion in Canadian dollars of direct GDP and employed at least 36,000 workers. Since the pandemic began, Indigenous tourism has lost more than $1.1 billion in sales and numbered about 20,000 workers at the peak of business in 2021. Unique hurdles for many members include their locations—in harder-to-reach areas—and the complexity of applying federal relief to the approximately 35 percent of Indigenous businesses that operate on reserve land.
In response to the many challenges of resuscitating Indigenous tourism, the organization launched destinationindigenous.ca to put travelers directly in touch with businesses. Guests can explore the rugged landscape of Torngat Mountains Base Camp, which is located on Inuit land in the eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador and aims to reopen in summer 2022. They can take a guided boat excursion to the iceberg-filled fjords or hike to pristine waterfalls. In British Columbia, the First Nations–owned Talaysay Tours in Vancouver offers a Talking Trees Hike, a cultural and nature tour in the city’s Stanley Park with a member of the Coast Salish people. Guests can pair the experience with a stay in the city’s Skwachàys Lodge, a hotel owned by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, where a portion of the proceeds from a guest’s stay supports the organization’s Indigenous artist-in-residence program.