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    Presents of Mind (and Heart)

    This year, spare a thought for travel industry initiatives that are preserving our cultural and environmental diversity for future travelers

    Talk to anyone in the world of travel—anyone who has eyes trained on the future—and the twin values of generosity and accountability will inevitably come up. After the year that was 2020, in which habits and assumptions were upended, causing a mass reckoning of core values, most of us have reached a common conclusion: that traveling must mean something much deeper than just ticking boxes. Any trip—whether a beach idyll or a summit scaling, two days in Bruges or three weeks in Ecuador—needs to contain some element of giving back to the place itself. It might take the form of protecting wilderness and wildlife, educating children, or funding microcredit or small-business initiatives. For us, the travelers, it’s due diligence—researching what the best hotel, resort and camp operators are doing to be active, responsible members of the communities they’re in. More immediately, while many of us are still home-bound, it can be as simple as a donation to a charity that’s doing good the world over. Read on for the initiatives that are worth your attention—and your dollar.

    The Grumeti Fund

    Singita camps and lodges—found in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania—are all but unrivaled in the luxury-safari stakes. What gives them their bona fides is that every one of them corresponds to a nonprofit foundation based in the same territory as the camp, and the camps operate more or less entirely in service to those foundations.

    Photo courtesy of The Grumeti Fund.

    Nowhere does this symbiosis resonate as impressively as it does in Tanzania, where The Grumeti Fund, an NGO partner to Singita, manages hugely ambitious—and successful—broad-scope program that comprises everything from gender-equity empowerment to a pioneering anti-poaching team that protects the private reserve’s 350,000 acres, of which the camps’ guests enjoy the run. It’s conservation tourism at its most sophisticated and impactful.

    We Are Here Venice

    Jane Da Mosto was an environmental scientist before she became Venice’s most high-profile activist and champion, spending years studying the life and health of the Venetian lagoon and its corresponding effect on the stability of the city. The nonprofit she founded in 2015, We Are Here Venice, is equal parts activist nonprofit and think tank, whose central mandate is to keep Venice a living city. She engages everyone from climate-change authorities (they donate research hours to programs designed to protect the lagoon’s crucial salt marsh environments) to famous visiting artists (who have contributed activism posters to Da Mosto’s “BACK SOON [but better]” post-Covid recovery campaign, which paved La Serenissima’s byways throughout the summer). Some of Venice’s better-known — and better-funded — foundations might bring the glamour more, with gala events that fund the restoration of church frescoes. But it’s telling that a board member of one of them recently praised Da Mosto with this description: “We might be saving Venice, but she is saving the Venetians.”

    Photo courtesy of We Are Here Venice.

    The Island Foundation

    Plugged-in residents of Southeast Asia have long known about Nikoi, the glorious, lo-fi private island resort offshore from Singapore, created in 2006 by Australian banker-turned-conservationist, Andrew Dixon. His second island resort, Cempedak, upped the luxury-island ante with huge bamboo villas marked by the conspicuous absence of air-con, television and superfluous technology (and the under-18 set; Cempedak is strictly for grownups).

    Photo courtesy of Dixon's Island Foundation.

    Why we love them: They both punch way above their weight in the sustainability stakes, setting actual bars in Asia. Not least because staying at either helps support Dixon’s Island Foundation, which has created education and teacher-training programs throughout Indonesia’s Riau islands, where both Cempedak and Nikoi are based. He stages annual TIF fundraisers, but guests (or you, from home) can make direct donations too. His Covid pivot is equally compelling: a partnership with Seven Clean Seas, which sells plastic “credits” to companies keen to offset their plastics use, similar to carbon-offset programs; the monies are then used to fund beach clean-ups the world over. Dixon has conscripted his (very keen) furloughed staff; they’re paid wages, given lunch, and have to date cleared 20 kilometers of Riau coastline of 25 tons of plastic—equivalent to about 1.25 million bottles. Dixon’s efforts are a best-in-class model of how thoughtful small-scale hospitality can change livelihoods, and lives, locally.

    World Central Kitchen

    José Andrés is by now almost as known for his food-security activism worldwide as he is for being one of Spain’s — and America’s — most revered chefs (which, the Spanish pantheon considered, is really saying something). He and his wife Patricia created the World Central Kitchen a decade ago to help communities have access to nutritious food, through everything from sanitation training to social enterprise ventures that empower small-scale farming. But it’s WCK’s more recent humanitarian efforts—its First Food Responders program, which has delivered meals in dozens of places across the planet where disasters, both natural and man-made, have left people hungry—that make the most compelling case for Andrés’ genius. His vision is huge in both scope and heart: a world where there is always a warm meal for everyone.

    Photo courtesy of the World Central Kitchen.
    Maria Shollenbarger

    Maria Shollenbarger is the longtime travel editor at the Financial TimesHow To Spend It magazine. She also writes for Travel + Leisure, The Australian’s WISH magazine, and the FTWeekend. She lives in London and Italy.

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