OPINION | How — and why — to travel mindfully

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A RECENT report by the International Luxury Travel Market reveals that volunteer tourism — or “voluntourism” — is one of the fastest-growing niche markets globally. Many of the world’s finest vacation destinations are looking to meet this demand by providing community outreach and environmental initiatives for their guests, making it easier to swap the classic “fly and flop” break for experiences that enrich and inspire, but without compromising on comfort or style.

Alexa Poortier, the founder of sustainable-travel platform itmustbenow.com, says, “The travel industry has a long way to go before it can be considered truly committed to sustainability. But we’re seeing an increasing number of companies doing their utmost to give back to their local communities and conserve the environment, while providing some amazing experiences for travelers. Whether it’s conservation trips to support wildlife initiatives, or interacting with communities and buying local produce, there are plenty of inspired, pioneering and worthwhile initiatives that enable travelers to enhance people’s lives in a destination in which they operate.”

Fairmont Château Laurier in Ottawa, Canada, works with the non-profit Ottawa Mission, which helps the homeless and those at risk of homelessness in the Ottawa region. Hotel guests are welcome to participate in volunteering opportunities, such as donating time and funds to The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, which reaches out to 4,500 children and youths each year through programs designed to build self-esteem and improve social skills. Activities can include preparing healthy food for members, as well as gardening and landscaping. Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo runs a range of community-centered projects, including its Paint A School initiative, where volunteers are invited to donate supplies and paint. So far, six local schools have received much-needed paint jobs. In three schools, guests and resort employees have also helped to plant community gardens.

At Six Senses Yao Noi in Thailand, guests can dedicate a few hours — or even a few days — to teaching conversational English at a local school. At One & Only Nyungwe House, Rwanda, guests can take part in the monthly Umuganda, a traditional community clean-up day on the last Saturday of every month. The hands-on experience at Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley, Australia, is equally rewarding: guests can participate in its conservation programs such as tree planting and wildlife surveys.

Wildlife is also high on the agenda at Bensley Collection Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia, where guests can join Wildlife Alliance rangers motorcycling through the forest on anti-poaching patrols, dismantling snares and tracking previously unrecorded wildlife activity.

Funded by Shinta Mani Hotels, the camp’s ranger station enables the non-profit Wildlife Alliance to carry out vital conservation work in the area, including protecting animals from poaching and preventing illegal logging.

At COMO Cocoa Island — reopening following a complete refurbishment in January — and COMO Maalifushi, in the Maldives, guests can take part in a coral propagation program, sponsoring and installing coral frames to help repopulate the surrounding reefs. They can even follow the corals’ progress online after they leave.

St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico, is collaborating with the Bahia Beach Resort Golf Club and its non-profit organization, Alma de Bahia, on initiatives to support communities affected by Hurricane Maria. Volunteer opportunities include coastal beach cleanups, caring for manatees and working with the U.S. Forestry Service to restore trails in El Yunque Forest.

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