The following five resorts are the definitive world leaders when it comes to purposeful travel. Their sustainability, philanthropy and social responsibility efforts are so extensive that what’s listed below is just a snippet of how they give back to the planet, preserve local culture, and support local communities.
When these resorts give back, they don’t hold back. We recommend checking out their websites for full details about their awe-inspiring initiatives because summarising them is akin to holding a magnifying glass over a globe to focus on one country, when there’s a whole wide world out there deserving of admiration.
For travellers who love to immerse themselves in a destination and leave with a lighter soul, these are the hidden pockets worth exploring.
Sustainability is in Bawah Reserve’s DNA. Accessible exclusively via its own amphibious seaplane, the resort – and its six previously uninhabited, forest-clad islands and 13 beaches of white hourglass sand – features 35 standalone suites and over-the-water bungalows that have been developed with the preservation of the island’s natural beauty in mind.
Bawah Reserve was the first island group in Indonesia to be powered by a renewable microgrid; all water is sourced on the island and recycled as drinking water; no heavy machinery is allowed on the island so every step in the construction process was done by hand; and the entire resort was hand-crafted from sustainable bamboo and other recycled material, such as driftwood and copper.
In an effort to rehabilitate and conserve the marine and terrestrial life of the wider Anambas archipelago – which comprises more than 250 islands across seven sub-districts – the Bawah Anambas Foundation was independently established in 2018.
Working closely with local government; non-government organisations; academic and research institutions; as well as private organisations with an eco-friendly ethos; the foundation manages a land-based conservation program and a marine conservation program aimed at protecting coral and fish on the surrounding barrier reef.
The foundation also hopes to lift the community’s welfare, where the biggest problem is a lack of education and awareness of environmental impact. At least 80% of those living in the Anambas rely on the surrounding ocean for their livelihood, with the average income equivalent to USD $150 – 350 per month, per household.
Born and raised on remote islands, the 45,000 locals simply don’t realise that many aspects of their lifestyle and day-to-day practices – such as dumping waste into the ocean, consuming turtle eggs and meat, using plastic products, and collecting stones from the forests for construction – are detrimental to the region’s outstanding biodiversity.
As such, the overarching focus for the foundation is breaking down barriers through education and one of the projects the team has implemented is teaching locals English via a digital media program.
Bawah Reserve works harmoniously with the foundation and provides unwavering support for its conservation and community welfare programs. The resort’s commitment to a sustainable future is evident in every detail of your stay: from the fresh, organically-grown food on your plates, to the reusable copper water bottle you receive upon arrival.
It is impossible to leave Bawah Reserve without feeling humbled, reconnected with nature, and inspired to live a greener life!
Originally developed as a surf resort to provide guests with access to the Indonesia’s most sought-after waves, Nihi Sumba has captured the hearts of travellers from around the globe and is today known as one of the most coveted destinations in the world.
As the brainchild of American entrepreneur, Chris Burch and South African-born hotelier, James McBride, it features 27 jaw-dropping pool villas built in traditional Sumbanese style.
Set on 467 acres of tropical forest, rice terraces and grasslands that wrap around the pumping Nihiwatu beach, Nihi Sumba has evolved from its humble beginnings into a luxury resort with a conscience and an example of a sustainable operation in harmony with the environment and the Sumbanese people.
The resort prides itself on being environmentally friendly, and in addition to the use of natural building materials, its impressive sustainability practices include organic gardens that produce the majority of the resort’s food and a comprehensive composting and water recycling system.
Nihi Sumba is a soulful destination where rugged meets unregulated freedom, and every activity offered to guests in designed to immerse them in the resort’s two most important pillars: nature and community.
From riding majestic horses on the beach, to surfing private breaks, and embarking on signature excursions including spa safaris, visits to local Stone Age sites, picnics under waterfalls and treks along butterfly trails, it is the perfect place to unplug and connect with the earth.
Additionally, there are plenty of opportunities to experience Sumba’s magnificently preserved ancient culture on the island, such as trips to local villages to see traditional arts and crafts, megalithic burial sites and exquisite Ikat weavings.
The most rewarding experience of all, however, is visiting the Sumba Foundation, which was founded in 2001 to help alleviate the crushing burdens of poverty the locals were living under, by focusing on water, health, education and economic projects.
The foundation’s key achievements to date include treating 407,000 patients across four clinics; reducing malaria rates by 93% in core project areas; developing more than 65 wells and 260 water stations; and supplying water, toilets and supplies to 22 primary schools.
Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa possesses a deep love for its community and environment. The way the owners see it, the surrounding villages have been home to the resort for the past few decades, but for more than a century, they’ve provided for the needs of their familial ancestors.
Sinalei is deeply ingrained in the local community and its ethos pays homage to Samoan culture and the stunning environment. It supports a long list of local charities, initiatives and community groups via donations, sponsorships and support programs.
Some of its most noteworthy initiatives include: funding the Palalaua College Cultural Fale in 1997, which has since served as a mainstay for events such as village meetings and student cultural demonstrations; continually donating essentials and funds to the village hospital; sponsoring the Poutasi Arts Centre, preschool, and ukulele school, local sewing lessons and the Poutasi Gardens, as well as the village community hall and local volunteer programs.
On an annual basis, Sinalei hosts an internationally certified dentist for a period of two to three weeks, providing free dental health care to members of staff, their families and the wider village community.
In honouring their commitment to nature, they source their own pure water from a hidden reservoir beneath the resort, keeping their water free of chemicals but also free of waste; while their farm-to-plate philosophy not only results in the freshest and tastiest seasonal meals at its onsite restaurant, but also supports local farming families.
Sinalei is also proud to support the Young Pacific Leaders’ (YPL) 2019 carbon offsetting drive, which seeks to neutralise the CO2 gases emitted by the travel of all delegates who attended the YPL 2019 conference, raise the profile of environmental challenges affecting Samoa – and the world at large – and inspire support for the nation’s ambitious objective to plant two million trees by 2020. Well over 3,000 trees have been planted already, with both Sinalei staff and guests getting their hands dirty (literally) to help!
Soneva’s approach to everything they do is to strive for perfection. From the aesthetic of their resorts to the food they serve, the impact they have on the environment, and the service they provide, every element of the company’s operation is considered.
Their mentality towards their employees is no different. Soneva acknowledges that their success begins with the dedication and resourcefulness of their people and so it invests in training and development (Soneva hosts receive upwards of 54,000 training hours per year across all levels of employment).
Since its inception, Soneva has supported the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption. These principles are measured and refined year on year, and in essence, highlight the company’s constant efforts to respect the protection of human rights; create gender equality in the workforce; emphasise local employment; and offer competitive salaries and desirable living arrangements for hosts.
A stellar example of the company’s focus on employees is ‘Woman in Soneva’, a recruitment drive aimed at achieving a more balanced representation of female hosts in the Maldives.
In 2018, Soneva unveiled an aspirational female employment target for its Maldivian properties, where the unemployment rate for female adults is three times that of males and where Maldivian women make up only four per cent of the workforce in resorts, compared to women constituting 45% in industries such as education, healthcare and the civil service.
Fathimath Shaazleen, or Shaaz as she is affectionately known, represents just one of the many success stories to come out of Soneva in the past two decades. Hailing from a local island in the Maldives, Shaaz began her career as a telephone operator after she passed her diploma in hospitality with distinction.
In 2000 she joined Soneva Fushi in guest relations and two years later was promoted to Friday Supervisor. She left Soneva in 2004 but found her way back and re-joined in 2009 at Soneva Kiri in Thailand as Rooms Division Manager.
After moving back to the Maldives, Shaaz was offered the position of Resort Manager at Soneva Jani and then became the first Maldivian female to become Resort General Manager. Today she continues to be a source of inspiration for women – both local and foreign!
Tri is Sri Lanka’s first truly contemporary sustainable luxury design hotel – a masterpiece of forward-thinking flair where mathematical marries artistic, and intelligence embraces emotion.
The resort’s visionary British owner, Robert Drummond, discovered the site over a decade ago and enlisted award-winning architect, Raefer Wallis of A00 Architects, to create a hotel guided by its surroundings and fortified by an all-encompassing sustainable philosophy.
Living roofs are planted with native creepers and plants; water gardens, swales and rainwater channelling have been incorporated into the meticulous design to help minimise erosion; while harvested rainwater and natural fertilisers nourish the grounds and edible gardens. Tea, cinnamon, lemongrass and bamboo follow the ground’s contours that lead down to the lake, where a forest path of endemic trees and mangroves attracts native butterflies and nesting birds.
Guided by local green consultancy Carbon Consulting Company, Tri is intent on reducing its carbon footprint annually and promoting sustainable practices at all times, including the careful monitoring of water and electricity consumption. Solar PV panels and solar arrays harvest natural power, with energy use minimised through the latest appliance inverter technology and LED lighting (which also limits disturbance to the biotic community).
Windows, doors, flooring and cladding have been crafted from entirely recycled local jak wood. Cinnamon sticks are used on exteriors to blend buildings into the land, enhance privacy and regulate temperature. Balconies and terraces are finished with natural pebble wash made from stones sifted from on-site construction sand. Three forms of local granite – natural, handpicked and bush-hammered -are used to create pathways, flooring, steps, vanities and shower walls.