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6 Places Where You Can Travel for Good
In these destinations, your holiday can support local communities.
While Antigua was spared during Hurricane Irma, its sister island of Barbuda was pounded. Visitors to Antigua can help by contributing to a charitable fund.(Getty Images)
Island hoppers seeking an alternative to fruity rum drinks and poolside loungers and those concerned about the effects of this year's devastating hurricane season have a variety of vacation options. This year, a host of Caribbean resorts are offering opportunities for guests looking to support schools or aid in disaster recovery relief efforts, while fostering a deeper connection with local communities. So, if you're looking to give back on your next trip, read on to discover programs adding an extra punch to hitting the beach, making traveling for good better and easier than ever.
The family-owned Frangipani Beach Resort, a 19-suite property on Meads Bay, has served as a safe haven for many of its employees who suffered from lost or damaged homes from Hurricane Irma. "We were the first property and business on Anguilla to have set up a fund like this one," says Shannon Kircher, who manages the hotel with her husband Scott. "Thanks to contributions received from guests all over the world, we collected over $113,000. These funds have already been distributed to families in need," she adds.
In addition to supporting a GoFundMe campaign to aid those in need, the Frangipani Beach Resort works with Pack for a Purpose, an organization that enables travelers visiting underserved destinations to check to see if their resort partners with nonprofits and pack needed supplies.
"If guests wish to make a personal connection with our local community, they are free to hand-deliver their supplies to a youth development center in the nearby village of Blowing Point," Kircher says. "We are proud to be the only property in Anguilla currently participating in the program, and with the support and contributions made by our guests, it has been a great way to get supplies to kids in need."
Antigua and Barbuda
Rob Sherman, managing director of Antigua's Curtain Bluff Resort, was grateful that Hurricane Irma, which was headed straight for Antigua, miraculously spared the island and the family-owned all-inclusive he has helmed for the past 25 years. However, the storm pounded Antigua's sister island of Barbuda, located 28 miles to the north. Shortly after the hurricane, Sherman began receiving a flurry of emails from the resort's loyal guests. "Most of our employees come from Old Road, a village located near the resort, and our guests were concerned about their welfare, as well as that of our management. They wanted to know how they could help," he says.
Fortunately, a system was already in place. Sherman quickly sent out a newsletter blast to let guests know Antigua was safe, but that Barbuda had not fared as well. He included the link to the resort's Old Road Charitable Fund, which has raised and disbursed over $1 million to support local schools and fund scholarships since it was established in 1974. Without any official solicitation, Sherman reports that guests sent over $50,000 to help the people of Barbuda rebuild. "I was so touched by the incredible generosity of our guests," Sherman says. This is the power of travelers who care, he adds.
Even major resorts on unaffected islands in the western Caribbean, like the Cayman Islands, have not forgotten their storm-ravaged fellow islands in the eastern Caribbean. For example, the 334-room Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa has partnered with the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association to support hurricane recovery efforts elsewhere through a relief fund called the One Caribbean Family. According to Gail Wargo, regional vice president for the Grand Cayman, "part of the new Westin Reveal Package will donate $10 of the daily resort charge to the fund directed at rebuilding communities hit by Irma and Maria through December 22."
Rockhouse Hotel, an owner-managed luxury boutique property founded in 1972, has a proven model of community partnership. Since 2003, the owners have fostered community connections for guests through the Rockhouse Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that has given over $4 million back to the Negril community, mostly funding education and school renovation projects.
"The whole process of giving back has been rewarding to our guests as well as our community," says Rockhouse Hotel owner Paul Salmon. "We encourage our guests to connect with the community through our Passport Program, which encourages guests to take advantage of a variety of local Jamaican activities like buying fruit or nuts from a street cart vendor or visiting one of the schools we support through the Rockhouse Foundation. Each time a guest completes one of the activities, they get a stamp in their Rockhouse passport," Salmon adds.
In addition, Salmon says the hotel's general manager gives a talk about the hotel's philosophy of connecting with the local community at the weekly welcome cocktail party and invites guests to visit a local school, where they can see how the hotel has partnered with the students and teachers on educational projects and materials, and even volunteer if they wish. "The foundation has directly impacted the lives of thousands of young people and their families over the years, and we couldn't have done that without our guests," Salmon says.
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Key West, Florida
While Key West and Key Largo were least affected by Hurricane Irma, a number of properties and tourism facilities in the Keys haven't yet resumed normal operations, according to Florida Keys tourism representative Ashley Serrate.
The good news: About 90 percent of rooms in Key West are open and available for reservations, Serrate says. And visitors staying in Key West have a new opportunity to spend one day of their vacation helping at cleanup sites on other islands through a new Volun-Tour offered by Up the Keys, a 100 percent women-owned eco-tour operator. The one-day package ($99 for adults and $79 for children) includes hotel pick-up, lunch and snacks as well as gloves and other supplies.
On the minivan trip to the sites, which range from residential yard debris cleanup on Big Pine Key to mangrove and beach cleanup on National Key Deer Refuge to tropical tree restoration at historic Grimal Grove, a local guide introduces volunteers to the history and ecology of the Florida Keys.
Turks and Caicos
Though Turks and Caicos took a battering from the recent hurricanes, Sailrock Resort will reopen its doors in mid-December. As developer of the first luxury property on tiny South Caicos (a 25-minute flight from the main island of Providenciales), Colin Kihnke feels a special responsibility to foster rebuilding efforts for others on the island, especially since Sailrock only opened in January.
In order to support rebuilding efforts, Kihnke has established the South Caicos Heritage Foundation to support the recovery and restoration of South Caicos and has pledged a dollar-to-dollar match up to the first $1 million received.
[Read: Why Eco-Tourism Is Booming.]
And guests staying at the property during the December holiday season will be a part of the recovery process. In the spirit of giving, the property will donate a portion of those proceeds to the new foundation.
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