Travel needn’t cost the earth – you can also help conserve wildlife and contribute to local communities at the same time as exploring or relaxing. Discover the top ecotourism experiences on the KQ network
Everyone’s an ecotourist these days. At least, it can seem that way from the reams of travel brochures listing ecolodges and ecocamps. In this era of worry about climate change, it’s no surprise that places ranging from simple guesthouses to top-end safari properties are keen to showcase environmental credentials.
But how do you tell the places that are truly ‘greenest’ or most sustainable? A starting point is the definition of ecotourism: “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people.”
In practice that can mean several things. Lots of places look to reduce their environmental footprint – cutting energy and water consumption and waste. Many ecolodges provide funds, resources or equipment for the conservation of threatened species – for example, lodges in Africa assisting with the recovery of endangered rhino – or more general environmental protection.
Ensuring that local people benefit feeds into those first two points. As Ben Lynam of the Travel Foundation observes: “Tourism accounts for about 10 per cent of global GDP and can provide much-needed opportunities for local employment and investment in community infrastructure. It can be the number one motivation and mechanism for protecting cultural heritage, endangered species and important habitats – and there aren’t many other industries that can say that.”
In simple terms, if a community sees tangible benefits when visitors come to see lions, elephants or tigers, they’re more likely to work to protect those creatures and their habitats. As David Attenborough said: “People are not going to care about animal conservation unless they think that animals are worthwhile.”
Other top conservationists echo that sentiment. Dr Russell Mittermeier, Executive Vice-Chair of Conservation International explains: “It brings people to remote places and helps to create a global constituency for conservation. If done in an equitable manner, it also provides jobs and income for local people, demonstrating to the communities living in close proximity to priority parks and reserves that conservation pays.”
Holidaying greener doesn’t mean sleeping under sackcloth: some of the most stylish and romantic places are making huge contributions to wildlife, communities and the environment. We’ve picked a handful you can visit on the KQ network.
Topas Ecolodge, Hoang Lien National Park
BEST FOR: Spectacular views across gorgeous rice terraces and forest-clad peaks.
THE EXPERIENCE: Perched in the far north of Vietnam, Topas is a perfect base for exploring this mountainous region – it’s close to Fansipan, Indochina’s highest peak at 3143m. As well as simply relaxing in the clean mountain air, a host of activities are available: gentle walking or more demanding mountain treks, trail running and cycling on hillside tracks, Vietnamese cooking classes and visits to local communities. A new
spa offers traditional Red Dao herbal baths and foot therapy.
THE STAY: The lodge’s 25 deluxe and executive bungalows are arranged along a ridge providing stupendous views across rice terraces and villages to the Hoang Kien mountains – and each bungalow has a private balcony from which to drink in the panoramas. The attractive restaurant – based around two traditional Tay stilted houses – serves typical Vietnamese cuisine.
ECO TALK: “We believe that both the environment and local community should benefit from our business. That does not mean we make a token donation here, or plant a couple of trees there. We want to produce real sustainable benefits. Some 95 per cent of our staff come from five different tribes in the surrounding area. We support the surrounding villages through charity events and guided tours, including purchase of crafts.
“We are also replanting our local area with indigenous trees and shrubs to protect local biodiversity. We try to limit the use of power and amenities, and thereby focus on silence and the great mountain view. Some find it boring without a TV or Wi-Fi in the rooms – but most visitors love it!”
TRY THIS: Join a hike to the hidden Nam Cang area to meet the Red Dao minority people who wear colourfully embroidered clothes and striking red turbans decorated with silver coins.
BOOK IT: http://topasecolodge.com
Fly KQ to Hanoi three times weekly.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Laikipia
BEST FOR: Watching the Big Five – and many more African animals – on a beautiful game reserve.
THE EXPERIENCE: Formerly a cattle ranch, this not-for-profit conservancy west of Mount Kenya now spans some 400 sq km of grassland and acacia woodland. As well as excellent game viewing on drives (including after dark) to spot lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, cheetah and rhino, as well as other endangered species such as African wild dog and Grevy’s zebra, you can also enjoy thrilling guided bush walks and meet orphaned apes in the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
THE STAY: Ol Pejeta offers various options ranging from five good-value campsites and simple rooms in The Stables Research Centre to self-catering cottages, private houses and luxurious bush camps.
ECO TALK: “Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to conserve wildlife, provide a sanctuary for great apes and generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprise for reinvestment in conservation and communities.
“Our vision is to become an innovative and sustainable development model that conserves biodiversity (particularly endangered species) and contributes to economic growth and the improvement of the livelihoods of rural communities. By the end of 2014 Ol Pejeta had raised and dispersed more than US$6.5 million in support of its community development programme.
“Ol Pejeta is constantly innovating to merge cutting-edge conservation with an unforgettable experience that puts the visitor at the forefront of hands-on wildlife preservation. We want to keep curiosity wild!”
These efforts were recognised with the Judge’s Award for Private Conservancy of the Year at Kenya’s 2015 Eco-Warrior awards.
TRY THIS: Instead of simply watching lions, join rangers tracking the big cats using radio antennae and help identify individuals based on whisker patterns.
BOOK IT: www.olpejetaconservancy.org
FLY KQ to Nairobi, daily.
Zaina Lodge, Mole National Park
BEST FOR: Spotting elephants and colourful birdlife amid lush Mole National Park.
THE EXPERIENCE: Mole National Park, covering more than 4500 sq km, is Ghana’s premier wildlife-watching destination. It’s home to a large population of fairly well habituated elephants plus buffalo, hyena, roan antelope, red-flanked duiker, olive baboon and more than 255 bird species. As well as game drives you can enjoy guided walks, canoe trips and visits to nearby villages, markets and the renowned Larabanga Mosque, one of Africa’s oldest.
THE STAY: Zaina is the first high-end safari lodge in Ghana, its 25 luxury tented chalets boasting outdoor showers and private balconies looking out over sweeping savannah and two busy waterholes visited by plentiful wildlife. The restaurant serves excellent food, notably French-style croissants and desserts from the Togolese pastry chef.
ECO TALK: “The lodge was constructed using local materials as much as possible. Our water system is completely solar powered, from solar pumps bringing water from our borehole wells to solar water heaters. We do not serve water in plastic bottles. All lighting is LED to reduce energy consumption.
“We have a commitment to hire locally when possible: more than 50 per cent of our staff are from northern Ghana. We have established the Zaina Conservation Trust and offer a scholarship scheme for nominated students who want to study ecotourism, hospitality or natural resource management. As well as fees paid to the Ghana Wildlife Division, we offer specific project support to the park management. For example, the waterholes we put in below the lodge in 2013 have led to an increase in the kob population in this part of the park.”
TRY THIS: Swim in the infinity pool while watching elephants take a dip in the waterhole just below the lodge.
BOOK IT: http://zainalodge.com
Fly KQ to Accra daily.
Lisu Lodge, near Chiang Mai
BEST FOR: Meeting the people of the Lisu hill tribe and gaining insights into this unique culture.
THE EXPERIENCE: Green doesn’t get much greener: nestling into the lush hills near Chiang Mai in Thailand’s far north, Lisu Lodge is a peaceful haven among emerald rice paddies and forests. The lodge offers a wide variety of eco-friendly tours including hill tribe experiences, a tea plantation tour, cycling, whitewater rafting and trekking. Thai cookery courses are also possible.
THE STAY: Built to resemble a traditional Lisu village but with an eye for western comforts, the attractive lodge has just four guest cottages housing 20 guest rooms and two studios with private bathrooms and comfortable beds.
ECO TALK: “We work with the Lisu hill tribe villagers to minimise any negative impact on their way of life and on the natural surroundings.
“Since 2008, Lisu Lodge has organised an annual Tree-Planting Day at the forest restoration site near the lodge. Each year hundreds of people – including hill tribe villagers, representatives of our business partners and volunteers – take part. Thousands of trees planted on these occasions have flourished.
“Under the EarthCare project, Lisu Lodge works with the International School of Bangkok to bring local and international schoolchildren to the lodge to gain an understanding of people of different cultures, and to learn about the importance of ecological systems. At the heart of our community projects is our contribution to the Village Bank, which is owned and operated by the Lisu villagers.
“Cottages are built with natural materials, solar panels generate electricity for water heaters, soaps and shampoo are made from natural ingredients, and we grow our own vegetables and rice without chemical fertilisers.”
TRY THIS: Take a tour with a Lisu villager, accompanied by the village shaman who will share his traditional knowledge, to gain fascinating insights into Lisu culture.
BOOK IT: www.lisulodge.com
Fly KQ to Bangkok daily.
Guludo Beach Lodge, Quirimbas National Park
BEST FOR: Barefoot beach life and snorkelling from a gorgeous white-sand shore.
THE EXPERIENCE: Overlooking a 12km-long deserted beach of pristine sand looking
out towards the Quirimbas archipelago in northern Mozambique, Guludo is ideally placed for exploring the coral reefs close offshore. Snorkelling here is fabulous: as well as plentiful fish, turtles and sharks, from July to October humpback whales swim past. Above the waves, there’s great stand-up paddleboarding and the chance to learn archery, pottery or local crafts, or head to Guludo village to see daily life unfold. Alternatively, you could just swing in a hammock and listen to the whisper of the waves…
THE STAY: Elegant adobe bandas and suites are cool and airy, all leading onto the shady verandah above the beach. Fish and seafood fresh from fishermen’s boats are prepared with Mozambican and Swahili flavours and an international twist.
ECO TALK: “We set up Guludo specifically to use tourism for sustainable development and conservation. The lodge was built exclusively with local materials, artisans and labour: floors are tiled with handcrafted tiles made by local ladies who adapted their pot-making skills. Through the design of the lodge, the environmental and carbon footprint of each guest is minimal. I would challenge any other lodge in Africa to have as small an amount of embodied energy in their infrastructure!
“Guludo’s sister charity Nema Foundation works with 16 communities (24,000 people) to relieve poverty, improving access to water, building schools, supporting school meals and secondary scholarships, and providing an ambulance service and support with malaria, nutrition, hygiene and HIV.”
TRY THIS: Take a sunset sail on the traditional dhow, Samini, handmade by artisans in Guludo village.
BOOK IT: www.guludo.com
Fly KQ to Maputo daily.
Offset your flights with KQ
To help you reduce the environmental footprint of your travels and combat climate change, Kenya Airways has launched a scheme to offset carbon dioxide emissions from its flights – an initiative developed in cooperation with the International Air Transport Association. By choosing to offset your flights, you’re helping fund the Kasigau Corridor Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) project in southern Kenya, protecting over 500,000 acres of forest, bringing money to Kenyan communities and securing the wildlife migration corridor between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks.
How it works:
1 Book your flight ticket on www.kenya-airways.com
2 Accept option to offset carbon on the payment page.
Find out more about the project at: kenya-airways.com/Global/Other_Services/Carbon_Offset_Project/
SIX OF THE BEST Urban eco-escapes
You can enjoy greener stays in towns, too – these metropolitan hotels offer sustainable chic in cities on the KQ network
1 Hidden Hotel, Paris
Luxury design hotel furnished with natural products from sustainable sources; prioritises water conservation, energy-efficient lighting and recycling.
www.hidden-hotel.com • Fly KQ to Paris six times weekly
2 Conscious Hotel Vondelpark, Amsterdam
Stylish hotel in the city alongside a large park; all energy comes from renewable sources, drinks and food are organic, environmental causes are supported through the Conscious Foundation.
www.conscioushotels.com/hotel/vondelpark • Fly KQ to Amsterdam twice daily
3 Thaba Hotel, Johannesburg
Luxury hotel in Johannesburg’s Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, with a focus on environmental design minimising water use.
www.thabahotel.co.za • Fly KQ to Johannesburg three times daily
4 URBN Hotel, Shanghai
Eco-boutique hotel incorpor-ating locally sourced, recycled woods and reclaimed grey bricks; energy-saving lighting.
www.urbnhotels.com • Fly KQ to Shanghai daily (codeshare)
5 Zetter Hotel, London
Hyper-hip hotel designed to be energy-efficient using sustainably sourced and environmentally sensitive building materials and controlled by an intelligent building management system.
www.thezetter.com • Fly KQ to London daily
6 Eaton Hotel, Hong Kong
Sleek Kowloon hotel minimising energy and water consumption and waste production, supporting local NGOs and charitable activities.
www.hongkong.eatonhotels.com • Fly KQ to Hong Kong three times weekly
Sustainable travel tips
Going green doesn’t have to mean staying in a luxury ecolodge – as Richard Hammond, founder of greentraveller.co.uk, points out: “Being greener isn’t about taking a particular type of holiday. Any holiday can be greener if you tread more lightly.” Ben Lynam of the Travel Foundation offers these top 10 tips for making your travels sustainable:
• Shop locally: buy souvenirs, eat and drink at local bars, cafes and restaurants, and take excursions with local guides.
• Stay in a place that is sensitive to its environment and supports its local community.
• Use public transport where you can. Alternatively, hire a bike or walk when exploring.
• When swimming or diving, don’t step on or remove any coral – it’s extremely fragile and takes decades to grow.
• Always book wildlife watching trips with a qualified guide; wild animals can be easily disturbed.
• Use water sparingly: take short showers rather than baths, and don’t have towels and bed linen changed daily.
• Save energy: turn off heating and air-con when not required, and turn off all lights and appliances when you leave your room.
• Don’t buy products made from endangered animals or plants.
More tips at: www.makeholidaysgreener.org.uk