I wasn’t going to join the ritual of list making that takes place at this time of year, especially as I already had a go in 2014. But then people I respect kept reinventing the bucket list, and I wanted to get stuck in too. First Bret Love and Greenglobaltravel asked five of the world’s leading responsible tourism experts for their ideas for countries that actually ‘deserved’ our tourist dollar. Then last week in these very pages Harold Goodwin chose not to look for destinations for 2015, but issues. Expect Climate Change to be particularly big towards the end of the year. And finally Justin Francis and ResponsibleTravel.com turned bucket lists on their head and produced What not to do in 2015.
Where does this leave me? I’m sitting in a hotel in Georgetown, Penang, less than a hundred metres from the so called Street of Harmony, home to a mosque, a Chinese temple, a Hindu temple and an Anglican church. Outside my window the call to the prayer of the Muezzin jostles with the loud speaker playing the latest Bollywood hits. Each day I eat a fusion of cuisines from around Asia – Peranakan, Nyonya, Malay – even the words whet my appetite. It’s all a happy, chaotic mix of cultures getting along.
I don’t believe the response to what has happened in Paris is to turn away from the world and narrow our boundaries. Rather we should use it as a springboard to dream bigger than ever before. Therefore my bucket list destination for 2015 is a fantasy, a composite like the Penang that surrounds me. It’s a celebration, in the words of Arundhati Roy, that “another world is not only possible, she is on her way“.
I imagine a hotel who treats energy like Soneva. As well as having the largest solar array in the Maldives, it charges guests a 2% climate levy, which has so far raised over $5.5m for carbon mitigation projects. For water, I might turn to Chepu Ecolodges, where guests can measure their water use throughout their stay. If at the end they fall within sustainable limits, they are given the option of either reducing their bill, or having a tree planted in their name.
For staff, I could highlight so many hotels committed to working with people from the local area, providing opportunities that keep them in their communities. Many of them are found on the Fair Trade Tourism umbrella in South Africa. But the company that stands out for me is Confortel, a Spanish hotel chain. At Confortel Suites Madrid, 55% of the staff have physically disabilities, 33% are sight or hearing impaired, and 12% have mental disabilities. Another would isn’t just possible, she’s on her way.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to stay in my hotel all the time. I’d want to go on tours that opened up all these other worlds to me. If I was still in my hometown, I’d want it run by the homeless people of Unseen Tours, so they could show me a vision of London I know next to nothing about. Or if I was in India I might join with Reality Tours and visit the craftsmen and women of Dharavi slum in Mumbai. As a way of shattering preconceptions, building bridges between people with seemingly little common ground, and seeing another world of India beyond the cliches, I can imagine few better guides than a resident of east Asia’s largest slum.
Should I fancy some wildlife spotting, I’d be tempted to play a game with Nam Nern in Laos. I love how they have flipped the traditional model whereby hunters pay for the right to kill animals, with the fees increasing depending upon how endangered the species happens to be. With Nam Nern, the same principle is employed to raise funds to keep the animals alive. Every time a guest on safari spots an animal they score points, which get higher depending upon how endangered it is. This score is then converted into money to be donated to the local villagers, which gives them the incentive to protect the species rather than poach them.
And where would this fantasy destination be? I like to think that one day soon there will be places all over the world that work like this. But if someone was going to open my dream ecolodge tomorrow, I hope they’d follow the lead of Unite 4 West Africa, and set up somewhere round there. The work they are doing to dispel myths and misunderstanding about the threats of Ebola to people visiting the vast continent of Africa is essential and inspiring.
Or I could stop dreaming, and go to the West African beach in the picture above to visit Footsteps Ecolodge in Gambia. All their suppliers are local. All the fresh produce is grown tat the lodge or sourced from local farmers working without pesticides. All the power comes from solar panels. And all the staff are from local communities and fairly paid.
Because another world isn’t just possible. It’s waiting to be visited.
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