More and more hotels are launching "voluntourism" initiatives, and we're totally loving the trend. As travel experts, we know there are a ton of different ways to volunteer while traveling, whether its taking up opportunities at organic farms through WWOOF, teaching English at schools around the world, or participating in the Peace Corps. But we're also happy to see some big hotel chains stepping up to offer their guests awesome volunteer opportunities in their local neighborhoods. We figure it's always a more rewarding experience when you can give something back, even during your vacation. So here's a list of five hotels that are diving into voluntourism and leading the way in sustainable, feel-good hotel travel.
Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa
Sandals has resorts in Antigua, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, St. Lucia, and Exuma, and all of them are taking part in an awesome literacy initiative that hotel guests can participate in during their stay. In 2011, the Sandals Foundation launched Reading Road Trip, a voluntourism program focused on improving literacy in children of the Caribbean. The program operates every Thursday through Islands Routes Adventure Tours and hotel guests can visit a foundation-adopted school to spend time with children at the primary education level. The program aims to assist students with recognition of sight words, listening, comprehension, and reading through guided lessons. The cost is $20 for participants 13 years old and above.
Guests interested in volunteering may sign up with Island Routes Tours via the tour company’s website, www.islandroutes.com.
Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Spa, San Diego
Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Spa in San Diego is offering a really cool volunteer opportunity for its guests: a chance to help preserve and maintain the Silver Strand State Beach. To help protect the nearby stretch of state beach, the hotel has added a one-percent Environmental Fee to its rates, which is donated to the California State Parks Foundation to help preserve Silver Strand’s natural resources. Guests at the hotel can further contribute to the initiative by volunteering at the beach on weekend mornings. Guests get a guided tour of the beach from a State Park Environmental Educator before participating in a hands-on restoration project or beach clean-up. We love the idea of not only lounging at the beach on a vacation, but also helping to learn about and preserve vulnerable ecosystems nearby.
The Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman
For over a decade, Ritz Carlton hotels around the world have been promoting their Give Back Getaways, which are local voluntourism opportunities for guests of the hotels in their respective local communities. The upscale hotel chain is said to be vamping up its volunteer opportunities in the fall of 2015, making them more specific to each location, but the Ritz Grand Cayman already has an awesome one. Here, guests can participate in a conservation program focused on one of Grand Cayman’s endangered species: the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana. Participants in the program are briefed by a Jean-Michael Cousteau Ambassador about the plight of the iguanas -- one of Grand Cayman’s last surviving native species -- before taking part in conservation activities assigned by the park warden at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.
The participation fee is $100 for adults and $50 for children; it covers transportation to the park and a donation to the Blue Iguana Recovery Program.
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa
The Grand Hyatt in Kauai offers an Enrich Program that provides guests with several different ways to give back to the local community during their island getaway. Green thumbs can work in the Natural Tropical Botanical Garden, helping to contribute to the survival of precious plants and ecosystems, while animal lovers have the chance to volunteer at the Kauai Humane Society as pet cuddlers and walkers. Nature buffs are able to volunteer in hands-on forest restoration projects in Kokee State Park, and ocean lovers are encouraged to participate in ocean cleanup projects. And last but not least, the hotel also has a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Lapa Rios Ecolodge & Wildlife Reserve, Costa Rica
Since its inception, Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica has been based on, and committed to, sustainability. In fact, the entire place is basically an environmentalist's dream (in a hotel sort of way, at least). The property is comprised of 17 bungalows, nestled in a private 1,000-acre rainforest reserve. The hotel rooms do not include TVs, phones, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, or hair dryers, and they offer only biodegradable products in the showers. We can't think of a better place to volunteer than at an ecolodge that's made sustainability its mission. Guests have the opportunity to get involved in the nature reserve by volunteering on the grounds, learning about the protected ecosystem around Lapa Rios, and visiting and helping out at the local Carbonera School that the reserve supports.