These hotels offer virtual explorations in time for Thanksgiving... emphasis on the giving.

By Nicky Short

Nov 26, 2020

HOLIDAYS ARE UPON US, but in a year that’s turned everything upside down, it’s possible your priorities have shifted. With travel options limited and awareness growing about the impact our trotting has on the globe, forward-thinking brands and resorts are paving the way for virtual experiences with a positive impact.

Adventure-mongers andBEYOND focus on luxurious journeys across Africa, South America and Asia that preserve lands and cultures. When it’s business as normal, you can hit them up for game spotting in Masai Mara National Park, soulful sojourns in the Indian Himalayas and ancient discoveries in Machu Picchu. But with would-be explorers confined to their couches, andBEYOND has launched a range of virtual experiences to satisfy lockdown wanderlust while supporting conservation efforts and communities.

For nature lovers, WILDwatch (US$250) is a chance to venture out on a virtual 90-minute safari with an expert guide. The recorded journey takes in the lush landscapes of andBEYOND reserves from Kenya to Botswana and, with six Zoom links, you and your game gang can interact with your guide, ask questions and get the inside scoop on the great outdoors. The WILDwatch sessions are tailored to your group’s general interests, but for those with a specific curiosity for conservation, a virtual chat with an ecologist might be just the e-ticket. Choose from pangolin preservation, hyenas as you’ve never seen them before or an up-close look at rhino care, and talk to the experts on the ground.

Feeling disconnected? Rebalance mind, body and soul with a virtual WILDwellness session (from US$110). Choose from yoga, forest therapy and tango to explore a cultural practice and get a little peace beamed directly into your living room. For cravings of the culinary kind, Food Fundis (US$250) is a chance for gangs of up to 12 foodies to log on for a virtual cook-along with an andBEYOND executive chef in Chile or Botswana. Select a regional dish and explore the world via taste and flavor. While whisking you away for unique online adventures, andBEYOND lives up to its name, going further in its ethos of “Care of the Land, Wildlife & People” by directing the profits from these virtual offerings to community, conservation, sustainability and habitat initiatives. 

Also tapping into an appetite for philanthropic gift-giving is Anantara, who are working with their long-time partner the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) to address the elephant in the Zoom. (Come on, we know you loled!) They’re offering Christmas catch-ups with their herd of gentle giants via video call, for elephant enthusiasts unable to canoodle them in person at Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort. With a virtual tour into the Thai jungle, you can meet its massive inhabitants and learn about their lives from noted elephant expert, Santa. Donations for Zoom calls with your pachyderm pals (from US$200) go towards their ongoing upkeep.

In a weird year of closed borders and thwarted plans, the holidays look a little different this year. But these gifts can take you perhaps farther than you might have gone, and with farther-reaching feel-good effects. Tis the season!

And for vacationers able to venture further afield:

If the Covid situation in your surrounds permits you to actually leave the living room, why not put your post-pandemic tourism dollars into destinations doing good? Karma-boosting hotel-booking platform Kind Traveler offers exclusive rates on stays when you donate US$10 to a local charity. Plus, being generous comes with benefits. For example, book your tropical Thai vacay at Soneva Kiri, make your donation to a charity you choose, save on your stay and get extra credit for food and drink.

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