Hotel Stays Should Be a Chance to Give Back to Destinations

In the past year, we have all been through hell—our own versions, but hell nonetheless. Yet it feels to me that our own pain and the pain we’ve witnessed in others have prompted us to seek connection in ways we haven’t before. For the past six years, I have run a nonprofit that partners with hotels and creates schools to educate and empower local communities for jobs in the industry. Never has my organization received so many inquiries—from people wanting to volunteer at our pop-up hospitality schools and hotel owners looking to engage differently with the world around them when they reopen. It is clear to me that this very brief and critical moment presents an opportunity to renew the shared mission of service that is at the heart of the travel business.

As we strive to be more mindful, purpose-driven travelers, rehanging a towel to use again should no longer be enough to make us feel that we have “made a difference.” We need to look past the walls of the places where we stay and really see the surrounding communities so that we can understand what their greatest needs are. We have in front of us a chance to learn and to listen, first and foremost. We travel because we seek inspiration from beauty and the fresh perspective that new places offer us. Let’s broaden that purpose into a symbiotic relationship where we don’t just receive inspiration but also bring it to the destinations we visit. Let’s give as well as take.

Let’s demand more from the brands we choose to return to. When we’re requesting our king-size beds or dinner reservations at our favorite restaurants, what if we could reserve a time slot to teach entrepreneurship to a group of local women or volunteer at a farm, school, or hospital? What if, during a stay, we spent just one hour of our time sharing our expertise with local community members? What if loyalty points became a “social credit card” that gained value every time you gave value? What if such real, tangible engagement with the world around you earned you complimentary massages, wine tastings, or room upgrades? Let’s look for ways to feed our bellies and our souls at the same time.

If we can do this right, we will find ourselves telling different kinds of stories when we return from our post-COVID-19 holidays. They won’t be just about the artisanal cocktails or pillow-top mattresses, but about the two hours we spent leading a workshop based on our careers, passions, or areas of knowledge, or the one hour we spent teaching a lesson in our native language.

In this past year, I imagine we’ve all gone a little deeper within ourselves, perhaps emerging with a new vision for what life will look like after the pandemic. For myself, I’ve tried to be as clear as I can be with my intentions, learning that energy becomes thoughts and thoughts become our reality. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has put it: Life isn’t about being happy; it’s about being conscious. So I’ll ask you once more to travel mindfully and, as you absorb every drop of sunshine-filled inspiration from the next beautiful place you visit, to ask yourself how you can give back and how your chosen hotel is making it easy for you to do so. After all, you’re on holiday—you just need to ask yourself what you really want to get out of your time.

This article appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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