From passion projects to protecting local communities, we shine a light on those in luxury travel committed to giving back

Words: Will Moffitt and Jonathan Whiley

EXPLORATIONS COMPANY
TRAVELLING WITH A CONSCIENCE

“When I started this company it was with the aim of giving back. I think part of that comes from being raised in developing countries,” Nicola Shepherd, founder of Explorations Company, tells me.

Born in Calcutta before moving to Kenya and South Africa, Nicola’s passion for wildlife was instilled during long, hot days in the bush. After studying nature conservation, she moved to the Okavango Delta, Botswana, assisting in the running of safari camps. In Namibia, she worked in community projects on the Caprivi Strip, assisting local communities and working on an Aids awareness campaign.

That desire to travel and better the lives of those in beautiful but blighted regions became a professional endeavour in 1989, when Explorations Company was born. Spanning four continents, the travel company facilitates safaris and bespoke holidays, curating intrepid experiences that educate and entertain.

Part of Viadi Group, a collection of high-end, philanthropic vacation rental and travel companies, Explorations Company is philanthropic to its core – operating as the official travel partner of the African Wildlife Foundation and supporting more than 75 charitable projects globally. An ardent evangelist for philanthropic travel, Nicola believes that once people better understand the places they visit, they’re better equipped to help them.

The company's charitable arm, enables clients by way of a donation, to visit the regions it supports and to see the direct impact their contribution has made. For every trip a base donation of £150 per person goes to affiliated charities and philanthropic endeavours are structured into itineraries so clients can participate in projects that are important to them.

They might assist elephant researchers in Samburu, Kenya, as part of Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton’s Save The Elephants foundation, or trek with doctors and scientists to habituate mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda or visit impoverished slum residents in Mumbai and Delhi.

In some cases clients are so moved by their experiences that they are motivated to support specific causes, donating to the building of sand dams to aid water and soil conservation in drylands or helping to build schools in poor communities.

“Philanthropy is part and parcel of intelligent travel,” Nicola says. “It’s a way of travelling with a conscience and coming back from the most amazing holiday knowing you’ve made a difference to the lives of whomever you’ve touched.”

explorationscompany.com

NIHI SUMBA
PROTECTING SUMBANESE CULTURE

Owned by Chris Burch and led by co-founding partner and CEO James McBride, Nihi Sumba is far more than a tropical paradise hotel in Indonesia.

Its philanthropic arm, the Sumba Foundation, has generated jobs for thousands of Sumbanese people and supported hundreds of local industries.

The hotel rate includes a five per cent charitable donation to the foundation, which protects and preserves the unique Sumbanese culture and provides accessible water, medical clinics and relief aid, as well as working to improve local primary schools and providing farming assistance.

THE NEWT, SOMERSET
SUPPORTING THE LOCAL COMMUNITY

One of Britain’s best hotels has taken the traditional concept of a British country estate – where landowners were responsible for tenants and neighbours – and brought it into the 21st century. Owned by South African hotelier Karen Roos and her billionaire husband Koos Bekker, they  support their local community in a number of ways. Following a village consultation, they hired a full-time community liaison to ensure The Newt has a positive impact locally and are advertising for a “village steward” to assist with the upkeep of public amenities. They help fund their local football team, Wincanton Town FC – donating £9,000 for a new pitch – and give an annual  donation of £7,000 to Castle Cary council for hanging baskets and green areas in the town.

EMMA SLADE
ENLIGHTENMENT IN BHUTAN

Born in Kent and educated at Cambridge, Emma worked in fund management in London, New York and Hong Kong and enjoyed a successful financial career. But a business trip to Jakarta, in which she was held hostage at gunpoint, changed her life. She resigned from her career, qualified as a yoga teacher and after a visit to Bhutan in 2011, began studying Buddhism. It led her to becoming the first and only western woman to be ordained in the Himalayan kingdom as a Buddhist nun. She now runs a UK-based charity, Opening Your Heart to Bhutan, which gives children with special needs in Bhutan an opportunity to build meaningful lives by providing education and access to safe medical care. Alongside the country’s department of tourism, Emma recently launched A Tour of Compassion – a unique itinerary allowing travellers to connect with the cultural richness and philanthropy that defines Bhutan’s people and land.

HOTEL SCHOOL
EQUIPPING THE HOMELESS

Co-founded by Jeremy Goring, CEO of The Goring hotel – a member of Leading Hotels of the World – and Victoria-based charity the Passage (London’s largest voluntary sector homeless resource centre), Hotel School teaches hospitality skills to homeless and vulnerable people. It matches them to sustainable employment and supports them as they take their first steps into work. It’s backed by more than 50 local businesses, including the Westminster Kingsway  catering school and the capital’s five-star hotel community.

JAMES THOMSON
CHANGING YOUNG PEOPLE’S LIVES

One of Scotland’s best-known hoteliers, the owner of Edinburgh’s Prestonfield House hotel has spearheaded the city’s hospitality industry for decades. He’s a founding patron of Springboard UK, which helps disadvantaged and unemployed people of all ages pursue a career in hospitality. For more than 40 years he has supported students at Edinburgh College by sponsoring exchange trips to Lyon and has been a member of the Prince’s Trust Scottish advisory board for more than 20 years. He founded his annual fundraising event, Lunch with an Old Bag, 15 years ago – celebrating the glamour, grace and gutsiness of women over 40 – and has raised £6 million to help change the lives of young people in Scotland in the process.

SONU SHIVDASANI
SAVING THE THAI HORNBILLS

The founder and CEO of Soneva luxury resorts is on a quest to save the hornbills in Koh Kood, Thailand. The Soneva Foundation – which supports projects with a positive environmental, social and economic impact – is working with the Hornbill Research Foundation to reintroduce the birds on an island where they became extinct 40 years ago. Hornbills play a crucial role in forest biodiversity, but the demand for hornbill chicks in the illegal wildlife trade poses a threat. Since 2022, nine oriental pied hornbills have been reintroduced, with the foundation’s efforts to reintegrate and protect them vital for their future.