Dear Fellow Travelers and Secret Retreats Followers,
First appearing in January in China, then South Korea and within a few short weeks worldwide, an invisible, insidious virus has put the world on hold and is changing our way of life.
What we are facing today is intimidating, but the daily acts of courage, self-sacrifice, humanity and love that we observe everywhere represent a hope that, when facing a danger, humanity knows how to pull together, and how to adapt and cooperate with each other for the greater good.
After more than a month of lockdown, we all have mixed feelings: fear, uncertainty, sadness, but at the same time, certain values that we may have forgotten or neglected come back to us. Three stand out in particular:
- time, the slowdown of which frightened many of us at first, and how much more we appreciate every moment now
- closeness to each other, with family, loved ones, friends, and how important these relationships really are
- freedom of movement and freedom of choice, privileges most of us have always taken for granted
Since time is no longer measured on a solar calendar and has become standardized across the world (divided into 24 time zones in 1884) time feels as if it has continued to accelerate in the modern age. We live in a frantic race against time, the acceleration of which prevents any step back: the trains go faster, the planes go further nonstop, information is instant and continuous, the internet accelerates its speed in 3G 4G 5G, and time passes by in a blur. The stop of this race against time which has been imposed on us by the virus, is perhaps the perfect moment for us to take a time out, and to reflect on the meaning of this race. Does this constant rush of our daily lives make sense? Are we simply slaves of our own making to our commitments and agendas? Already before this crisis, SLOW LIFE and SLOW FOOD movements were developing, with many members of Secret Retreats in at the start of these movements. Were they visionaries? Certainly yes. Reclaiming time, if only for a few weeks during holidays or retreats, is an intangible luxury that allows everyone to regenerate. This is exactly what we can observe everywhere on Earth at this moment, where the incessant activity of man gives way to nature which has taken back its rights. We have all seen in the past few weeks these incredible images of animals visiting cities, of mountains cleared of pollution, of seas becoming crystal clear. Nature takes back the space that man has borrowed from it. This should lead us, as Bhutan has already done, to think again about the qualities of tourism and the negative effects on both the natural and human environment from mass tourism.
We can also take advantage of this slow time given to us to reconnect with friends and to give time to family in our shared isolation spaces or by phone or skype. And to finally take the time to make that phone call that we have been postponing for weeks, months or even years. To realize also the often neglected but nevertheless much needed work of those who cultivate the land around us and in our neighbourhoods. Of the vital importance of this proximity. Again, these are values that many Secret Retreats members respect, by promoting short circuits, sourcing local produce, often from farm to table, and have in fact been working this way for many years.
Finally, we are also all aware of the value of freedom of movement, which today has been taken away from most of us. The right to come and go and travel as we please, but a right that should perhaps no longer absolve us from the duty and responsibility for the choices we make when choosing how and where to travel. I feel the travel restrictions and the loss of freedom of movement has made many of us realize how essential it has become that we must not remain passive consumers simply hiding behind the options offered to us, justifying our decisions on the basis of price and a ‘good deal’ but to become actors responsible for our choices. The daily advertising that floods our lives must not “be swallowed” without thinking. It is time to stop believing that such a soda (I will not mention any brand) can make you fresh and happy as advertised when in fact it can lead to a multitude of health problems. Or that a brand of coffee makes you look cool and accomplished with their big sofas and plastic cups, when behind it is exploitation of farmers and environmental scandals. Or a fake cocoa spread responsible for deforestation. And the list goes on. Let us think about what is behind these brands and their products, their impact on the world, the environment and local, indigenous populations. In all conscience.
The same analysis applies for the travel industry where large online booking platforms, large corporate hospitality groups or very large hotels with several hundred rooms also disfigure the natural environment, impact negatively on indigenous cultures, repatriate tourism dollars directly from the destination and to global or offshore financial centers instead of investing them locally to support sustainable and responsible development. We are therefore all responsible for our choices and the consequences they entail.
When we are allowed to travel again, let’s ask ourselves the right questions:
- how many rooms and people in this hotel?
- is it in harmony with the local communities?
- where do the products we find on our tables come from?
- how deeply is the business invested in the local community?
- can I chat with a local concierge or property representative to make sure I am making the right choice?
- can I be sure that the dollars I pay for my vacation will benefit the local communities and support the local economy?
- will I take the time to better prepare this vacation and become an actor and not just a spectator?
This preparation will make you feel good even before departure, safe in the knowledge that you are supporting sustainable businesses and travelling conscientiously and responsibly.
This is how to travel in a responsible manner by actively selecting and supporting sustainable and responsible businesses who are fully invested in their local communities. It would take a long time to draw an exhaustive list, but here at Secret Retreats we have been working for years to only select properties to share with you that respect this spirit and who are committed to protecting their environment and their communities:
Misool in Indonesia:
The resort injects its profits into a foundation based in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, whose mission is to protect the most biodiversity-rich reefs on Earth through the empowerment of local communities, by providing a structure thanks to which they are able protect and preserve the marine life and the coral reefs. Sustainable tourism and better education for children provide a better life for new generations than logging, mining or overfishing.
Inle Heritage in Myanmar:
The Inle Heritage Foundation includes a vocational school for tourism, a private school for young children, an organic garden, an effort to preserve certain endemic species of fish and cats, waste and wastewater management, and environmental awareness and protection programs with the local communities on Inle lake. All of Inle Heritage’s initiatives are currently 100% supported by the income derived from the operation of a hotel and its ancillary activities with the aim of teaching the next generation how to live in a sustainable manner and with respect for Inle’s unique environment while helping others discover, cherish and enjoy it too.
Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge in Nepal:
Located in the heart of Nepal overlooking the Pokhara Valley the owners and team at the lodge are committed to protecting the natural environment, local culture and communities, to be fully integrated with and to benefit their local community. They constantly strive to minimize any negative environmental impact by reducing energy use and improving efficiency, monitoring programs are in place on all aspects of the operation including water and waste management, minimizing the use of chemicals, and within the build and aesthetic of the property consideration always given to be in harmony with the surroundings and local culture. The lodge team also source produce from local farmers and support local village businesses in buying what they require always at a fair price. They also recruit and train the immediate community for employment and improve their understanding of responsible tourism, waste management, water as well as supporting local schools including subsidizing a teacher’s salary and providing educational materials to the school.
Muang la Lodge in Laos:
Opening a lodge “in the middle of nowhere” is not a trivial choice, it involves careful integration with the local wholly rural community and within the pristine natural environment. In such a delicate and remote location sustainable development and responsible business practices are essential, the lodge and local community are almost totally self-sufficient and work together on environmental protection, and management of resources and waste preservation. The responsibility of a small hotel goes far beyond that of welcoming a guest in comfort. It is also a valuable place of exchange and interconnection between cultures.
You can find the sustainable initiatives of all Secret Retreats members on these pages www.secret-retreats.com/en/we-care, nourishing seeds of hope for a better, more responsible and sustainable way of traveling.
The current crisis highlights that it is not only the man who is sick with this virus, but the planet too through a lack of care and attention on all our parts. And by asking ourselves the right questions and adapting our lifestyles we can contribute to a solution and heal the planet. Travel, through our passion for seeing new places and experiencing cultures and lifestyles different to our own, will prevail. Be well and be hopeful, and as Winston Churchill said: “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. “
So, let’s remain optimistic!
As always the Secret Retreats properties will be happy to welcome you back to our Asian homes with the same sincerity and reciprocal responsibility. We now have to travel intelligently, with respect, and fully responsible for our choices for the benefit of the natural world AND the human world.
Managing Director – Secret Retreats