Historically, tourism hasn’t been kind to indigenous communities. As more and more tribal lands become tourist destinations, indigenous people, like the sea gypsies of Thailand and Burma, have been forced to relocate from their ancestral lands. It’s rare that a hotel considers the native people before breaking ground, and even less common for those properties to give back to those communities once they’re established.
But there are hotels trying to change that, and it’s important to support establishments trying to right the wrongs of their predecessors. Here are some of the best out there.
Volcanoes Safaris represent four safari lodges located in Uganda and Rwanda that have long engaged in sustainable tourism practices, environmental initiatives, and assisting local villages and tribes.
In 1991, the Mount Gahinga National Park was created to protect the endangered mountain gorilla in Uganda. The Batwa tribe, one of the oldest surviving native peoples of the Central African Forest, were forced to relocate from their homes near the Virunga volcanoes to make room for the national park. The displacement—often to makeshift shelters—led to poverty and poor health among the tribe.
Through the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT), which is funded by private donations and safari bookings, Volcanoes Safaris resettled 18 Batwa tribal families. In 2018, VSPT launched the 10-acre Gahinga Batwa Village, providing the tribe with a space to grow and prosper.
This is not the only way that Volcanoes Safaris have helped local communities. Virunga Lodge has donated 138 plastic water tanks to the surrounding Sunzu village to aid in safe water collection for the dry season. They’ve also donated sheep, which provide natural fertilizer for crops and can be a source of income, to every single one of the 140 families in the village through their “One Sheep Per Family Project.” The lodge is now working to do the same for the Bugeyo Village. As of March 2019, 100 out of 175 families had received a sheep.
Jawoyn-owned luxury hotel Cicada Lodge, located in the Nitmiluk National Park, is designed to directly benefit the local people through job skills training and employment opportunities. The rooms are decorated with Jawoyn-made art and the lodge offers tours throughout the region by eco-accredited Jawoyn guides. Tours include canoeing down the Katherine Gorge, helicopter flights to remote indigenous rock art sites, or waterfall swimming. For each tour activity, the Jawoyn guides frame the destination through the history and culture of the Jawoyn people, educating tourists about the significance of the land to the local tribe.
Skwachays Lodge is a Canadian aboriginal hotel and art gallery, known for its indigenous-inspired amenities like a rooftop sweat lodge and smudge room. The hotel suites are uniquely designed by indigenous artists from tribes living in Vancouver and each room has its own backstory. For instance, the Tlingit Hat Suite, features a design of a woven spruce hat that’s prominent in the Tlingit society and represents wisdom and notoriety within the tribe.
The Vancouver Native Housing Society, a nonprofit dedicated to “providing safe, secure, affordable housing” owns the hotel. Proceeds from bookings, and through the sale of indigenous-made art in the on-site gallery, help to provide subsidized affordable housing for local indigenous artists-in-residents. About 50-80 local artists and those from the artist-in-residency program are showcased in the gallery at any time.
Thanda Safari Lodge
Named after the Zulu word for love, a Swedish couple opened Thanda Safari Lodge, in order to make a commitment to the local tribal communities, the Zulu people, and the environment through their safari lodge.
Along with donations, a portion of the proceeds from the hotel fund the Thanda Foundation Trust, which funds projects for the neighboring Umkhanyekude District. The Trust hires full-time community liaison officers who facilitate community programs, like building a daycare center or installing computers in local schools, and drives engagement between the lodge and the tribespeople.
They even manage the Thokazi Royal Lodge, a privately owned guest house of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, the Zulu King.
In addition to providing safari experiences and luxury lodgings—like safari tents and permanent accommodations designed like a traditional Zulu homestead—Thanda Safari Lodge does good in the world by funding projects like the Star for Life, a HIV/AIDS prevention program, and the Inkanyiso Creche, which cares for 30 children from the Zulu community.
Haida House is located on an archipelago called Haida Gwaii off the coast of British Columbia and is 100 percent owned by the Haida people.
With only 10 rooms, Haida House provides an intimate travel experience any time of the year. Guests can learn more about Haida culture through excursions like exploring the abandoned K’uuna village where thousands of Haida died from smallpox in the 1800s. Visitors can also enjoy watching weaving or totem-pole demonstrations, buy traditional Haida art and carvings, and taste local cuisine served by Haida chefs and servers employed and trained by the hotel.
The success of Haida has been so great that the Haida people have since opened Ocean House at Stads K’uns GawGa, a 12-room fly-in lodge located on the west coast of Haida Gwaii. Ocean House is an eco-tourism resort with a luxurious environment that offers a similar cultural vacation.
Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations
Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, owned by the Huron Wendat nation, is a boutique property located in Wendake, Canada just outside of Quebec. The hotel was opened in 2008 with the intent of teaching tourists about the culture and history of the Huron-Wendat nation and to create jobs for members of the tribe. Today, 67 percent of the employees at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations are First Nations.
The lodge is decorated with indigenous décor and features exhibits about the Huron-Wendat heritage. They host evening storytelling and sleepovers in the on-site wooden longhouse and guide travelers along walking trails to historic sites in Wendake. The hotel can also assist guests with attending the Wendake International Pow Wow held every June.
“Hundreds of scholars have spoken and written about our people, but it is always coming from a colonial perspective and frankly, it is grotesque. Our truth is now expressed through our own version of history,” says Grand Chief Konrad Siou.
“Our modern infrastructures are appreciated by thousands of visitors because they teach and explain not only who we are but also where we come from and where we are going. This is our way of telling our own story, the true story of our people. We speak for ourselves,” he added.