The tiny Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan is an Aman– and COMO-strewn slice of cultural authenticity, vertiginous natural beauty, and the kind of sweet-scented air only carbon negativity, achieved here in 2017, gets you.
In September it committed what may seem like touristic suicide: It raised its already hefty visitor tax to $200 per person per day, the highest in the world. Called the “sustainable development charge,” the tax is earmarked by the government to fund projects designed to protect Bhutan’s culture and environment: community education, conservation, organic farming, carbon-neutral infrastructure. In the past the fee could offset the cost of your lodgings, meals, guides, transport, and monastery and museum admissions—no more.
Bhutan has long been a recherché destination; now it is officially reserved for those with big budgets. Will its visitor numbers fall? Maybe, but anything “mass” is anathema here. Over-tourism is the specter, and the desired demographic is high-value, low-impact travelers: those who will pay handsomely for the privilege of extraordinary experiences (and for not having to share them with crowds), who will leave a minimal footprint, and whose dollars will contribute to helping Bhutan remain Bhutan (and not a parking lot).
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Bhutan may be at the forefront of this trending type of less-is-more travel (to go, contact Antonia Neubauer of Myths and Mountains, a specialist in the region). But even if hiking to the Tiger’s Nest isn’t in your immediate future, there are plenty of other ways and places to be a high-value, low-impact traveler. For example:
In 2015 the media mogul philanthropist Ted Turner turned his 1.1 million acres in New Mexico into a nonprofit trust called the Turner Reserves to protect them and showcase the massive and expensive rewilding and conservation work being done. There are now four mansionlike eco-retreats on all that acreage, bookable by the room or as takeovers. The newest, opened in October, is Hacienda at Armendaris, Turner’s own home revamped. All offer the most deluxe, bespoke ways to experience the majesty of the southwest, with private activities, vehicles, guides, chefs. If that feels overly oligarchical, banish the guilt. “We are in an extinction crisis,” says Laura Turner Seydel, a director of the Turner Foundation. “My dad devoted his time to building an arc”—bison, golden eagles, mountain lions, and more—“and what he did has to scale.” You’d be an agent of that.
The three small, sumptuous Suján lodges in Rajasthan—Sher Bagh, at the edge of tiger-rich Ranthambore National Park; Jawai, in a private game reserve; and Serai, in the desert near Jaisalmer—started as a conservation foundation run by a wealthy Rajasthan family and evolved with the third generation, owners Jaisal Singh and his wife Anjali. Suján is now a rarefied tourism operation distinguished both by its style (the Indian smart set likes to come stay) and for its philanthropic foundation, partially funded by guest receipts.
It operates 13 schools and donates $250,000 a year to projects sustaining local communities, culture, and environments. Experiences? Think wildlife sightings, Relais & Châteaux meals, acclaimed spas, and the pleasures of both doing good and dressing up for dinner.
There are plenty more places that provide that; in the realm of high-end travel, responsible tourism (there is no sexy word for it, alas) rules. To assist you in your search, the Preferred Hotels Group recently launched the Beyond Green collection: 27 resorts, lodges, and hotels around the world that have been vetted on 50 sustainability criteria (each had to achieve a score of at least 80 percent and pass an inspection). On the list are properties as different as Ashford Castle in Ireland, the Brando near Tahiti, and safari camps from &Beyond and Wilderness Safaris. “We are demonstrating,” says Mike Freed, founder of Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn (also a member), “that you can have a beautiful vacation and give back to people and the planet.”
This story appears in the November 2022 issue of Town & Country. Subscribe Now
Klara Glowczewska is the Executive Travel Editor of Town & Country, covering topics related to travel specifically (places, itineraries, hotels, trends) and broadly (conservation, culture, adventure), and was previously the Editor in Chief of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.