Eco-tourism that isn’t just recycling and yoga

Nihiwatu, an exclusive hideaway on the Indonesian island of Sumba, could resemble any other luxury tourist destination where guests can escape from everyday life. Everyday life is, however, the focus of the resort - not the life of the visitors, but that of the community of Sumba. The Sumba Foundation, set up by the resort’s owners in 2001, is a charitable initiative to use the money from tourism to help tackle poverty on the island.

One of the biggest achievements of the resort is fighting malaria in the Sumba community – in the 10 year history of Nihiwatu, malaria infection rates have been reduced by a whopping 85 percent. In addition, five health clinic have been built, more than 40 wells and 94 water stations set up, providing water to nearly 15,000 people, and almost 200 patients been given life-changing surgery. The foundation serves 2,000 children healthy lunches three times a week, and volunteer plastic surgeons are brought in to perform cleft palate, burns and reconstructive operations.

The resort itself was built from sustainable materials, and is one of the only hotels in the world powered entirely by biofuel. In fact, in keeping with the island paradise theme, Nihiwatu runs on none other than coconut biofuel. They also run a carbon offset programme, having planted 64,000 trees so far.

These successes have recently earned Nihiwatu the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Award.

Rather than tagging along with the trend of eco-tourism, that often gives the impression of idyllic retreats where the only company is mother nature in her purest form, the resort owners, an American couple, sought to address the wider landscape of the resort and use their luxury venture to tackle the huge social problems they encountered on the island. Nihiwatu’s owners show an intelligent approach to the issues of sustainable development, and have developed good relations with the community, being sensitive to cultural differences.

Nihiwatu and the Sumba Foundation show how business and humanitarian goals can work as one to create positive and lasting change for underprivileged communities.