As more and more holiday providers, big and small, wake up to the issue of sustainable travel, Hannah Harrington investigates the rise of eco-luxe holidays
Climate change has become one of the hottest and most important travel topics in recent years. Methods of transport, types of accommodation and how we spend our money all have an impact on our carbon footprint and the communities that we encounter on our journeys. Tourism contributes 9% of the global GDP and up to 40% of the GDP in developing countries, so it is essential that travel is encouraged in a manner that is sustainable and benefits the local and wider community.
As luxury-loving yet eco-conscious families have become increasingly influential in travel trends, upscale resorts have started consciously acting upon their impact on the environment. Finding somewhere basic to stay that claims to be climate-conscious and ethical takes mere seconds. A Google search for ‘eco resort’ pulls up hundreds of seemingly green hotels, campsites and quirky accommodation options (converted helicopter or sprouting willow dome, anyone?). However, taking away the option of hot water or throwing a couple of hemp blankets into a ‘rustic’ shed is simply not enough to fulfil the ethical criteria that is essential for a sustainable travel industry.
It is surprising to many that it is the higher end of the travel market that is leading the way in environmentally friendly and ethical policies, despite the fact that there can be an expectation that the focus on aesthetics and comfort comes at a moral cost. But the most expensive and opulent hotels can afford to invest in Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance goods; green technologies such as water recycling plants and solar heating as well as paying their staff a better wage and investing in their education and professional development.
The Hilton group of hotels has been a key player in setting an example for environmental resort standards. Worldwide energy consumption is expected to increase 56% between 2010 and 2040; the Hilton chain has decreased its own usage by nearly 15% in the last seven years, enough to power over 80,000 homes. Resorts have invested in solar energy; brought in water-saving measures such as using bedding that does not require a first wash and collaborated with the World Wildlife Foundation to improve their ongoing resource stewardship. Their focus on community extends to hundreds of thousands of hours of employee volunteering, supporting women’s rights groups and even providing anti-trafficking training for 58,000 of their staff. It is a strong example, with branches recognised by ethical reviewers ecoluxhotels.com, of how prioritising ethics can have a positive global impact whilst maintaining high standards for guests.
Resorts don’t have to be multi-national chains to make a difference, however. Inspiration can come from anywhere and the family-owned MarBella hotel in Corfu has maintained its ethical stance despite a devastating crash in the local economy. A local taxi driver informs me that despite many other hotels in the area closing down, the owners have kept 300 people in employment, often those whose lack of education would make it very difficult to find jobs elsewhere. All of the hotel’s hot water is provided by solar energy, and the resort provides literature in every room encouraging guests to assist in MarBella’s recycling scheme.
All-inclusive hotels like the MarBella have come under particularly strong fire in recent years for both the physical and less tangible effects of their service. Since being pioneered in the 1950s, all-inclusive resorts have become notorious for keeping tourists in an artificial ‘bubble’ – providing all their physical comforts and demotivating them from spending their money in the local economy. Valid concerns have also been raised about the lack of cultural immersion of such trips; huge hotel complexes with onsite entertainment and a private beach often become sterile and faceless, with no identifiable connection to their resident country.
Hotels are starting to take action to remedy these issues. One such example is the 5* Ikos Olivia resort on the Greek coast. Ikos’ ‘ultra all inclusive’ concept includes room service, the minibar and watersports onsite, so it would be reasonable to expect that guests wouldn’t step outside of the resort. However, after partnering with two local tavernas to allow guests to eat out there at no extra charge, local shopkeepers inform me that the local shops have seen an increase in business; tourists have a reason to visit the local community.
Other top end resorts such as the exclusive Sandals chain and the Elewana collection of safari lodges promote community integration by inviting local artists to sell their products within the resorts and employing local people wherever possible. The benefits of this are reciprocal; the nearby residents benefit from secure and sustainable employment with an affluent hospitality chain, and guests have the unique privilege of being taken on a game drive with a Maasai tribesman, or a Caribbean island tour with someone who has lived there from birth.
Both companies also support charities to aid nature and wildlife conservation. There is every motivation for upscale and all-inclusive resorts to keep moving with the times and prioritise care for its community and the environment. Families can now conveniently research hotels online and choose a destination that is right for them, provides the comfort and luxury they are looking for and best of all, know that they are contributing to a more sustainable industry that has global benefits
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