After a year of travel restrictions, grounded flights, and hotel closures, in some parts of the world, we are finally beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. If there is any silver lining to the events of the past year, the forced “slow down” in globetrotting has caused travelers to reassess their impact on the world.
Let’s not forget the startling positive environmental impacts the global lockdowns had, particularly on heavily trafficked tourist destinations and industrial hubs. From the Himalayan mountains peaking out above the New Delhi skyline as air pollution levels dropped, to the coral reefs in Hawaii’s famed Hanauma Bay regenerating itself after some much-needed respite from swarms of sunscreen-drenched tourists. These uplifting stories have caused a cultural revelation among travelers given the chance to reflect on the environmental impacts of wanderlust-fueled vacations.
The writing is on the wall: A luxurious experience is no longer enough to attract today’s globally minded travelers. As the travel and hospitality industry bounces back, sustainability will be the driving force behind the haves and the have-nots.
Sustainability mandates in hotels are nothing new, however most properties could get away with a mere fact sheet hidden somewhere on their website of so-called “green initiatives” that, in the eyes of the unconscious traveler, ticked a box in some way or provided a talking point to join the conversation, while not truly embracing the movement. This tried-and-true method of adapting to increasing public demand for sustainable business practices is known as “greenwashing” or inflating one or two practices that are deemed environmentally friendly while overlooking the swath of wasteful and unsustainable elements to the business.
A perfect example of greenwashing occurs when a hotel preaches about how they replaced all their single-use shampoo and conditioner bottles with full-size refillable containers in guest rooms yet haven’t set up proper recycling practices onsite for the rest of their single-use plastics, or do not dispose of their waste responsibly causing harm to the surrounding ecosystems. The new generation of travelers, awakened to the effects of over-tourism, will increasingly become wise to these tricks of the trade and gravitate towards hotels and operators who successfully integrate sustainable practices at every stage of their business operation.
With this in mind, existing properties and new developments will need to assess every area of their operation and local impact to ensure that they are walking the talk. Sustainable tourism does not just refer to ecological concerns but also protecting and enriching the destination as a whole, taking into account the social, historic, economic, and cultural factors at play in addition to environmental. Successful ventures in the luxury leisure sector must incorporate sustainability into all areas of operation at the outset, ensuring that sustainable practices are incorporated at every pillar, including Place, People, Materials, Energy, Water, and Waste. These are the guiding principles behind Luxury Frontiers sustainable design ethos.
An example of a luxury resort exemplifying sustainable tourism is Nayara Tented Camp, located in the Arenal National Park in Costa Rica. Nestled in a rainforest regenerated from clear-cut agricultural land, the resort is now home to a sloth sanctuary maintained by the operator. The development enriches the local community by providing training and upskilling, while the tented structures are designed to conserve energy and water. Since opening in November of 2019, Nayara Tented Camp has been acclaimed by the luxury eco-sensitive traveler.
While the lockdowns at the outset of the pandemic may have provided some much-needed reprieve to fragile eco-systems that had fallen prey to over-tourism, this is not enough to reverse the damage done to our planet. As stewards of the land and proponents of travel to enrich communities, sustainable tourism is no longer a nice-to-have for operators and developers but a key element to creating a luxury experience for guests.