The Journey To Sustainability
Juliet Kinsman highlights the strongest themes surrounding luxury travel tackling the climate crisis and advises how the industry can adapt to become more responsible
It’s as though luxury travel has only just woken up to what it means to be greener — pretty bonkers when, in fact, climate scientists first sounded the alarm about global warming decades ago. Seven years have flown by since the Paris Agreement set the 1.5ºC temperature-rise goal in 2015. And yet we’re only just hearing from the biggest brands about how they’re taking the climate seriously.
Want the good news or bad news? The good news is almost all the biggest names in tourism are finally talking about decarbonisation and sustainability. The bad news? Current levels and projected growth in greenhouse gas emissions suggest we’re going to fly past this temperature target in under a decade. According to conversations at the most recent UN Climate Summit, COP27, and the latest UN Emissions Gap Report, the planet is on track to warm between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees by the end of the century. This presents a serious threat to life not just as we know it, but to all life on Earth. So it seems a little flippant to describe sustainability itself as a trend — it is clearly a necessity. Here are some of the hottest topics in the global-warming mitigation conversation.
Vegetarian and vegan food sales are up 50% globally, and Google searches for ‘vegan food near me’ spiked by more than 5,000% since 2021, according to The Vegan Society.
Why is this so significant? Food production accounts for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the carnivores among us acted more like ‘climavores’ or ‘climatarians’ and swapped out 20% of their beef for plant protein alternatives, we would halve deforestation rates by 2050. The more of us eating and drinking fewer animal-origin goods, the better for the planet.
It’s not just about what’s on the menu, though. Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi has announced vegan suites, created without the use of animal products, while Saorsa 1875, an 11-room country-house hotel on the edge of Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park, is Britain’s first vegan hotel, with furnishings and menus free of animal-based materials.
Community-based tourism involves experiences hosted by local residents in a way that does good for the whole area. Typically a CBT holiday is a humble stay in a local home, as booked through eco-operators such as Responsible Travel, but many more luxury lodgings are offering deeper, more textural tours and experiences in their neighbourhoods that showcase indigenous culture. This has the added positive impact of luxury travel modelling a development of destinations in a more sustainable way.
Properties need to wake up to the importance of improving the interplay between people and place. This means being kinder to their wider community and leaving more money in local pockets beyond simply providing employment. It’s heartwarming to see high-end hospitality businesses ensuring social and economic uplift.
Making an impact
An increased appetite for more financial transparency has prompted a boost in carbon and impact scores representing the ‘goodness’ of travel products. We’re now looking out for badges that declare a company a B Corporation, or B Corp – the ‘B’ stands for ‘beneficial’ – which means they’ve thoroughly assessed their impact on workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment, scoring them out of 200 possible points.
Journeys with Purpose, founded with conservation at its core, has a dazzling 129.8, and each trip is planned around a specific intention, often rewilding. Canada’s Fogo Island Inn kicked off this love of labelling in luxury travel with its Economic Nutrition certification mark, which highlights the importance of investing in human potential by illustrating how much of the hotel’s revenue goes towards paying people. The Long Run, part of the non-profit, Preferred by Nature, has also developed a 4C Impact Statement to better respect Culture, Conservation, Community and Commerce. Weeva is a new sustainability management system that allows hotels to easily measure their impact and guides them through small, actionable steps.
On the right tracks
We all need to get better at flying the flag for flight-free travel and lower-carbon logistics. It’s becoming very fashionable to take ‘hybrid’ short-haul trips, switching out one short flight for a train journey, and making the journey part of the adventure.
Riding by rail reduces your emissions by about 90% compared with flying. Eurail and Interrail offer great rates for those happy to take it a little slower and explore extensively for less in Europe. Byway is a slow travel holiday operator which makes complicated multi-stop journeys by train, bus and boat feel like a breeze – and best of all, it is also a B Corp.
Access all areas
Hotel design is finally acknowledging inclusivity is a key consideration in responsible travel, which deserves much more attention than allowing for wheelchair ramps. Globally, one in five people have intellectual, sensory or physical challenges or need to have specific needs met, and everyone deserves to have the option to book and access bedrooms which have the same stylish look and feel as what’s available to able-bodied travellers.
Robin Sheppard, president of Bespoke Hotels, has long been upping accessibility that also considers aesthetic appeal and used Motionspot, the UK’s leading accessibility-focussed designers, when opening Hotel Brooklyn in Leicester. Amilla Maldives set new standards in the Maldives by working with UK-based accessibility and inclusive-hospitality experts, Inclucare, to achieve an official verification as well as having as an ambassador TV presenter Sophie Morgan, who was left paralysed by a car accident as a teen and who now campaigns for better representation.
See behind the scenes
More and more hotels are inviting visitors to go behind the scenes around the back of house. For the eco-curious, this is where some of the especially fascinating sustainability action happens. Guests are keen to learn first-hand about less-than-glamorous topics such as water and waste management and the grunt work that goes into being greener.
CGH Earth properties in India and Cayuga Collection–managed resorts in Costa Rica and Central America have been inviting visitors for years to have a look while in the UK, visitors to the Raymond Blanc Gardening School at Michelin Green star holder Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons can get a tour of the Rocket composter and dryer and learn the secrets to a closed-loop system. And in the Maldives, a whirl around Soneva’s Eco Centro Waste to Wealth project showcases the power of permaculture principles when it comes to recycling and food production.
Looking after all species is a critical part of boosting biodiversity, since all flora and fauna play a role in making nature tick. Take a bow, Fairmont Chateau Golf Club in Whistler, for your Caped Crusaders initiative where two bat hotels on the golf course have the added benefit of reducing mosquitos, since bats love to eat them.
And if you like Tequila, always keep an eye out for a Bat-Friendly label that declares the producer has allowed for a percentage of its agave plants to be grown without pesticides and allowed to flower to provide nectar to feed bats.
Juliet Kinsman is the first-ever sustainability editor of Condé Nast Traveller. Her new podcast series for the eco-curious, Funny Old World, is available on Apple and Spotify while her latest book, The Bucket List Eco Experiences: Traveling the World, was published this year (£24.99). Her non-profit consultancy Bouteco helps brands to be stronger storytellers when it comes to sustainability.
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