Smart travelers now expect some elements of sustainability when they travel—and welcome it when it goes beyond picking up towels and reusable soap containers. As Keith Bellows, former editor in chief of National Geographic Traveler, told me, sustainability is about preserving and protecting the places we love the most. If you frame it that way, travelers respond.
However, dream vacations must remain dreamy, and sustainability practices (a buzzed-about trend at the recent International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes) need to enhance the bottom line of a business, rather than detract from profits.
The United Nations declared 2017 the Year of Sustainability, recognizing sustainable tourism as a key factor in helping communities develop around the world. The three pillars of sustainable tourism are economic (such as primarily hiring local staff), social (such as protecting rich cultural heritage), and environmental (such as recycling an using lake or ocean water to heat and cool properties).
Here are five hotels and brands doing it right, aimed at all three pillars.
A pioneer in the world of luxury travel, The Brando, located on the private island of Tetiaroa in French Polynesia, was inspired by former owner Marlon Brando’s original vision—its core mission is sustainable tourism. It is close to self-sustainable, or carbon neutral, and is LEED platinum certified, the highest level of certification.
The property has achieved extraordinary results. All energy is renewable, and produced by the South Pacific sunshine and a biofuel power station fueled by coconut oil. A special SWAC (seawater air conditioning) system harnesses deep, cold ocean water and pipes it to land to convert it for use at the hotel. Rainwater is collected from roofs to supply all toilets, as well as for laundry service. Guests are encouraged to take part in educational tours on ecotechnology, but also Polynesian culture, animal life, and coral reefs in the area.
“Not only does sustainable tourism make good business sense, it is good for the health of the planet,” says general manager Silvio Bion. The Brando is a member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.
Opening February 16, 1 Brooklyn Bridge is the most talked about hotel in New York City these days and the flagship property for the 1 Hotels brand. Developed with the idea that “those that travel the world also care about it,” the property has cinematic views of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan, a rooftop pool and bar, and a restaurant offering clean, healthy options.
A rainwater tank built beneath the hotel will help irrigate Brooklyn Bridge Park during the city’s blazing summer months. Most of the hotel’s furniture and interior was designed using local and reclaimed materials, like walnut from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Native plants will adorn the public and outdoor spaces.
&Beyond, a pillar of sustainable tourism in Africa, has 29 lodges across the continent. Ryan Hilton, a safari specialist and co-owner of Admiral Travel, points out that they operate in some of Africa’s most iconic safari locations, with very productive wildlife areas. “They are the ones who set the bar—care for the land, wildlife, and the people,” he says. “They have proven that the modern safari can be sustainable for long into the future.”
&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa shows huge commitment to best practices. Energy use is reduced through efficient air conditioning and hot water systems, and water is bottled onsite in glass bottles. They offer education, health care, and orphan support to the local community.
The company has invested heavily in Rhinos Without Borders, helping to relocate threatened rhinos from South Africa to Botswana. They have provided access to water for 56,000 people in local communities, 30 food gardens, and six commercial farms throughout Africa.
And they continue to innovate. “Creative new designs like Sandibe in the Okavango Delta in Botswana will keep &Beyond relevant for a long time to come,” says Hilton.
Ted Turner Expeditions
Billionaire Ted Turner is the second largest landowner in America, a passionate environmentalist credited with helping to save American bison, among many other powerhouse actions. In 1997, he gave $1 billion to support U.N. programs.
Now travelers can get an inside look at his personal property via the recently launched Ted Turner Expeditions, three vast New Mexico ecotourism ranches where guests can explore rare species and untouched land. Visitors can choose from Vermejo Park Ranch, a 585,000-acre wildlife wonderland; Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa, offering holistic treatments and day tours; and Ladder Ranch, which has a wide range of ecosystems thriving over 156,000 acres.
Six Senses is devoted to sustainability in its hotels, resorts, and spas. A Sustainability Fund at every resort uses portions of revenue to support local charities and community projects. No plastic bottles are used, and all water is bottled onsite.
Specifically, Six Senses Con Dao and Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam showcase admirable commitment. Con Dao has partnered with the nearby national park to protect and advance a severely damaged coral reef system—a move great for the environment and for guests who want to enjoy it and help. They also operate a turtle sanctuary. Con Dao supports a pre-kindergarten program, and a filtration system provides clean water for students.
At Ninh Van Bay, the hotel is devoted to their Coral Project, protecting a nearby reef and providing education on marine life, while guests experience fantastic swimming and snorkeling. Employment opportunities are offered first to those living in the area, and several programs provide purified water to the community, with more to come via new stainless steel water tanks.
Correction: Seamus Mullen was misidentified as a chef at 1 Hotel. The new head chef has not yet been confirmed.