It’s funny that in more than two decades of writing about the most special places in the world, some of my fondest recollections have been sticking my hands in buckets of wriggly worms and nosing around underground water storage facilities, a scene more akin to a forensic crime drama than a luxury retreat.
These were moments stolen from spells at some of the world’s most special luxury hotels – sneaking a peek behind the scenes at incredible initiatives some top-notch hotels have in place has made me appreciate the good that hospitality can do.
Take Fogo Island Inn in Canada, which uses an Economic Nutrition certification label that has set a benchmark for financial transparency in business. While in Morocco, guests at Kasbah du Toubkal are helping fund a charity in the Atlas Mountains that helps put hundreds of Berber girls through secondary school.
Five or so years ago, when I first started to notice a rare new breed of hotel emerging – beautifully designed, yes, but with a head and heart for doing good too – there weren’t many around. The good news? There are now dozens of these beauties.
Today though we have another consideration weighing heavy on our conscience. Often these sweet stays mean getting on a plane. Flying to support a greener hotel seems more than a little contradictory. When it comes to the climate emergency – make no mistake – we need to bring carbon emissions down. But still, it’s vital the top tier of luxury travellers are steered towards the heroes. Because they are going to spend on lavish escapes either way: the United Nations recently announced that the world’s top one per cent are also responsible for twice the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50 per cent.
Sustainable luxury travel is a niche often accused of being a nonsense. In fact: luxury travel is crucial to the transfer of wealth from those who have it, to those who don’t.
Imagine if those running the top 100 companies responsible for almost 75 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions were also spending more time living and breathing the values of nature-loving, community-respecting hotels. We want to see that petrochemical CEO on the right safari in Africa; their children spending time with marine biologists or pastoralists. First-hand connections with the issues affecting our world make people of true influence care more about them.
There’s also how we talk about sustainability. What does it even really mean? I constantly have hotels and newly ‘woke’ brands sidling up to me with their corporate social responsibility sweet-talk. They warmly introduce themselves as ‘eco-friendly’, and I ask them for the proof. Or at least wow me with your B Corp certificate, which provides a metric of your impact score based on rigorous assessments. Yes, I’m a tough first date.
We really need those top-percenters to strive for better, because their choices impact us all. It was widely reported that Pippa Middleton honeymooned at The Brando in French Polynesia. She probably didn’t pick it because they invented a clever seawater-cooled air-conditioning system powered by the sun and coconut oil, but it is such stays that finance the scientific work that resulted in that innovation.
I always think the prospect of choosing where to spend our precious holidays should be free of hair shirts and high on dopamine, which is why I am always keen to celebrate the hotels I know have purpose and impact front of mind. I’ve spent recent years grilling management on their sustainable development goals, and sneaking peeks behind curtains to look for illegal workers, diesel generators and plastic bottles. It’s as enjoyable as time spent in solar-powered saunas and sipping bat-friendly-tequila cocktails.
Six sustainable luxury holiday champions
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland
The Economic Nutrition certification label, developed by the charity Shorefast, which has been adopted by Canadian hotel, Fogo Island Inn, has set a benchmark for financial transparency in business. The label makes readily available at the point of purchase the percentage shares of economic benefit that are distributed locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Read the full hotel review here.
Recognising the demand for higher-category accommodation, this B Corp-certified carbon-neutral responsible operator is launching a Premium version of its small-group tours from 2022, with an upper tier of places to stay while on its holidays in everywhere from Azerbaijan to Croatia. intrepidtravel.com
These eco-escape missionaries earn their stripes thanks to their proactive proselytising around greener getaways, from white papers to hosting industry summits. Their edit of hand-picked hotels will soon be complemented by a travel booking service. regenerativetravel.com
Soneva is the original when it comes to sustainable luxury in the Maldives. The group has three resorts there, the first of which was Soneva Fushi, where guests are lured from Indian Ocean-side loungers to the resort’s pioneering ‘eco-centro complex’, which sorts, recycles and reuses waste. Read the Soneva Fushi review; read the Soneva Jani review; read the Soneva Kiri review.
This award-winning group takes guests behind the scenes at its hotels in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. Inviting guests into the kitchen and to interact with staff, including housekeeping and maintenance is designed to both inspire and promote transparency. cayugacollection.com
Juliet is the founder of Boutecoloves.com