Travelling the world can be such a rewarding and fulfilling experience – but how can you know that your holiday is having a positive social impact and not making a negative environmental one?
We asked our partner Elegant Resorts – a tour operator specialising in luxury travel – what to consider when booking a sustainable holiday.
Why do you think there is a growing interest for responsible tourism within the luxury industry?
The shift is twofold – partly it has come from the traveller and partly from the supplier.
We live in a very small world today in terms of media, so luxury travellers are exposed to a huge selection of articles, TV programmes, social media and films that focus on all corners of the globe. There is also a massive spread of topics ranging from human interest to environmental issues – all available at the touch of a button.
All this makes the consumer more globally aware and therefore often more enthused to put something back in and support the human efforts or unique natural habitats that make their luxury travel experiences possible.
Then you have the hotels and tour operators that have been pioneering responsible tourism for over a decade now: from remote “rustic luxury” lodges running only on solar power to tour companies that only use local guides and regionally sourced foods.
As a result of this explosion of creativity, innovation and social conscience, the modern traveller doesn’t necessarily feel they have to sacrifice on luxury to receive an authentic, responsible travel experience.
What are the key factors to consider when researching a sustainable holiday destination?
Human resources are a major issue – will staff be largely sourced from their local community and are you confident that they will be adequately rewarded for their work?
You must also consider how a destination is generating the water, electricity, materials and food that they need to run a viable holiday destination.
And lastly, does this activity have any long-term negative impact at all on the natural environment that draws visitors to the destination in the first place.
How can a consumer know that the resort they are booking cares for the local people and environment?
An explicit responsible tourism policy that is easy to find, combined with awards, articles in the media, word of mouth and guest reviews.
If you are ever in doubt, then ask! We encourage Elegant Resorts clients to ask us, or ask at the hotels themselves, what the responsible tourism credentials and priorities of the resort are.
Are there any accreditations, awards or programmes to look out for?
I would say that the Positive Luxury butterfly mark is a good place to start!
There is a range of awards and accreditations that hotels and resorts can acquire, and often these might be regional rather than global.
They will tend to shout about any awards they receive, and it is always worth checking out whether a company or resort has a clear responsible tourism policy on their website, as this should emphasise specific ways in which they operate responsibly.
Which holiday destinations/resorts would you recommend for consumers wanting a sustainable vacation?
It all depends on what kind of holiday you are looking for.
It can be more difficult for a city break destination for example, but even then a hotel can ensure that their staffing and resource usage levels are appropriate, and that they endeavour to use locally sourced ingredients where possible in their cuisine.
For beach breaks, the Seychelles and the Maldives have numerous natural preservation initiatives, often specific to each resort, with the likes of North Island, Fregate Island and Soneva Fushi taking the lead in pioneering their own initiatives.
But I would always say that wildlife based holidays will tend to be the most natural choice for a sustainable holiday. Africa is an obvious destination here, and we are currently working with Great Plains Conservation on their Rhinos Without Borders programme, which is relocating endangered rhinos from heavy poaching areas in South Africa to much safer locations in Botswana.
Botswana definitely tends to get it right – it’s a high value, low numbers and low environmental impact destination, much like Antarctica and how the Galapagos is aiming to be.
But even in “developed world” destinations such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, there are numerous small, often remote lodges that are playing a huge role in preserving unique natural habitats, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the old growth forests of Vancouver Island.
Any top tips for reducing your footprint while there?
Carbon offsetting became very popular a few years ago, although it is something of a moot point as to how effective this is.
I would say that the best way to start is to behave with respect for local cultures and habitats, while considering exactly what you need, even as a luxury traveller.
So, you might not need all of your towels to be washed every day (many hotels now clearly tackle this subject), you might not need three showers a day and you might not need to have the TV running constantly while you’re in your room.
Tip generously but appropriately, avoid littering and learn some of the local culture and language. All this should add up to a good starting point for being a responsible traveller.
Thanks to Matt Vlemmiks, Head of Product and Commercial at Elegant Resorts, for his considered answers and advice on sustainable travel.