Accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes, and so does its potential for positive impact, from pioneering wastewater management to employing those that need it most. A recent booking.com survey (2021) revealed that although over 80% of travellers want to book sustainable accommodation, just under half of them don’t know where to look. So, here are a few thought-starters to help guide the way.
Locally owned, small and independent properties are often more sustainable than big hotel chains. They are less likely to have the enormous water and carbon footprint associated with construction, more likely to use local employees, artisans and suppliers, and genuinely care for the destination, both environmentally and socially. Locally owned stays also avoid the economic leakage of internationally owned properties; your money is more like to remain 100% in the destination you’re travelling to.
In South America, pocket-sized Guyana demonstrates how accommodation can cater to guests and locals alike. As part of a new tourist circuit in the country, the Guyana Tourism Authority helped four indigenous communities build ecolodges that they own and manage. In rural Himalayan destinations throughout Nepal, India and Bhutan, group walking tour operator Village Ways has taken a similar approach, supporting villagers to create homestays via building and administrative advice and funding. Similarly, in Borneo, KOPEL is a community-run conservation organisation established by a former Intrepid Travel group leader. On Intrepid’s Borneo Family Holiday itinerary, visitors spend a night in KOPEL’s unique jungle huts on stilts.
In each example, the accommodation has a low impact on the environment and is built and operated on a community’s terms. These homestays and ecolodges also help rural communities thrive economically, avoiding urban migration and maintaining a more sustainable way of life.
Sustainable city accommodation
Our travel plans don’t always involve off-grid ecolodges and homestays, so it’s important to scrutinise city hotels for sustainability, too. Urban accommodations leading the way also provide solutions to specific, local needs. For example, Lemon Tree Hotels in India employs people that are usually denied work opportunities due to a learning or physical disability. In Austria, 80% of employees at Magdas Hotel are refugees.
In water-stressed San Francisco, Cavallo Point’s water reclamation system saves a million gallons of water per year. Reusing 75% of the building’s former interiors has also saved thousands of tons of construction waste from landfills. In Prague, Mosaic House Design Hotel not only recycles wastewater but uses its excess heat to generate energy; its only the second building in the world to do so.
Green certifications are a good indicator of commitment. There are over 200 out there, so look for those that are Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) recognised or certified and involve some form of onsite (ideally external) assessment. Booking.com is currently displaying over 30 certifications officially approved by the GSTC, Green Tourism and the EU Ecolabel (although booking direct is best for the destination).
Other things to look out for include an environmental policy with concrete figures and targets to prove that a hotel is walking the talk. A sincere commitment to solving the climate crisis demonstrates an understanding of the bigger picture. Addressing conservation and biodiversity restoration is critical here, too. Even a city hotel can do its bit to support our much-depleted natural world by using any available space for insect-friendly plants and partnering with urban conservation initiatives.
Other things that demonstrate a will for positive change include a sustainable sourcing policy, local hiring (ideally more than 70% of employees will be from the local area), green teams, living wages (higher than minimum wage), an understanding of responsible travel issues like over-tourism, and a diversity, equity and inclusion policy.
If all this research seems a little daunting, one of the best ways to tell if accommodation is genuinely committed to sustainability is to ask. The most passionate advocates for a better future will be eager to share what they’re doing.