In response to increasing concern about the environmental state of the planet many tourists are opting for holidays that give a little back. So much so that the words “sustainable” and “responsible” have become buzzwords in tourism in recent years, right up there with “eco-friendly” as the newest thing to strive for. So what exactly is sustainable tourism and how are resorts trying to blend sustainability with comfort?
You want to be green. You recycle your carrier bag. You turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. And you are furious that we are melting the planet. But you are not going to forgo a flight to a tropical paradise and top-notch accommodations, even though planes emit greenhouse gases and routine hotel practices, like washing the linens each day, hurt the environment. After all, you love to travel. There’s still hope. To help you sleep easier on those high-thread-count sheets many hospitality companies and resorts are practicing Conscious Tourism.
There is a serious effort going on to minimise (or subsidise) carbon footprint and help preserve the region’s natural and cultural history. Some are even helping boost the local economy by employing the community. Of course it helped that tourists around the world preferred to stay at hotels and resorts that are both environmentally friendly and socially conscious.
What resorts are doing?
With more travellers citing environmental and social concerns as key considerations in their holiday decisions, some hi-end resorts are responding to the demand in spectacular style. The result: from a handful of rustic lodges committed to conservation back in the early 1990s, sustainable tourism is now transforming the global travel industry, and in the process helping to safeguard cultural and natural heritage, support environmentally friendly practices and deliver economic and social benefits to local people. “Over the years, as environmental issues and sensitivity towards sustainable development has become a global conversation travellers are now looking for something more – a sense of the place and people in that community and that their visit is benefiting that community somehow,” says Shruti Shibulal, CEO of Tamara Leisure Experiences, the company that owns two luxury resorts – The Tamara in Coorg and Kodaikanal. Apart from using only solar power for heating, this eco-sensitive resort is completely plastic-free. Filtered water is placed in each suite in glass bottles to avoid daily disposal of plastic bottles and single-use slippers have given way to reusable sterilised slippers. Recycled wood from abandoned railway tracks were used for the flooring.
Coco Shambala’s newest property in Sindhudurg is a steel framed temporary structure joined together with nuts and bolts. No JCB or canes were used in the construction. “This was done to reduce the impact on the environment and allow us the flexibility to dismantle the houses at any point and not leave a footprint on the land,” says Giles Knapton, Owner of Coco Shambhala. Additionally locally sourced coconut was used for the furniture. Although a challenging material for the carpenters to work with, its unique grain provides a stunning finish. The feel-good approach to holidaying extends to the property surroundings, where bamboo trees provide straws for the drinks and carefully placed water bodies in the gardens aid in passive cooling.
Food plays an important role in sustainability. Many of the eco resorts are now sourcing their seafood and produce from a 30 km radius of the property. “Travelers these days are much more discerning and aware about the ecological footprint their travel will have. While international travelers have been aware for sometime we have witnessed a major change in the domestic traveler. Now, the experience is the luxury and not the hardware. Travelers are keen to see that their money is spent in employing locals, protecting environments and bringing positive change to the areas they visit,” explains Aly Rashid, Director of Reni Pani an environmentally sound jungle lodge located in the Satpura Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. The lodge has adopted the neighboring village school and also has a bee-keeping programme for impoverished farmers who live within 3 km radius from the premises. The proceeds from the souvenir shop at the lodge go towards a village development fund.
Environmentally-conscious travellers are not only choosing eco–friendly accommodation to reduce their environmental impact, but to have a local experience as well. These include hiring guides from the local community, picking restaurants that source food locally and buying products from local artisan.
Want to be a Greener Guest? Here’s how you can help
Shop at a local market rather than a chain store.
Don’t buy superfluous or cheap made-in-china souvenirs. Opt for locally made goods. It might just be accompanied by a priceless story.
Don’t participate in tourism that forces people or animals to perform demeaning or painful tasks just for the sake of entertaining you (no riding elephants or going to tiger temples)
Refuse bottled water if your hotel is in an area where the tap water is safe to drink, though be sure to allow the water to run for a little while before drinking, to flush out any lead.
Drive around less and walk more.
Leave the shells on the beach and the litter in the garage bin. Take only photographs and leave only footprints.
Always travel with a reusable bottle. And coffee and tea drinkers can help when it comes to saving paper by carrying reusable travel mugs instead of to-go cups.
Travel light. The heavier your luggage, the more fuel is needed. Besides, it’s easier and more fun to travel when you are not loaded down with bags.