Housing comes in all shapes and sizes, and so does their potential for positive impact, from pioneering wastewater management to employing those who need it most. A recent booking.com survey (2021) found that although more than 80% of travelers want to book sustainable accommodation, just under half don’t know where to look. Here are some thoughts to guide you.
Local, small and independent properties are often more sustainable than large hotel chains. They are less likely to have the huge water and carbon footprint associated with construction, more likely to use local employees, craftsmen and suppliers, and to genuinely care about the destination, both environmentally and socially. . Locally owned stays also avoid the economic flight of internationally owned properties; your money is more about staying 100% in the destination you are traveling to.
In South America, pocket Guyana shows how accommodation can meet the needs of customers and locals. As part of a new tourist circuit in the country, the Guyana Tourism Authority has helped four indigenous communities to build ecolodges that they own and manage. In rural Himalayan destinations across Nepal, India and Bhutan, group walking tour operator village paths took a similar approach, helping villagers create host families through construction and administration advice and funding. Similarly, in Borneo, KOPEL is a community-run conservation organization created by a former Intrepid Travel group leader. On IntrepidIn the Borneo family vacation itinerary, visitors spend a night in KOPEL’s unique stilted jungle huts.
In each example, the housing has a low environmental impact and is built and operated on the terms of a community. These homestays and ecolodges also help rural communities thrive economically, avoiding urban migration and maintaining a more sustainable way of life.
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Sustainable urban accommodation
Our travel plans don’t always involve off-grid ecolodges and homestays, so it’s important to look at city hotels for sustainability as well. Leading urban housing also provides solutions to specific and local needs. For example, Lemon Tree Hotels in India employs people who are typically denied work opportunities due to physical or learning disabilities. In Austria, 80% of employees in Hotel Magdas are refugees.
In San Francisco, under water stress, Pointe CavalloThe water reclamation system saves one million gallons of water per year. Reusing 75% of the building’s old interiors has also saved thousands of tons of construction waste from landfills. In Prague, Mosaic Home Design Hotel not only recycles wastewater, but uses its excess heat to produce energy; it is only the second building in the world to do so.
Green certifications are a good indicator of commitment. There are over 200, so look for ones that are recognized or certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and involve some form of on-site (ideally external) assessment. Booking.com currently boasts over 30 officially endorsed certifications from GSTC, Green Tourism and EU Ecolabel (although direct booking is preferred for the destination).
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Other things to look out for include an environmental policy with concrete numbers and targets to prove that a hotel is leading by example. A sincere commitment to solving the climate crisis demonstrates an understanding of the bigger picture. Addressing the conservation and restoration of biodiversity is also key here. Even a city hall can do its part to support our much-depleted natural world by using any available space for insect-friendly plants and partnering with urban conservation initiatives.
Other elements that demonstrate a willingness for positive change include a sustainable sourcing policy, local hiring (ideally over 70% of employees will be from the region), green teams, decent wages (above minimum wage ), an understanding of responsible travel issues like over-tourism and a policy of diversity, equity and inclusion.
If all that research sounds a bit daunting, one of the best ways to find out if the hosting is truly committed to sustainability is to ask. The most passionate advocates for a better future will be eager to share what they are doing.