Skift Take

Given the cost and spent energy associated with travel, it's hard to appreciate an "eco" take on tourism. But these options give visitors an interesting perspective on the destination, without making it seem like too much work.

It goes without saying that the travel industry contributes to a significant amount of waste and pollution. While many travellers do care about the environment, few are willing to curtail their holidays completely, because the proposed experience is too compelling or the alternatives are too difficult and/or expensive. Yet, even the most cynical of luxury travellers are aware of the need to go green. And for many, a personal lack of action only increases their desire for premium travel to be environmentally considerate – because while travellers might not feel they can go green themselves, they most certainly expect big airlines and hotel conglomerates to lead the way.

In recent years sustainability in the travel industry has progressed from a truly niche consideration to an industry-wide priority (helped, of course, by airlines, airports and hotels finding that adopting eco-friendly initiatives also saved them money). What is now clear to accommodation providers is that holidaymakers expect the companies they book with to be as responsible, ethical and sustainable as possible – allowing hotel guests to reuse their bed linen isn’t enough. Over the coming years expect travel brands to integrate sustainability into their offerings in exciting and inventive ways.

Here’s a selection of three innovative yet eco-friendly trends in the luxury hotel sector:

Destination: Uninterrupted – Hotels that have minimal visual and structural impact on their environment

Some eco-conscious travellers no longer appreciate their luxurious hotels or dwellings being the focus of their holiday. Rather, these travellers are increasingly looking to the location itself to provide total aesthetic gratification, which they can experience in the rawest, purest and most unadulterated form possible. Because of this, we can expect to see a greater number of accommodation types designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Opened in January 2013, Sleeping Around is a temporary hotel that is continually placed in different locations around Antwerp. Basic shipping containers have been transformed into a hotel space, with rooms furnished using sustainably sourced materials. Guests find out where they’re overnighting only after confirming their booking, at which point the directions are released via GPS.

The Eco-Resort Pedras Salgadas is a collection of cabins built to blend into the woodland environment they inhabit in a northern Portugal park and spa. The cabins were erected according to the various sizes of the gaps between the trees and the placement of windows and doors reflect this too. According to the designers Luis Reblo de Andrade and Diogo Aguiar, the cabins were purposely built to have a ‘minimal effect on the local nature’, thus emphasising interaction between guests and the park.

Flower Power – ‘Living Hotels’ take being green to a whole new extreme

For the travellers that have long adopted a sustainable mindset, holidaying sustainably is imperative. Many of these consumers derive their status from their own concern for the environment and are seeking opportunities when travelling to flaunt their eco-credentials unabashedly. Nowadays, LEED certifications, green housekeeping operations and sustainability programmes are simply not enough. These guests yearn for bolder and even more iconic displays of what it means to be green. In order to truly stand out from the ‘sustainable hotel’ crowd, luxury brands are pushing the boundaries once more and embodying nature by becoming a beautiful, living, breathing extension of it.

US-based architecture firm Emergent unveiled designs for the 1,500-room National Hotel near Beijing’s airport. The building will feature a 107,000-foot indoor rainforest, with windows and skylights providing natural light and energy-efficient solar thermal pipes included to provide heating.

The B3 Hotel Virrey in Bogota has an eight-storey living wall decorating the building’s exterior. Composed of more than 25,000 plants (over 40 per cent of which are indigenous Colombian species), the vertical garden is self-pollinating and also helps to insulate the hotel and reduce pollution.

Eco-experiences – Outsourcing eco-initiatives to guests and embedding sustainability into holiday experiences

It’s safe to say that we are in an age where ‘convenient’ sustainability appeals to the majority. Yet as premium hotels up the ante with their eco-related offerings, truly eco-conscious travellers also expect these organisations to enable them to take a step further in their own sustainability-related commitments. Savvy brands in the hotel sector understand that for these consumers, responsible consumption is a two-way affair. And the coming years will see more hotels facilitating increasingly novel, engaging and memorable guest participatory eco-experiences.

In 2012, Cottage Lodge bed and breakfast in Hampshire unveiled the Standing Hat room, where guests who want to watch television are required to do so via pedal-power. Other eco facilities include bamboo flooring and a wood-burning stove. The holiday accommodation was built with sustainability in mind, and the solar-powered Standing Hat room was constructed from locally sourced Douglas Fir trees.

Chile’s Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa launched an initiative in 2012 to give each of its guests a trackable virtual tree seed for planting in fire-ravaged areas of the Chilean Patagonia, through a partnership with non-profit Reforestemos Patagonia. Every guest is given a virtual tree code when they reserve accommodation at the hotel and can then choose where they would like their tree to be planted, receiving an email certificate verifying planting along with the exact, trackable coordinates through a geo-referenced Google Maps link.

Demand for sustainable solutions in the luxury-travel sector will continue to rise, which of course provides a win-win situation for all. Even the most eco-conscious consumers will still travel a great deal but they are looking for ways to offset their guilt and will pay a premium for the opportunity – for luxury-travel brands that’s yet another incentive to champion environmental responsibility.

Lola Pedro is a senior industry analyst at London-based trend firm . One of the world’s leading trend firms, it monitors and reports on emerging consumer trends, insights and innovations. You can follow its latest reports on Twitter @trendwatching .


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