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When we think of conservation efforts in luxury hospitality, usually work in Africa comes to mind — saving elephants or protecting scenic grasslands. But conservation is happening all over the world with rivers, trees, oceans, and plants. After talking to hoteliers and sustainability partners championing land conservation across Europe, North America, and Asia, we see hope in what’s possible when sharp business minds are put to such a noble mission — protecting the planet.
Take Heckfield Place in Hampshire, England. The 250-year-old estate, surrounded by 438 acres of countryside, was recently restored as a luxury resort, with a comprehensive plan to regenerate the land.
“We’re thinking in terms of a 100-year vision. Reknitting the ‘home farm’ into the estate and restoring the soil and such spots as the arboretum, the lake, and the river is about trying to achieve harmony,” said General Manager Olivia Richli.
Or you could look to The Resort at Paws Up: a luxury resort and camping experience located on a 37,000 acre working Montana cattle and bison ranch along the Blackfoot River that’s home to a luxury resort, glamping experience, and farm-to-table culinary and events program.
“Luxury is having the largest menu of outdoor pursuits in America and the time and space to do them,” said owner Larry Lipson. “Luxury is spending an afternoon with your family on a private island surrounded by a high mountain glacier lake and seeing more stars in the night sky than you’ve ever seen before.”
A stewardship program supports this sizable operation, which puts nature at the heart of luxury. The program includes a drought management plan, a habitat improvement plan, and a stock of Black Angus cows that fertilize the land, suppress fire danger, and keep grasses healthy for wildlife.
Land conservation approaches like these are not simple or inexpensive undertakings. It takes building teams, collaborating with and negotiating between stakeholders in local communities as well as corporate boardrooms, and finding a delicate balance between what’s needed for a natural ecosystem and luxury operation.
The goal is to ultimately go beyond conservation — to regeneration.
Global Brands Get In On Land Conservation
It’s not just boutique hotels and stand-alone luxury resorts that are taking up conservation efforts.
Six Senses, for one, is building a global brand that’s known for its sustainability initiatives, which include a fund sourced from hotel operations to put toward land conservation and regeneration. Each hotel partners with local NGOs and subject experts to continue their work or start new projects. Currently the hospitality company is restoring the ecosystem on the island surrounding Six Senses Zil Payson in the Seychelles and working with three different organizations at Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives to create a research institute funded and housed through the hotel.
“We are a business primarily, not a nonprofit, although I like to think of my team as a nonprofit within the business. In that team, we’re all in it to save the world,” said Jeff Smith, vice president of sustainability at Six Senses.
And there’s a good business reason to want to do so: People don’t want to travel to destinations if they’ve been destroyed. “No one wants to visit your private island if there is garbage floating in the water and everything is dead,” said Smith. “This is why tourism is so great, because it is in the hospitality industry’s best interest that businesses are aligned with conservation work.”
It can be difficult to understand the value of the land until it’s imminently at risk, though, as the team at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley recently experienced during the Australian wildfires that swept the eastern coast of the country and impacted tourism businesses.
The resort itself accounts for just 1 percent of a 7,000-acre wildlife reserve under the hotel’s stewardship. Conservation is more than an accessory to its operation. Its work thus far has focused on the protection of regional biodiversity and restoration of habitat for 1,500 native and endangered species, and that work became even more critical in the face of wildfires.
As general manager Tim Stanhope pointed out, “As a luxury brand, One&Only has a strong platform to share our conservation journey and positive stories of regeneration with our community during this period.” These luxury hospitality operations in Australia may now, more than ever, be able to spread conservation awareness and work to bring in guests as stakeholders.
These days, luxury hospitality would be wise to realize that their businesses extend beyond their physical property — and that land conservation adds value to the brand financially, aesthetically, and ethically.
“If a luxury hospitality operation wants to keep people coming, they need to protect the product and it’s not just the accommodation — it’s the surrounding environment,” said Gregory Miller, conservation veteran and executive director at the Center for Responsible Travel.
A Look Toward the Future
All of the hoteliers who we spoke to expressed that guests had an interest in learning about the hotels’ conservation efforts and that young hoteliers are entering the industry with an excitement around general sustainability. But many said the real shift in perspective — at least when it comes to land conservation — needs to come from the top.
“I feel like more and more hotel brands are feeling that it’s an ethical obligation to do sustainability,” explained Smith of Six Senses, who has felt the shift as hotel groups listed on the Singapore and Hong Kong stock exchanges, for example, are required to do a sustainability report and environmental governance becomes a part of the financial equation.
“If they’re doing it only for those reasons then they’re missing the opportunity, and that’s the conservation work. If you have a luxury resort, it is definitely in your best interest to keep the surrounding area beautiful, and the best way to do that is to fund conservation projects,” added Smith. And when you think about conservation and local NGOs that are struggling for funding, it’s worth noting, he added, that guests coming through a luxury resort can connect to a project and feel good about it, so it may actually not be so hard to find funding.
Still, the industry must be careful to not just simply cast a veneer of conservationism. As Skift Global Tourism Reporter Rosie Spinks noted after attending ILTM, “the modern-day optics of sustainability” in the travel industry aren’t going to hold up for future generations of luxury guests who expect a deeper, and more comprehensive, approach to sustainability. Land conservation is one of the most interesting areas for real investment with cascading positive effects — if done well and authentically.
It’s important to think of people, too, when it comes to conservation. Skift contributor Colin Nagy argued that conservation should be treated as a growth industry — not a charitable cause — that creates jobs and economic mobility to be sustainable for a future driven by young professionals.
While it’s easy to talk about the the best of what’s happening at the intersection of luxury hospitality and land conservation, to say much work needs to be done is an understatement. These properties, though, can serve as a lighthouse for the majority of hospitality projects that are not thinking of the birds and seeds that exist before land breaks on new construction. It’s a topic that should be continually explored in a world in which access to unspoiled natural habitats could become the ultimate luxury.