Tag - sustainable hotels

Towards a New Synergy of Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism

Front view of a longtail boat in Thailand with limestone rocks in the background. Photo by

Are Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism Compatible?

Imagine a luxury hotel in the middle of a resource depleted and naturally fragile area. Imagine tourists paying the same amount for a single room night of pampering and wellness as a local villager outisde the hotel gate dreams of making in a year. And imagine tourists sipping imported drinks in swimming pools while the next door family daughter misses school because she has to walk to the nearest well for water.

It doesn’t sound right. In fact, it sounds UGLY.

Luxury as an Opportunity

Should we dismiss luxury as a careless playground for the privileged to show off their success and claim their reward for “working hard”? Of course not. This is not a fair portrayal of luxury tourism. Without a doubt this type of tourism has rightly received criticism for its wastefulness and at times detrimental effects on natural resources and socioeconomic stability. However, luxury tourism is evolving and both luxury travelers and suppliers in the tourism industry are embracing new and more responsible ways of traveling. Here, we want to explore how the evolving luxury market can be utilized to bring about desired changes.

You have a group of consumers willing to pay a premium for high quality and unique experiences. That doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, that sounds like a huge opportunity.

The New Luxury

First, however, let’s look at our understanding of “luxury”. The concept is highly contextual and personal – not a thing we can simply buy as the advertisements would have us believe. After a long winter in the north, I dream of the luxury of a warm and sunny day. After months in the tropics, I dream of the cold fresh air in the north. Luxury can be as simple as a cold shower after a hiking trip. Luxury can be having a computer. Luxury can be not having one. Then again, luxury can be wearing a diamond ring and driving a Ferrari.

Despite the high elasticity of the meaning of luxury, the current understanding of the concept is evolving from being associated with things you can own, to being authentic experiences. This presents opportunities for the travel and hospitality industry.

The Evolution of Luxury and How this presents Opportunities for Sustainable Tourism

Infographic about evolution of luxury and its impact on sustainable tourism development by

In the old paradigm of luxury, a luxury hotel experience is nearly identical whether you are in Boston, Cape Town or Ho Chi Minh City. The amenities, the services, the language, the food, the procedures, and even the morning newspaper will be the same. You will not be confronted with local cultural differences – at least not more than exotic references of the place you are visiting. The experience will be a tourism bubble of comfort, convenience, and familiarity which shields off the surrounding environment.

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah the 7-star luxury hotel in Dubai with helicopter landing pad with artificial lake in the foreground. Image by

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah (background), an example of classic hotel luxury.

This form of tourism is in no way dying out. However, luxury tourism providers are increasingly held accountable and questioned about their impacts on natural and social environments. Furthermore, the new luxury segment – a new paradigm of luxury – is quickly emerging. This segment seeks fulfilling experiences in harmony with nature and sociocultural surroundings. And in this paradigm, a wildlife experience in a remote destination while sleeping in a rustic eco-lodge harvests much more social capital and envy from peers than a luxury stay at a Hyatt hotel in the Maldives or even the self-proclaimed 7-star Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai.

Elephant Hills' Jungle Lake Houses on the Chao Larn Lake in Khaosok National Park Thailand. Image by

A new kind of luxury travel: Unique nature, wildlife, and adventure.

A New Synergy between Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism?

With the growth of this new luxury travel segment, sustainability and luxury travel have the potential to prosper together. Here are some of the ways local communities, wildlife, and natural surroundings can benefit from the new luxury travel segment.

Local Economic Boosts and Jobs

New luxury travelers value authenticity and uniqueness of people and place. This means that they want to experience local culture, food, arts, handicrafts, and traditions. This presents opportunities for local community members to become managers, receptionists, guides, drivers, cleaners, sellers, artists and so on inside the tourism industry. Not only will this support the local beneficiaries directly, it will also create a multiplier effect from bringing more economic means and demands for services and supplies into the community.

 Community Development

Sustainable luxury suppliers within tourism commit to educating and training their staff and partners. The training can be in anything from management and service to marketing and language. This means that even people with little formal education can receive skills and experiences that empower them to follow their passions. Additionally, it is common that ecolodges and sustainable tourism providers support various local projects such as local schools and organic farming.

By stressing local produce, food, customs, handicrafts, and artistry, positive heritage awareness and cultural pride can be boosted through the appreciation of visitors. Local youth can thus be encouraged to keep valuable cultural traits alive and connect with their roots.

Improved Infrastructure

A new village well, solar powered electricity, improved roads and transport options, internet connectivity, garbage collecting system, and sanitation. These initiatives can all be positive impacts derived from sustainable tourism. New luxury travelers, although adhering to more natural barefoot luxury experiences, will often demand clean water, efficient waste and garbage management, and other familiar conveniences. If developed and managed sustainably, this can bring the mentioned improvements to the local community as well.

 Wildlife and Environmental Protection

In low-resource countries, wild natural landscapes and wildlife are sometimes worth less than the economic potential of farming, plantations, and even poaching. As a result, these wildlife oases are diminishing while species and plants go extinct. Tourism has the potential to reverse this trend. The new luxury travel market that seeks authentic adventures and wildlife will gladly pay national park fees and extra premiums to experience natural beauty, making environmental protection more economically sound and sustainable than alternative and degrading forms of land use.

As new luxury travelers emphasise healthy living, organic and locally grown food will be in demand, resulting in less pesticides and healthier crop management.

Can Luxury Travel Lead the Way?

If we accept the new paradigm of luxury, luxury travel can lead the way in boosting sustainable tourism. The potential opportunities of tourism to generate positive impacts on people and environment are in no way new. These advantages have been discussed through three decades. What luxury adds to the mix, however, is a stronger economic incentive plus a bigger opportunity to act as a trendsetter for tourism development and tourist experiences in general.

Sustainable travel does not have to be limited to village homestays and primitive bungalows anymore. With the advancement of sustainable technology and refinement of tourist motivations, it is now easier than ever for all stakeholders in tourism to include sustainability as an integrated part of their operations. Indeed, it even makes economic sense to care.

Further Information about Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism

This article was inspired by an excellent webinar by called “Could Sustainability be the Future of Luxury”. The webinar explores the synergies between luxury travel and sustainable tourism, and three absolute front runners of sustainable tourism share their wealth of knowledge and experience on this issue.

Guest speakers from the above webinar are Anna Pollock (Conscious Travel), Mikaku Doliveck (Floating Leaf Eco-Luxury Retreat), and Aebe Christian De Boer  Shinta Mani Resort).

BookGreener is an excellent resource for anyone interested in sustainable tourism. You will find a lot of practical solutions drawn from tourism industry leaders, and we encourage you to hear and see their other inspiring podcasts and webinars on tourism sustainability.

Other valuable resources on the topic:
  • The Evolution of the Luxury Guestroom by Michael R. Paneri from Viceroy Hotel Group. On the emergence of “new luxury” and how “new luxury guests” want environmental concern and responsibility to be incorporated in the hotel design.
  • The Evolution of the Luxury Travel Consumer by On how today’s luxury travelers want to engage with their travel destination, combine simplicity and luxury, and at the same time contribute to sustainable development through their travels.

Green Hotel Bookings Made Easy

Sunshine falling on tropical green palm leaves

How to find a green hotel?

What do you do if you prefer to stay at a hotel that cares about its employees, the community it operates in, and the natural surroundings? You may have stayed at such a hotel before, you may have friends who can recommend hotels to you, but there are only so many places you can cover by first or second hand experiences.

There are plenty of results if you make a generic search for sustainable hotels on google, and there are plenty of national and international organizations that certify hotels that care. But how do the hotels and certification organizations define being sustainable? The criteria applied vary greatly. And they should, because the relevance of sustainable practices vary according to the type of hotel and the natural and societal environment it operates in.

To help you through the jungle of green hotels, luckily there are great resources that help you find the accommodation you want and inform you on their sustainable practices. The green hotel search engines will quickly help you to locate sustainable hotels in your desired area.

Sustainable hotel search engines

Here is a list of online and worldwide sustainable hotel databases to get you quickly started:

Eco Hotels of the World 

A worldwide database of eco-hotels that are given a score from 1-5 Eco-Stars. The stars are given based on a rating form submitted by the hotel. The focus is mainly on environmental sustainability. For each hotel, you can see their green ratings and practices on five different criteria: Energy, water, disposal, eco-active, and protection.

Update: Eco Hotels of the World is now shut down.

Environmentally Friendly Hotels 

A worldwide database and guide to sustainable hotels. 1-7 green leaves are given based on how many of 30 “green attributes” the hotel fulfills. The checklist of the green attributes is submitted by the accommodation supplier. The focus is primarily on environmental sustainability.
Environmentally Friendly Hotels


A hotel booking database which shows the carbon footprint of hotels and indicates whether they are certified by one of the major sustainability certification schemes. The carbon footprint is calculated according to a formula developed by Breda University of Applied Sciences (NHTV), BookDifferent, and partners from the Dutch tourism sector. The formula considers emission heavy facilities such as air-condition, swimming pools, and saunas. BookDifferent has both green and “ordinary” hotels. Their database is based on that of, and they give a price guarantee on their hotels. About half of BookDifferent’s profit goes to a charity chosen by you.


TripAdvisor's GreenLeadersYes, you read right. Tripadvisor has launched its “Green Leaders” programme. Hotels receive bronze, silver, gold or platinum according to their efforts. Hotels have to apply themselves and make data available on their efforts on sustainability. Tripadvisor may receive feedback from users who have stayed at Green Leader hotels, and external audits will be made at properties also.

It is unclear whether all properties will be audited before being given a badge. Once you have searched for a destination on TripAdvisor, you will see a filter where one of the categories is “Style”. If you click “See all”, you may find that there is a “Green” option you can tick (only if there are green options at the selected destination).

It’s a Green Green World 

Also known as GGW, this website invites hotel properties to list their own green initiatives by filling out a form. GGW will then feature the hotel along with the information provided on the website. There is no rating given and no auditing. The GGW includes hotels from all over the world. The focus is on environmental sustainability.

Update: It’s a Green Green World is now shut down.


This website focuses on the Indonesian island of Bali. BGreener suggests green hotels, travel tips and consultancy on sustainable travel. The featured hotels promise to deliver the most enriching travel experiences, focusing on a select group of hotels that truly care about their travelers, their staff, and the environmental and social surroundings they work in. BGreener has each partner fill out a questionnaire on what makes their accommodation experience unique as a result of their sustainability benefits, efforts, and awards. In this way, travelers will know what to expect in terms of green experiences and practices.

BGreener has developed a sustainability section for hotels and suppliers in the hospitality industry, a peer-to-peer sharing platform for simple tips and best practices on social and environmental sustainability in tourism. Here you can find amazing (and free!) webinars and podcasts with international industry leaders sharing their insights and tips on sustainable tourism management.


GreenHotelWorldGreenHotelWorld is an online booking platform for green hotels worldwide. When you make a hotel search on the website, you can see which sustainable practices each hotel carries out. It is possible to filter the hotels according to their “green practices” such as environmental protection, social responsibility, local resources, cultural heritage, and third party certification status. If your chosen hotel has not been green certified by one of the many eco-certification labels GHW works with, the company has teamed up with myclimate to offset the carbon footprint of your stay. The search results are based on the Expedia hotel search engine, and GreenHotelWorld offers a price guarantee for a vast number of the hotels on offer.

There is no excuse not to book a green hotel!

Find more eco-hotel platforms and tips on how to be a green traveler on The Dharma Trails’ Where to find Eco Accommodation.

Now that we have walked you through these online tools for finding sustainable hotels, there is no excuse not to use one of them. These green hotel platforms will enable you to find your responsible accommodation providers from small family owned lodges to large luxury hotels. Remember to give feedback to the hotels and the booking platforms on your experience, so they can keep their databases up to date and help other travelers find high quality green hotels that care about their social and natural surroundings.

Did we forget a green booking engine? Please let us know and we will update our list.

Why Hotel Eco-Labels Don’t Work

Sun umbrella made from natural materials such as wood and straw.
Hotel Eco-Label Schemes

It is no secret that hotels are increasingly becoming aware that following the principles and guidelines of sustainable tourism has positive effects on staff satisfaction, energy and water consumption, brand appreciation, and customer feedback.

There are a number of organizations that provide free or paid sustainability management tools and assist with marketing the hotel as “green” or “responsible”. The extensive amount of sustainable tourism certification schemes can also serve as pointers for travelers to find the hotel they are looking for. This list from DestiNet will give you an excellent overview of the various sustainable tourism certification schemes worldwide and their individual focus. The list is not complete. In fact, according to Green Hotels Association there are currently around 800 eco/green/sustainable hotel certification organizations worldwide ranging from a local-regional scope to a global one.

Challenges of eco-certification of hotels

Here we outline some of the major challenges related to hotel eco-labels and green certification:

Figure showing issues and challenges of hotel eco-labels and hotel sustainability certification schemes

Understanding the Sustainable Hotel Certification Schemes

It gets a little complicated though, when you find out that each provider of these services has its own sustainability definitions, criteria, monitoring, and accreditation methods. One scheme might only consider environmental sustainability, while others include social and economic aspects also. The importance of certain sustainability aspects will vary from setting to setting. For example, supporting wildlife protection is less important in a London hotel compared to a rainforest lodge in the Amazonas. Sustainability schemes give medals, green leaves, palms or sometimes stars. How do you compare them? Additionally, some organizations include third party accreditation where an external expert audits the hotel’s position on formal criteria, while others are merely based on self-monitoring and evaluation according to a checklist.  As the services of the sustainability management organizations wary greatly in scope and focus, so do their fees for participation.

Consequently, if you want to understand how and why a particular hotel is certified, you will have to closely read through the selection criteria and score systems of the organizations that give certifications.

Why some hotels do not want to be certified by sustainability organizations

It is not uncommon to find hotels that don’t want to market themselves as environmentally friendly or be part of a tourism sustainability scheme. This is sometimes because they don’t want their hotel to be associated and grouped with other hotels that don’t match their own standards and efforts on sustainability. In other words, the most dedicated hotels feel they are so far ahead of the pack that they see themselves in another sustainability league. Theses hotels would much rather be featured in The National Geographic or win a green hotel award for their efforts on sustainability, rather than be included in a “weak” group of sustainable hotels where the bar is too low.

I have inspected hotels that score high on certain sustainability schemes, yet with no sign of commitment beyond the standard request of guests to reuse towels and bed-linen. I have also inspected hotels with no accreditation or available information on their sustainability efforts where sustainability was clearly an integral part of the management of the hotel.

Green Hotels Association offers a stark critique of certification schemes, saying that

Certification is very expensive and very time consuming. The certifying entity will want you to recertify every year or at least every other year—again spending thousands of dollars and many long hours.


We believe a much better choice is to use the money you would spend on certification to improve the quality of the stay…

Small hotels don’t have resources to be certified

To be certified by a sustainability organization takes time and it costs money. Not all hotels can spend resources on assessing, monitoring, evaluating, and setting up environmental policies for their property. Even though many of the certification schemes will offer lower participation prices for small hotels, this might not be where a small hotel, lodge, guesthouse, or homestay wants to spend its money. This means that a lot of the smaller hotels will never appear if you search for eco-certified hotels.

This is a shame, since many smaller accommodation providers quite often are much more environmentally and socially sustainable than their bigger counterparts. For example, “leakage” is not a big issue in small family-owned hotels. Compared to big hotels and hotel groups, small accommodation providers are more likely to…

  • be locally owned
  • hire local staff
  • buy local food and goods
  • use less resources in the construction of the hotel
  • generate less waste
  • use less water and electricity

In contrast, an international luxury hotel will put more stress on the local environment due to much higher overall consumption (watering gardens, air-conditons, spas, pools etc.), and it will generally have to import goods and staff to maintain its international standards.

Easier identification and easier booking of eco-hotels

The good news is that more and more 4-5 star hotels and international hotel chains have become aware of their environmental and social impact and now work to implement sustainability into the management and operation of their hotels. The availability of green and responsible hotels is therefore steadily increasing, with or without certification schemes.

New services for finding hotels, reading about their efforts, and giving overviews of their certifications and sustainability awards are already there or in the making. This makes it much easier for travelers to find eco-hotels at any desired destination.

Check in on later, as we return with a guide on how to find a sustainable hotel.