The requisite amenities of luxury hotels has long been focused on the room—free WiFi, linens with high thread counts, widescreen HD TV and premium liquors in the minibar. Now, however, hotels have engaged more than ever in sustainable practices, not only to save themselves the effects and cost of climate change, but because their clientele are demanding it. How this has developed into a marketing necessity was the subject of my interview with Daniel Luddington, VP Development, Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which has introduced its new “Considerate Collection” line.
In the past, what aspects of the industry paid no attention to sustainability and in what ways?
I think our industry is still guilty of promoting frequent flier travel, which flies in the face of sustainable tourism. We should be focusing on making travel count, flying less but staying longer, slowing down, and investing more time in destinations that we know are not suffering from over-tourism and spending more in destinations where our money can go further and will make more of a difference. And this is where local independent hotels are crucial, because there is far more of a chance of the money staying in the destination rather than leaking out of the country to a foreign corporate owner.
Has the public been clamoring for this?
Prior to launching the collection, we surveyed over 1,500 members of our loyalty program, and nearly two thirds believe sustainability is more important now than pre-Covid (an increase from 16%), with 58% intending to make more sustainably-minded choices when they travel; yet 57% pointed out how hard it can be to find the information they need to make an informed choice. Over half are wary of hotels making claims that simply aren’t true. This is one of the reasons why we launched the Considerate Collection – as an answer to what forward-thinking travelers have been seeking out.
Our curated collection makes planning stays at sustainable luxury hotels much easier, eliminating tedious research and greenwashing. There is a lot of that going on. My word, every hotel I am seeing launched now is using ‘eco’ in its marketing patter, and funnily enough, they are all being tagged as ‘green’ by OTAs that allow hotels to ‘self-assess.’ This doesn’t help the public because how can they grasp the truth? This is why third-party verification and certification are important in all of this and why Considerate Collection hotels have to demonstrate hotels are walking the walk.
What are the elements of “sustainability” in the new collectionTo select and showcase the very best sustainable hotels within Small Luxury Hotels of the World, we used the framework of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, the GSTC. There is a strong relationship between the GSTC Criteria and the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). By uptaking the GSTC Criteria, our hotels are helping to meet the UN SDGs. Economic, environmental and societal dimensions are all addressed. So Considerate Collection hotels must demonstrate high alignment across 3 pillars of sustainability:
First, environment: We are seeking hotels that nurture nature, that maximise their positive impact to the environment. Environmentally conscious hoteliers must be passionate, not just minimizing negative impacts, reducing energy, water, waste and carbon but also, they must demonstrate positive regenerative impact (switching to green energy, organic farming, biodynamic gardens, conservation, rewilding and reforesting). EarthCheck Silver certified Amilla Maldives is doing this well with an ongoing coral propagation projectand Long Tail Tropic bird breeding program, complimentary bicycles, electric golf buggies, and an outdoor zero power gym.
Next, hotels must be Cultural Custodians working tirelessly to protect, preserve and promote their cultural heritage for generations to come. Elements of local culture must be woven throughout the operation and the guest experience as well as the design, decoration, staff uniforms and of course the cuisine. Dar Ahlam in Morocco is a great example with their Memory Road project. Together with the Global Heritage Fund, they’re bringing abandoned villages in Southern Morocco back to life, preserving the Berber way of life.
Last but not least, we require our hoteliers to be Community Minded; ideally, the owners are locals. Local ownership means a great deal as they are custodians and likely to care more about the place and its people. Staffing local people in management is important. Hotels must invest in the education, healthcare, and training of their staff and their local families. Local procurement is also key, choosing to buy local food, of course, local fabrics, local furniture, local design, local art and experiences designed and that driven by the local community. You will see a great reflection of this pillar at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, where almost all of the team are Bhutanese and are closely connected to their home communities.
Is such a commitment more expensive for the properties and industry? Does it add to the consumers’ expenses ?
There’s always an initial financial outlay for any business when setting up new systems; however, sustainable business drives go hand-in-hand with cost efficiencies. Hervé Houdré is one of the sustainable hospitality experts we collaborate with for the Considerate Collection and he puts it perfectly when he talks about encouraging hotels to adopt a business model integrating the Triple Bottom Line of Profit, People and Planet in their strategy.
This model first and foremost starts with profit: When hotels become more efficient with energy use, water consumption and waste management, all of which are the foundation for a clean environment, we realize that hoteliers actually end up saving quite a bit of money, which should trickle down to the guests’ bottom line as well.
Another thing for the industry to bear in mind is that the legislative landscape is evolving globally to meet with climate change targets, therefore it’s important to invest and take action now to avoid fines and reputational damage in the future.
Finally, I think where there are increased costs for guests, it’s important for hoteliers to be transparent and to clearly communicate the added value of their sustainability practices to the environment and community, so that guests can feel part of the solution.
Will there be commitment in the future to eliminating all fossil fuels (except the kitchens) in heating, lighting, etc? Especially given the rise in fuel prices.
Sustainability is very much a journey for all of us and, as mentioned, our criteria for the Considerate Collection is aligned with GSTC and the UN’s SDGs. I suspect there will be more stringent guidelines put in place especially following the recent report “Fueling Failure” by The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. The report really exposes the dangers of fossil fuels and how they undermine the SDGs. As the Considerate Collection grows and evolves its criteria, a commitment to reducing fossil fuels within all hotel operations is absolutely one of the immediate goals. Elimination is the ideal destination. While we cannot avoid the creation of pollution via transportation at the current moment, we can, however, offer travelers opportunities to discover sustainable hotels that choose more efficient renewable energy, water and waste management systems.
How has the word “Luxury” changed in this century?
Once upon a time, “luxury” was a material concept often defined by the biggest, shiniest and most expensive. Over the years, as people have become m
ore discerning, luxury has become more about a state of mind. At its core, though, it’s always been about status, but it’s shifted from material possession and is now more about “Who I am.” People want to show that they are more ethical, creative, connected and tasteful than the masses. With growing concerns about our impact on the environment, I think luxury and sustainability are almost interchangeable. For us here at SLH, sustainability is the new luxury.
Interestingly enough, our Considerate Collection hotels that are managed sustainably also score the highest in our mystery inspection reports, which for the most part is measuring the luxury guest experience. Perhaps the people are happier working there; they are cared for, so they are more capable of caring for their guests.
I recently returned from Castello di Reschio in Perugia. Achingly beautiful, utterly luxurious, wholly sustainable. They’re implementing heat pump energy, demonstrating zero waste; there are no plastics in sight. The hotel staff is about 90% local employees, and they are doing an amazing job to protect and preserve the old abandoned farmhouses that serve as the guest accommodations.
Luxury is not and cannot be this wasteful excess with this nonsense of constantly replenishing stuff with new stuff, like linen and towel changed every day; having soap changed every time you wash your hands; having one hundred bathroom amenities, slippers wrapped in plastic, the fruit basket wrapped in plastic that nobody eats, the list goes on and on.
We have to acknowledge the hypocrisy of this luxury. We can’t have our own private luxury in big shiny new-build resorts without depriving others in some way of their land, their resources. It’s an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth. Bigger, faster, shinier, warmer, cooler means more steel, more cement, concrete, more plastic, more AC, more diesel and gas, more water. More, more, more. This luxury is unsustainable. Why do we pander to it? When you have 200 room local people are usually not in positions of responsibility, organization and management. On the flip side, if you are a property consisting of several small houses, you can have several small teams in charge and they can be local people.
Small is the only way I see luxury.
Tell me about how the hotel industry is rebounding at a time when Covid still lurks and even re-appears?
Everywhere you look, the headline “Travel’s Great Comeback” is in full effect, even though Covid still exists. Vaccination and breakthrough medications paired with a general sentiment for the population to simply move on means that people are increasingly hungry for travel, almost inarguably, now more than ever. Our current brand campaign, Transcend your Travel Comfort Zone, speaks to this sentiment. We ran a survey that highlighted that people have been stuck in a “comfort zone” of fears, anxieties and uncertainties, naturally, because of the last two years, and for 64% of people, travel is the top-ranking means to help them step out of their comfort zone. Some of our hotels are experiencing their best season ever coming out of the pandemic because people are ready to move on and live with Covid. Hotels have had time to pause, reflect and refine their offering ready to receive guests. We’ve seen some really creative concepts for example the Wittmore Hotel in Barcelona is offering a “sleep beneath the stars” experience from May-October, where guests can exclusively book and sleep on the rooftop overnight.
What effect has the Russian-Ukraine war had on European travel? I canceled a recent trip to Austria because things seem very shaky in that part of the world.
It’s hard to say but we haven’t seen any major impact in our stats on European travel as a result of the war.
How many SLHs are owned by individuals rather than companies?
We currently have over 520 hotels within Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Most of our hotels have no more than 50 rooms, and they are actually all independently-owned. Many have been in the same family for generations.