Combining sustainability with luxury in the hotel industry
Njeri Maina @njerimainar
Sustainability is fast becoming big business as communities, corporates and individuals become more aware of the impact their activities have on the environment.
Sustainable cities and communities is one of the United Nation’s Sustaisustainable Development Goals.
Over time, the tourism industry is also becoming concious of preserving the environment and is focusing to reduce its carbon footprint.
This has led to the advent and increase in number of eco camps and lodges, which seek to host tourists in sustainable and environmental friendly ways.
The luxury traveller has also not been left behind, as they seek to find resorts that not only offer a luxurious experience, but are sustainable as well.
The International Ecotourism Society defines eco-tourism or sustainable accommodation as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people’.
“Sustainability is the way to go for businesses as well as for resorts. It is the one way to make business more meaningful.
It is in the way you handle resources without wastefulness, as well as in the way one interacts with the immediate communities and the environment,” Mehdi Morad, Accor Hotels Kenya country manager and the Fairmont Mara general manager explains.
Morad is a passionate conservationist and environmentalist keen on making sure that the hotels he manages are eco-friendly.
In his last designation in a beach hotel in Mauritius, he banned motorised sports as they are harmful to the reef.
Today, he is determined to ensure that Fairmont Mara is the eco-luxury resort it has the potential to be.
“We are slowly phasing out the use of single use plastics. We are also working on making all energy processes at the resort solar-powered.
We have proper water and waste management programmes in place to reduce wastefulness.
We have also partnered with international organisations in a programme where we offset their carbon footprint by planting trees in Olchoro Conservancy,” Morad continues.
In the heart of Nairobi city is Ololo Safari Lodge and Farm, a small boutique eco-lodge nestled by the banks of the Mbagathi River, on the southern border of the Nairobi National Park.
The lodge prides itself in waste upcycling, whereby all food and animal waste is upcycled into high value input, such as feed for the animals or organic compost for the farm.
Its managing director shares how Covid-19 has helped highlight the effects of climate change on not just tourism, but in our day to day lives and how that has invariably made tourists more eco-conscious.
“Ololo Lodge is not luxurious in terms of opulence, such as large bathrooms with gold taps.
We are luxurious in terms of the unique design of the lodge and our unique location right at the border of the park.
We are eco-friendly since we produce our own salad greens, all chicken and duck meat, mushrooms, eggs, and pasteurised milk from which we make our own natural yoghurt, and ice cream for our guests.
Our plants are organically grown and all our animals are free-range as well. This cuts down fuel and transport costs making for a greener environment. We also believe in impacting the communities around us positively.
Ololo, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have been working with the Kibera community by taking them on game drives, and teaching them about wildlife and sustainable farming methods,” Joanna Chapman, the managing director for Ololo Lodges shares.
Further afield in Laikipia, El Karama Lodges are embracing sustainable travel.
Designed to be a low impact lodge since its inception in 2006, El Karama Lodge runs exclusively on solar energy.
The lodge also harvests rain water in their 1.5 million-litre water reservoir with water usage strictly policed.
“The lodge was created wholly from recycled materials with the thatch made from locally grown grass.
Our design is rustic luxury, beautiful details that speak of our artistic heritage, but also of our love and passion for the natural world,” Sophie Grant, the lodge’s managing director explains.
The lodge also has a waste separation strategy that means we reduce wastage by reusing and recycling some items.
“Our wine glasses make great candle lanterns for our lodge and for our shop while vessels, such as old wheel barrows are turned into planters.
Soap remains are collected after use, boiled down and used as household soaps for our families and staff if they wish.
We also grow 90 per cent of our food chemical-free using companion planting, homemade composting and drip irrigation to ensure the most environmentally friendly approach.
Our pool is a copper cleaning chemical-free pool that runs entirely on solar energy. This means that birds and wild animals can safely drink from it,” she adds.
Grant explains that adaptability is key if lodges and the tourism sector are to be at the forefront of the sustainability conversation, and supporting local communities is an important part of that process.
On this front, the lodge has outreach programmes for the local community where they teach them about eco-tourism, conservation, entrepreneurship and offer annual internships to help them upskill.
As to how Covid-19 has affected the eco-luxury travel space, Grant maintains that it has raised awareness around climate change and if anything, the luxury traveller is more eco-conscious than ever before.
She believes that adaptability is the only way to keep the discerning luxury traveller happy.
Morad agrees. He says that only the agile businesses will be able to beat the tourism crunch and match the new demands that tourists have as a result of Covid-19.
“Lodges have to adapt and come up with new packages that mirror the changing tourist needs.
From walking safaris, changing from buffet setups to a ’la carte menu, to capping the number of people in each tourist vehicle, we have had to innovate,” he says.
On the cost of setting up and running an eco-lodge, Chapman says it is not as expensive as many people make it out to be.
But the question is on whether we can put a price on our carbon emissions and how much a company is willing to sink in to reduce their carbon footprint.
“I like that over time more lodges are becoming eco-conscious and putting in place measures to reduce their carbon footprint.
As people become more aware of their impact on the environment, we will be seeing more and more eco-lodges being set up,” she says in ending.