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Sustainably traveling doesn't mean sacrificing luxury.

Dolores Burgos

Feb 11, 2022

Sustainably traveling doesn't mean sacrificing luxury

Twenty years or so ago, the words luxury and sustainable were rarely together. The luxurious taste was more likely to be grand and brash than purposeful and environmentally sensitive. Travel was no exception, and there were no limits to what money (and a large carbon footprint) could buy. As we plunge into a new decade, things are quite various.

While luxury travel still exists, there is a growing stream that is centered more on sustainability. In an age where most things are available at the click of a button, luxury is less about “stuff” and more about experiences. It's all about careful craftsmanship, unique cultures, untamed landscapes, and going slow.

Today it is more critical than ever to make travel count. Whether they're funding vital conservancy efforts or invigorating communities, luxury travelers can do their part without compromising on the fun. Finally, any experience based on a genuine love for a place, a landscape, or a community will always overcome those that do not.


Luxury accommodations have a significant advantage when it comes to sustainability: exclusivity. Generally speaking, there were are few people lewer damage to the environment.

An example of this is the luxury accommodation in Costa Rica. On the Osa Peninsula, where ancient rainforest falls into the wild Pacific, the 1000-acre nature reserve of Lapa Ríos hosts merely 30 guests at a time: howler monkeys drop by for breakfast, and scarlet macaws fly overhead. The owners of Kasiiya Papagayo, On the Caribbean coast, are building low-impact bungalows extremely slowly that nature has time to grow around them. Both pristine landscapes would be at risk of exploitation were it not for the financial support of conscientious travelers.

Using high-end, low-impact tourism to finance the protection of an ecosystem and its surrounding community is a proven formula. In South Africa, luxury travel company Beyond's Phinda Private Game Reserve is home to one of the largest black rhino populations in the country due to conservation efforts paid for in part by visitors. In Indonesia, the Misool diving resort funds a private marine reserve larger than the five boroughs of New York City combined.

Stroll through the ancient olive groves on the Greek island of Ios, and you will most likely enjoy the conservation efforts of the exclusive Calilo Resort: after buying a quarter of the island, its owners will only develop 1%. And, in Scotland, Wild land's portfolio of lovingly restored properties support rebuilding efforts across more than 200000 acres of mountains, streams, peat bogs, and woodland.

Grand conservation projects aren't the only way to make luxury accommodations sustainable. Green energy and sustainable design are financial investments, consequently, high-end properties are well-positioned to take the plunge. Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is one of the most sought-after hotels in the Caribbean overlooking the prized palm-fringed sands of Aruba. It is also the greenest; 618 solar panels, energy-saving measures in the room, and an ozone-based laundry system have helped it achieve carbon neutrality.

Fans of the city can also get in on the act. Villa Copenhagen's Earth Suite, n Denmark, is made from fully recycled materials. Aqua Hotel, in Germany, is the world's foremost high-rise passive house, powered entirely by renewable sources. Five ITC hotels across India are powered by 100% renewable energy, as is Inspira Santa Marta in Lisbon.


Going green is consequently trendy, and everyone wants a piece of the sustainability pie. As welcome as it is, it can lead to a greenwash, where marketing claims overshadow concrete actions. It is more fundamental than ever for travelers to identify who is speaking.

Unfortunately, there is no quick win to make a sustainable decision. It is a case of doing your homework and not being afraid to ask questions about missing information. When in doubt, opt for locally owned independent properties, which are frequently more passionate about the surrounding communities and landscapes.

A great place to start is always a hotel or accommodation website. Look for a page dedicated to sustainability that breaks down what the property does in terms of energy reduction, sustainable food sourcing, waste reduction (including food waste), human rights, fair wages, responsible recruitment, and supporting biodiversity, even in city centers. Rather than a full list of good-sounding goals and aspirations, look for goals, facts, and figures.

If it is a new hotel, does it have a green design label such as LEED, and have the developers it bearing in mind the needs of residents and wildlife? Does the destination suffer from over-tourism? If yes, is a new hotel needed?

There are a few places to turn for guidance. The Long Run and National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World are good bets for luxury lodges that adhere to serious conservation efforts. Green certifications include the Green Tourism Business Scheme, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Fair Trade Travel, and EarthCheck.

And you, do you already travel sustainably?

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