9 -min. read

Luxury hotels that not only promise extraordinary guest experiences but are committed to conserving, protecting and enhancing their environments need to be shouted about, says Juliet Kinsman

2017 – declared the International Year of Sustainable Tourism by the United Nations General Assembly? Weirdly, no one seems to be talking about this, even though sustainability is considered one of the most important issues facing the world right now. There’s much discussion around climate change and carbon footprints, and in response three-quarters of consumers will tell you the environment, ethics and ecology are deciding factors when booking a trip. But they aren’t really. Customers don’t demonstrate a commitment to responsibility when it comes to action – only 4% of flights are offset. Price is often the biggest consideration when it comes to booking. According to a Euromonitor travel trend report, half of consumers believe it’s the tourism industry’s responsibility to be sustainable, with as many citing it as the Government’s duty. I believe it’s up to us as individuals to do a little homework before making purchasing decisions and invest more time in thinking about who we’re giving our money to and where it’s being spent.

Lots of us think of ourselves as green. We recycle, we use hessian shopping bags, we choose organic milk and hybrid cars. We love that Pantone’s Colour of the Year is ‘Greenery’, and we tweet that. But when it comes to our luxury holidays, we hop on jet planes which spew greenhouse gases and sign up for spa treatments that leave a trail of single-use slippers and mountains of fluffy towels.


Thankfully, sybarites, some stylish hotels are also sustainable. But it’s not always easy figuring out which are the ones with real integrity. Let’s be honest, checking websites such as Green Hotels Association won’t lead you to the best boutique beauties. Since not every ‘bouteco’ hotel can fork out for LEED or STEP certification, you need luxury travel journalists like me shouting about their design but also their demonstrable environmental commitments – so here I am to steer you to some of the most special ‘bouteco’ heroes…

  1. FOGO ISLAND INN, Newfoundland, Canada


Community-spirited with no compromise to comfort, charisma and quality – this is the holy grail. This stark, stilted rectangle on Canada’s rugged, remote, rocky easternmost coast is not only a stunning 29-room hotel with an award-winning restaurant, awesome views and art studios at the edge of the Atlantic; it’s also a compelling social enterprise. For the 2,700 folks who live on the island, income was much diminished by the regulated fishing industry and younger generations fled Fogo for education and employment elsewhere. Zita Cobb, the sixth of seven children and the only girl born to a cod-fishing family, left Fogo Island aged 16 to study business. The Newfoundlander retired as one of Canada’s richest businesswomen and returned to boost the whole community’s economy through Fogo Island Inn.

Zita Cobb [Photo: Paddy Barry]
“Fogo Island Inn exists to be a servant of the nature and culture of this place,” says Zita. “In the way it was conceived and in the way it is operated, the lens through which we make every decision is creating the maximum positive impact on the natural and cultural environment. Business is one of our best tools to do this, and we believe that ecological sustainability follows from social sustainability. If you approach design and the business of hospitality as servants of place, you will, by default, create in a way that has integrity and specificity. What is more beautiful and stylish than integrity and specificity?”

Boat builders were redeployed as furniture makers and fishing nets were fashioned into avant garde art pieces: its good looks, authentic Newfoundland experiences and nothing-is-too-much-trouble service – without a hint of pretension – has made this community an unlikely favourite destination for creatives and coolhunters. One of the tools Fogo Island Inn uses to provide transparency around their ecological and social sustainability efforts is their practice of economic nutrition labelling. Thanks to one entrepreneurial philanthropist, hip hospitality has never been so good for the soul. Or promised such impressive Instagram images.

  1. UXUA, Trancoso, Bahia, Brazil


Wilbert Das is the switched-on ex-Creative Director of Diesel now fuelling North East Brazil’s most fashionable beach resort. The Dutch hotelier is keeping it real in a place where life is simple, spiritual and down to earth. The fashion industry left him craving a project where he felt he was investing in something meaningful and his vacation home evolved into UXUA. One by one, a few adobe cottages off the grassy car-free main square were reimagined as barefoot-chic boutique lodgings.

unknown-7“UXUA’s sustainability aims are related to preservation of both nature and culture,” he says. “We avoided invading into the natural environment, either the spectacular beachfront or rainforest around us, and instead repurposed a handful of empty, colonial fishermen’s homes at the heart of old Trancoso, beside homes still occupied by native families. The restoration of properties dating to the 16th century involved combining the talents of international designers living and working beside local artisans who used antique methods and reclaimed materials. Love, care, appreciation for beauty and tradition, these were key ingredients of this successful collaboration which brought prosperity to Trancoso’s artisanal community, allowing many to continue in family trades passed on through generations.”

UXUA has extended its commitment to community by launching UXUA Casa, a homewares collection using local carpenters, weavers, ceramic artists, and still emphasising the use of recycled materials. These are totally authentic, sustainable initiatives by which tourism deepens local traditions instead of eroding them, and leaves the nature untouched.

  1. KATAMAMA, Bali, Indonesia



Owner Ronald Akili felt that Indonesians, who live across its archipelago of thousands of islands, had lost touch with their own heritage. Centuries-old artisanal skills have been saved thanks to the construction of this contemporary 58-suite hotel in Seminyak, the hotel sister to Potato Head Beach Club, now providing valuable social, history and environmental lessons and preserving Indonesian culture old and new. Andra Matin’s architecture required 1.5 million bricks to build this boutique hotel, which opened March 2016. The story of how these hand-pressed slender blocks took two years to be made by artisans in a tiny village represents just how special this details-focused hotel is.

By working with traditional craftsmen, they’re also cultivating pride in old-fashioned trades. The hand-dyed, delicately woven indigo textiles used in the furnishings are a true luxury in hospitality. The signature natural blue comes from plants grown in Ubud and then painstakingly applied to natural fabrics using ancient techniques. Guests can take field trips to the workshops saving these age-old arts. By encouraging farmers to get involved in the whole experience, they’re helping to enthuse the next generation to think of sustainable practices, such as farming, as highly respectable professions.

  1. TRI, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s forward-looking design hotel is focused on long-term commitments and Tri’s operations look towards the fullest and broadest sustainability. “Two guiding concerns for us are minimising impact and focusing locally,” says owner Rob Drummond, who urges hoteliers to try and be original in some way and make sure they have something unique and special to offer. “Guests should also try to stay longer, to avoid all the mileage between hotels, and aim to be more mindful about AC usage.”

  1. SONEVA JANI, Maldives



Sonu Shivdasani’s hotels win awards for their architecture and design realised using sustainably sourced materials, and all that they do to preserve their pristine Maldivian environments. Here at their new resort in Noonu Atoll, there’s more luxury laid on than ever – admire the star-filled skies above the Indian Ocean from bed thanks to retractable roofs, or from your over-the-water swing seat. But behind the sexiness there is still function to match form. The purpose-built system for recycling and water filtration and initiatives aimed at helping those without access to clean water wouldn’t sell hotel rooms as easily as the seductive brochure shots of stunning sea-view suites, but they should.

  1. SCARLET, Cornwall, UK



At this cliffside Cornish retreat above Mawgan Porth there are log-fired hot tubs, a chemical-free outdoor pool and spa therapies offered in lantern-lit, tented rooms. Scarlet cossets guests with all the five-star hotel treats while also ticking boxes for a biomass boiler, solar panels, heat recapturing and local environmental charity support, such as for Surfers Against Sewage.


Song Saa, Cambodia

URBN Hotel, China

Whitepod Eco Luxury Hotel, Switzerland

Saffire Freycinet, Tasmania

Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Costa Rica


‘Eco-friendly’ is the much-used catch-all term, but ethical awareness, conservation and respect for the larger community also matter. A tip is to quiz hoteliers about their practices – the more of us who talk about it, the more they’ll take note. Pick hotels that have sustainable practices such as recycled grey water, then ask to get a tour, and insist that they don’t automatically air-condition the rooms in that tropical destination to Arctic levels.

“I would love to see more hoteliers – especially in the luxury sector – work to immerse guests in more authentic settings,” says Wilbert Das from UXUA. “Luxury is too often about isolation – having people travel far from home but still never truly immersing them in another culture. The richest rewards of travel are to gain closeness with different societies, not in staged shows or presentations, but in real day-to-day life. To do this while still offering a vacationer their well-deserved perks of comfort and great food and refined service – this requires a lot of imagination, great design and planning, but it can be done and should be encouraged.”

Wilbert urges us to stop accepting labels and use common sense. “If a resort calls itself ‘eco’ but has clearly invaded into a space which was previously a virgin natural environment – ask yourself if this is truly ‘environmental development’. Take the extra time to find the projects which really pass the test – and when you find them spread the word!  These hotels run by visionaries with a mission tend to be smaller, independently-owned properties – and they need support to keep going. I love to stay in such hotels since I want to stay in places that have a soul, and I tell all my friends when I’m lucky enough to find a great one.”

Tourism development advisor Doug Lansky calls for better transparency in communications so that consumers can make more informed decisions and vote with their wallets. This applies to airlines in particular. “OTAs typically show the type of airplane used for the flights. But it would be great to know if that plane is among the most fuel-efficient or least fuel-efficient. Then if I’m comparing between a few similar flights, I can pick the more fuel-efficient flight, which will hopefully encourage other carriers to use more of those fuel-efficient planes. It would also be great to see OTAs find a common metric for passenger space in coach class. Perhaps seat width and leg space, so if you’re a particularly tall or wide person, you can use that information to make a smart purchasing decision.”

Think. Question. Research. Discuss. Then decide. And be prepared to pay that little bit more when it matters.


Just like luxury and eco-tourism aren’t obvious bedfellows, nor is style and sustainability. Seek out high-threadcount sheets, hi-tech audio visuals, and high-art interiors, sure, but try and have these questions in mind, too…

  • Will they let you reuse towels and sheets to save laundering?
  • How energy-efficient is the hotel? Do they conserve energy or limit consumption?
  • What water-saving strategies are in place? Does the hotel have low-flow showers or low-consumption toilets? Do they recycle grey water?
  • Do they hire locally? Are the environmental practices talked about and understood by staff? (Ensuring staff is invested in programmes improves success.)
  • How efficient is their waste disposal? Do they recycle? Do they compost?
  • Are ingredients sourced locally? Is bedlinen made from organic cotton? (Or at least 100% cotton: cotton blends rely on petrochemicals.)
  • Are gardens planted with native flora?
  • Do they support local charities and initiatives?


Juliet Kinsman is a freelance journalist and editor specialising in travel and lifestyle. Follow her on Instagram @JulietKinsman for boutique hotel and travel inspiration.

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