As the world slowly starts opening up to tourism, now is the time to reassess how to travel more sustainably
Do you remember when we could plan our holidays freely and travel around the world exploring new places and cultures without thinking… Covid? Let’s pretend we are still in that moment, and let’s have a look at how to choose the perfectly sustainable destination…
Obviously, we are Vogue Arabia, so I won’t be talking about camping or any other sorts of “normal” hotels. And I also won’t be talking about getting there – planes and carbon offsetting and all that jazz, as I hope you already do it. (If not, go to Treedom.net to plant your personal forest.)
First of all, sustainability has a lot to do with having a curious mind. When you travel to a different city or country, how curious are you about the people there? Are you interested in exploring and absorbing new realities and new ways of living? Do you get inspired to make connections with your life and theirs, thereby helping you to create links between them and your daily decisions, such as what you eat and what you wear? Do you realize that we are all co-dependent? Then comes the question of what makes a hotel sustainable. There are numerous things to look out for, like water usage or how the hotel deals with waste, whether they still use plastic bottles, or what kind of light bulbs they use. (Something that makes me go immediately bananas is when towels and bars of soap are changed every day. Not only terribly unsustainable, but why on earth do you have to change my soap every day and throw away a semi new one? Where do all those soaps go?) It’s also important – sometimes even more so – to be aware of what kind of impact the establishment has on its surrounding community. Does the hotel give back? Does it employ local staff or support local projects?
I remember a few years ago having the incredible fortune to meet Melita Hunter and her husband Rory, who invited us to go to Cambodia and stay at their hotel Song Saa (Songsaa- privateisland.com), where they created the first marine reserve in the country and a foundation to work with the local community on it. I was blown away, not only by the beauty of the place and the luxury of it all (and for someone who has had the luck of staying in some of the most incredible hotels in the world, this one certainly comes as number one for me), but mostly by the passion, commitment, and true work on sustainability all the members of Song Saa had.
With Eco-Age we recently started to work with the force that is Marie Louise Scio and her family-owned hotel Il Pellicano (Hotelilpellicano.com). With them, we launched their sustainability program Il Dolce Far Bene, which includes plenty of initiatives also dedicated to mobilize the guests of the hotel and empowering them to actively be part of the solution.
There are plenty of hotel choices all over the world and one of my favorite booking websites is Mrandmrssmith.com, which lists boutique and luxury hotels around the globe. A few years ago, I acted as a judge on its sustainable hotels competition. Its choice of eco hotels will definitely make you salivate and dream for a while!
Talking of dreaming, no matter how luxurious the hotel or what count of cotton sheets you have in your bed, nothing will ever even come close to the experience of being immersed in nature while going on a safari. Through the years I’ve become friends with Tim and Diana Melesi, who run bespoke safari experiences in Kenya (Timmelesi.com). When you travel with Tim, it’s a whole new experience. I would almost call it life-changing. The amount the man knows is truly breathtaking. He was born in Mombasa and educated in the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania. His early years spent exploring the bush inculcated a lifelong interest in wildlife and the environment, and its conservation. Tim has traveled extensively on the continent, walking with camels through uninhabited northern tracts and fishing on remote lakes of Kenya, tracking gorillas and chimpanzees in the east African hinterland, and guiding trips in southern Africa. His less romantic journeys include building roads in Sudan, working with refugees in Uganda, and managing movie locations in Kenya. He has an unusual affinity with members of traditional African communities, which is why, a few years ago, we found ourselves invited to the wedding of a Samburu chief in his village. But that’s a column for another day…
Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia