In 2015, travelers don’t just want to have bucket list experiences; they want to make memories in a responsible manner. While there are many considerations that need to be made pertaining to all aspects of the trip, from tour operators to airlines to transportation, one major item is your hotel. Not all properties are created equal in terms of both guest experience and ethics, and for those wanting to have a more conscious stay, the following questions should be pondered before booking.
Is it locally owned and operated?
One of the most important aspects of responsible tourism is putting money back into the local economy. While big brand hotels offer consistency and rewards programs that are attractive to travelers, they're often not the most responsible option. Choosing a small local hotel not only gives you a more authentic experience, often they have more personality as owners have the freedom to put themselves into the aesthetics. You’re also putting money directly into the pockets of a local, but keep in mind that hotels should also hire locals as staff.
Where do they source their services?
Most hotels offer some kind of food and beverage program, even if it's just a mini bar or room service. Are a majority of the ingredients local? Is the chef? Do they promote local candy, chip and other brands in the room?
You can also look at their spa products and art and design elements. A property that looks to their own community to bring the spaces to life is both promoting local culture, boosting the destination’s economy, supporting their own community and offering their guests a more immersive experience.
How do they give back to the local community?
A responsible hotel won’t just take up space in a community, it will work with neighborhood businesses and contribute to the success of the local culture. Along with sourcing services locally, as mentioned above, this could mean highlighting local achievements and creative concepts through events and exhibitions, having local talent come perform, supporting local charities and schools, hosting clean up days and offering employees and guests incentives for volunteering locally.
How are they managing their waste?
One inevitable part of operating a hotel is waste. While hotels can’t avoid creating waste, they can work to responsibly manage it. In terms of energy use, responsible hotels work to curb electricity usage through initiatives like having the electric go off when the guest is out of the room, installing large windows and sun roofs for natural light, using energy-efficient appliances and low-voltage lighting and carbon offsetting.
In terms of green building practices, it’s a good sign when properties incorporate recycled local materials - like The Sherwood in New Zealand, which insulates with carbon-negative pressed cork panels and features reclaimed fishing nets for carpets, or California’s Post Ranch Inn with guestrooms crafted from recycled redwood wine casks and benches made from fallen trees. It’s also positive when toxin-free paints and furnishings are used, designs to catch cooling winds are present, and the original environment was left as undisturbed as possible.
Responsible hotels will also work to properly manage waste, with a dedicated recycled program and potentially reuse of grey water, composting, incentivizing guests to forgo the daily newspaper, donating leftover soap to projects like Clean the World and the Global Soap Project, offering bikes and electric vehicles and sourcing locally to minimize fuel use in shipping.
A number of certifications exist to let travelers know which hotels are successfully implementing energy-saving and/or green building practices, like Green Key, LEED and the Green Building Council, although just because a hotel hasn’t gone through the process doesn’t mean it’s irresponsible.
Do they have a page dedicated to responsible or sustainable tourism?
Typically, hotels that have a section of their website dedicated to explaining their responsible and eco tourism initiatives value this. That being said, make sure to look into the validity of claims and make sure there isn’t greenwashing - untruthful or exaggerated marketing - going on.
Is staying at a responsible hotel important to you when you travel?
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