If you’re reading this than you are likely one of the many travellers who is recognizing the importance of environmental conservation and seeking accommodation that supports environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism. According to a TripAdvisor survey, 62 percent of travelers consider the environmental impact when they choose a hotel. Gone are the days when simply reusing towels make a hotel “green”. Acknowledging this, hotels around the world are developing award-winning environmental, economic, and socio-cultural programs that preserve both the culture and support the local economy. This is awesome, however knowing which hotels are truly worthy of your eco-conscious buck isn’t quite so simple yet. Despite the overwhelming interest in green features, hotels often fail to advertise themselves as eco-friendly. This means we, as empowered travelers committed to sustainable practices, must do our duty to learn more about a hotel’s green initiatives before booking. Here are some things to look for:
Location, location, location!
Choose a central location. Walkability is key to a sustainable hotel. Research things to do in the area and choose a central location for your hotel. Hotels are making it easier for guests to ditch the car (and the guilt of a heavy carbon footprint) by offering bicycles, complimentary shuttle services and public transit packages. Beneficial for the environment, but also for your bank account as renting a car is typically significantly more expensive then these options. Hyatt Regency properties around the world for example, including Sarasota, Perth, Kathmandu and Sharm El Sheikh, offer free shuttles to the airport and around town so you can forget about shelling out money for something that’s becoming increasingly unnecessary on vacation. Many other hotels are following suit.
Nerd out and do the research
Once you’ve narrowed your potential hotel options, do a little digging into their eco-friendly practices. You can check out a hotel’s website or call ahead of time to see if the establishment operates using sustainable practices Ask about things like where their water comes from, if they get their products locally, the kind of energy used, and if they participate in towel reuse programs. If the front desk person doesn’t know the answers to these questions, ask to speak with a manager. Water consumption is also a consideration when booking a green hotel. You should look for hotels that install fixtures such as low-flow toilets and showerheads. Some places even go so far as to collect rainwater. Hotels that boast pools and decorative fountains may not be a green choice, as they can drain water from the local environment.
And more research – read reviews on travel and review sites
Find the green button! When reading reviews on popular accommodations, look for green credentials. Travel and review sites are starting to offer a green rating service to show which hotels offer the most eco-friendly stay. TripAdvisor – in partnership with Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the UN Environment Program, for example – has a Green Leaders program that highlights the greenest hotels in the U.S. It rates them based on things like recycling, composting, water saving initiatives, energy sourcing, electric car stations, green roofing, and more. If the hotel meets the pre-set criteria, a green button will appear on the page. You can also read reviews based on other hotel visitors’ experiences to make sure the hotel lives up to expectations.
You can also learn about resorts and hotels in popular destinations on eco-friendly news sites and blogs. They will often feature hotels that have won awards of excellence for their sustainable efforts. Subscribe to such blogs so you have the most current information on eco-friendly hotels.
Watch for green advertisements
Although most of the hotel industry fails to properly advertise their positive environmental impact, some will still take advantage of it. Watch for these advertisements, and make your choices accordingly. You’ll probably run into a lot of these advertisements based on your past search history. Google and Facebook have algorithms that detect your browsing history and show you advertisements that you might like. The more you search for eco-friendly hotels in a specific location, the more advertisements you’ll see for it.
Note the atmosphere
As you look through pictures of the hotel, note the decorations. Everything from the landscaping to the paintings can give you an idea of how a hotel values nature. Paintings of nature, lush gardens, and other natural decorations can indicate a respect for the earth. If you’re familiar with eco-friendly materials, you might notice bamboo sheets and flooring and other sustainable materials throughout the hotel. These little hints will outline a hotel’s role in environmental matters.
Be mindful of the hotel’s menu
If it isn’t immediately clear from website photos, there should at least be some mention of local and fresh ingredients as a hotel’s menu can have an impact on the surrounding community. Locally sourced menus not only support local farmers but also reduces emissions from packaging and transportation. You get to enjoy fresh, home-cooked meals while knowing that you’re helping to make a difference. Aside from lower carbon emissions and less food waste (UK hotels waste 174,165 pounds of food every year, according to Green Hotelier), a farm-to-table approach means tastier food and an enlightening culinary adventure. These days, there is no reason why a hotel restaurant can’t have an on-site garden to source herbs and organic produce for a seasonal menu. That said, responsible hotel companies like Marriott, Starwood and Wyndham don’t always show off the facts of an eco-friendly kitchen on the homepage or even their dining section, so it’s best to call the front desk to find out if the hotel has an edible garden, follows sustainable seafood guidelines or abides by the 100-mile diet.
Learn how they give back
You can find hotels in many areas that promote programs that give back to the local community, such as donation efforts, low-cost healthcare services, and nutritional assistance. You can also look for hotels that hire from within the local community to help support neighborhood families. Read blog posts, press releases, and Facebook posts to see how the hotel gives back to its community. Their participation can promote sustainability and responsibility in their neighborhood. Although this might not be helpful in more urban populations, it can mean a great deal for hotels in areas that need conservation efforts like a rainforest or national park. For example, I am aware of hotels in the Mayan Riviera and Costa Rica who participate in baby turtle release programs. Note how the hotel impacts the area, whether positively or negatively to make the best sustainable hotel choice.
Travel hack - if you'd rather not sift through all of this, there are now some online booking engines that can help you find a sustainable option on your travels.
There, now you as an eo-conscious tourist can enjoy a relaxing (or exhilarating if you prefer!) break that is guilt-free. Happy travels!
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