In October 2021, the European Union’s Committee on Transport and Tourism released a report on relaunching travel after the COVID-19 pandemic. The report points to a renewed desire for sustainable travel which the tourism and hospitality sectors must meet. “The public attitude towards travel has changed,” it emphasises. “The industry offer will therefore tend to adjust to demand while addressing new and sustainable travel patterns.”
Wellness is taking centre stage in the wake of severe adverse effects of the pandemic on mental health worldwide. Consequently, sustainable travel is now top of the agenda for holidaymakers as the emphasis shifts to looking after ourselves, our planet and our culture. But the word “sustainability” is by no means unambiguous, and can mean different things to different people. Here’s how some leading travel destinations are putting sustainability in the spotlight.
Ecology and environmental stewardship are key to any interpretation of sustainability. The EU report highlighted that the pandemic has encouraged stakeholders in the tourism industry “to take bolder steps towards achieving carbon neutral tourism before 2050.”
Italy’s Antognolla Resort and Residences are being designed with precisely that end in mind, responding to a groundswell of interest in sustainability measures at holiday destinations. Due to open in a couple of years, this high-end resort is one of the biggest hospitality developments in Umbria, the “green heart of Italy.” It aims to preserve this pristine landscape by going entirely plastic-free, shunning plastic straws and replacing plastic bottles and clingfilm with beeswax wraps and glass bottles made on site.
The idea is to show that luxury and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, and can complement each other seamlessly. With a spa, wellness, and sleep centre as well as an 18-hole golf course, Antognolla is not short of the former. But increasingly, sustainability is becoming a must-have for travellers, just as important as looking after your own wellbeing. Already in 2019, a survey conducted in Italy showed that 89% of respondents viewed sustainable development as an opportunity to increase a destination’s appeal and growth. The resort therefore plans to irrigate its lush natural landscapes, including its golf course, using rainwater, and 50% of its energy will be renewable, with all vehicles on site fully electric.
The resort will also aim to produce zero food waste, which means – among other initiatives – composting food waste and using it to help grow organic vegetables in the Chef’s garden, as well as herbs for spa treatments. This stems from a recognition that the scale of resorts gives them considerable power to make a difference by minimising waste throughout their value chain.
Similar Tuscan-style surroundings – lush vineyards and rolling hills – can be found at New Zealand’s Carrington Resort, which also combines all-inclusive tourism experiences with sustainability. Ecotourism is now the fastest-growing sector of New Zealand’s tourism industry, and this estate is one destination where leisure meets nature, located on the remote and wild Karikari Peninsula.
Carrington Resort undertook environmental restoration work to regenerate 900 acres of wetlands, which resulted in native land and sea birds returning to the area. The Zealand Dotterel, an endangered species, is now thriving on the Karikari beach.
Culture and people
The principle of sustainability extends beyond nature to encompass culture, too. In addition to building 79 independent residences, Antognolla will also restore an opulent 12th-century castle – the former seat of one of Perugia’s most influential noble families. This will be done in a way which respects the castle’s historical legacy (by restoring old frescoes, for example) while also attracting people from around the world to enjoy Umbria’s unique hospitality. The restored castle is set to receive LEED certification from the Green Building Council in the US.
“Everything local will be respected: from culture to traditions, from local people to the history of the area. The great experience of [hotel operator] Six Senses and the team will be focused on preserving the heritage and unique nature of the ‘green heart of Italy,’” said Senior Construction Manager Luca Aiwerioghene in an interview with Il Sole 24 Ore.
The EU report on relaunching travel emphasises that successful travel destinations in a post-COVID world will need to have a positive impact on people. “A successful, sustainable transition will involve investments in sustainable infrastructure, employees’ education and training, and greater inclusion of residents in tourism practices,” it notes.
South Africa’s Grootbos Nature Reserve is among the world leaders in this regard. It strives not only to protect 2,500 hectares of land under its conservation (certified as carbon negative since 2018), but also the people who live there, providing livelihood opportunities for locals and staff. Of the 150 full-time staff employed by the reserve and its foundation, some 80% are from local disadvantaged communities. The non-profit Grootbos Foundation additionally reaches around 10,000 beneficiaries a year through its education, community and sport programmes. 47 students graduated from the Foundation’s Green Futures college in the last year alone, learning about horticulture, hospitality, and guiding with a core focus on conservation. The Foundation also trains local micro-enterprises and provides COVID relief, which it estimates has helped nearly 12,000 people to date.
Something for everyone
The tourism industry is currently undergoing a paradigm shift, with environmental and socio-cultural pillars of sustainability becoming key indicators of tourism success. As people yearn to get back out to exploring the world, they are more aware than ever of the impact they have on the populations and environments around them. Sustainability is slowly but surely gaining widespread recognition as an industry norm, and the successful tourism businesses of the future will address it holistically, translating their passion for local cultures, communities, and their natural settings into a duty of guardianship.