XO PRIVATE STORIES
The Future of Sustainable Travel
Words by Victoria Pearce

Sustainability in all-new hotel developments is here to stay, it's not just a temporary trend. Read more about the industry trends and some of its more exceptional players and the masterminds that make it happen.

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here will the future of travel go? Well, if you had had a crystal ball at the beginning of 2020, I doubt many could have predicted what was to befall that year and perhaps the years ahead, but some trends we believe are set to continue. If you were to wind the clock back ten or twenty years there was a word that started to become THE word of the industry, from the smallest camps in the middle of nowhere, to the biggest and brightest casinos in Las Vegas. And that is sustainability. It is a word that has only grown in strength, and alongside its experiential bedfellow, it is clear to see from the newest and most innovative ideas of how to put these ideas into action in the tourism sector, that they are both set to stay.

But just what do we understand by the word sustainability? For many, the first thought would be of environmental sustainability. With global warming, rising seas and a tide of plastic so large that we cannot comprehend it, filling our daily news feeds, it is no wonder it is the preeminent thought. In my lifetime alone we as individuals have got better at household recycling, we understand the importance of turning off the lights and taps, and we are making leaps and bounds into doing our bit for the planet. Solar farms, wind turbines and the harnessing of the waves are no longer the stuff of myth and legend but are a real-life answer to many of the planet’s energy problems.

And it is not just individuals or governments or corporations who are being held accountable, the need for progress in environmental sustainability covers all industries and countries. There was a noticeable change in the Tourism Sector when signs began appearing in hotel bathrooms asking you to only change your towels only when necessary, and instead of being issued keys, key cards were handed out that would switch the lights off on removal. At first, the cynics thought it was a money-saving exercise, but then the results started filtering through and it became increasingly apparent that this was not just about economics but was in actual fact having a very real and measurable effect upon the carbon footprint of a hotel and the sector as a whole. What was positive to see was that it was the majority and not the minority who were pushing for such change and that it was being embraced by the industry and its guests alike, and they are still the driving force today. 
Surprisingly, what many people forget when talking about sustainability is that the environment is but one of the three main pillars that must be considered, should we hope to pass on a world that we leave better than we found it, to future generations. For, along with a happier and healthier planet, we must also look after the communities into which we send visitors and maintain the delicate status quo. The UNWTO says “Sustainable tourism development takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.” This is where we all need to be in order to move forward.

People, Planet, Prosperity. These are the pillars that we must live by and is where newer forms of tourism such as experiential tourism, which is of huge importance to the travel sector, must be tread delicately. To be able to experience a culture at a natural level is a thing of beauty and wonder, and something that more and more travellers crave. To be able to return with stories of community and creativity and not just to have ticked off the list of ‘must-see’ photographs; to have lived and breathed the ‘real’ experience is on the bucket list of bucket lists. However, one must always remain aware of one’s surroundings and the profound effect that tourism can have. In order to discover more about how to maintain this balance we spoke with two of our members and asked them about what they have done and are doing to uphold the three pillars, whilst not losing the experiential DNA their guests desire. It turns out that they are not mutually exclusive.

Speaking to Vincent Raisiere, Managing Director of Amazing Escapes, who designed and implemented Kachi Lodge, was truly fascinating. Amazing Escapes have been purveyors of bespoke luxury camp experiences since 2008. They first visited Kachi in 2015 to set up a camp for an expedition they had designed, however it didn’t quite go to plan in terms of the turnaround time they had to set up the camp, shrinking from a manageable two weeks to just four days, but thanks to the local villagers they were able to set up and go ahead as planned. It was here that idea of being able to give back to the community, so many of whom had rallied together to make the original camp a reality, by building a more permanent camp, took seed.

The number one priority of the camp in Kachi is that the team wanted the lodge to be 100% sustainable and eco-friendly, and therefore the first hurdle they came up against was how to erect the domes on the salt flats on which Kachi is located. In fact, nature took its course and the wooden stilts of the platforms, that were gently rested on the salt flats with no digging or holes, have slowly been drawn into the crust where they have settled, almost becoming petrified and a naturally embedded part of the environment. All of the materials used to build the domes were sourced locally and the majority of the labour is carried out by Bolivians.
"Kachi Lodge is impressive for its location, its luxury and the experiences it gives its guests"
"Kachi Lodge is sustainable at a grassroots level
The whole lodge works off solar energy, with different systems for the lighting and the water, ensuring that after a cold day experiencing all that Bolivia has to offer, guests return home to soft ambient lighting and hot running water. The suites themselves are heated by pellet stoves. All of the pellets are made by the lodge from offcuts from local carpenters. The water management for the suites and kitchens is comprised of a complex system of pumps and a unique closed-loop filtering system, using reverse osmosis, that prevents any wastewater impacting on the environment and ultimately minimises water consumption. Finally, the loos are incineration loos, ensuring nothing pollutes the local environment.

However, the key to the sustainability of the camp does not only lie in the environmental side of things. Kachi Lodge is sustainable at a grassroots level. Since the days of the first camp, the local community have shown their kindness, generosity and passion for the project and have fully embraced the Amazing Escapes team, with the vast majority of lodge staff coming from the surrounding villages.

In the near future, Kachi Lodge will be building a dome greenhouse in the village so that the families can grow their own fruit and vegetables and sell them back to the lodge. They are also organising plastic collection for the local villages and communities and are working with them to design a rubbish processing facility for use by all.

There will soon be an academy launched where local young people will be able to enrol in a one-year guiding course. The whole course will be salaried, with the first six months spent in the classroom, learning guiding techniques, English and factual information. The second six months will be spent shadowing out in the field, with an increased salary. When they graduate, they will be fully qualified guides, able to earn an income to support their families and loved ones.

Kachi Lodge is impressive for its location, its luxury and the experiences it gives its guests, but more than that Kachi Lodge is a shining example of the three pillars of People, Prosperity and Planet and how these can be translated into a reality that is sustainable for all.
The passion for sustainability emanating from Geraldine Dohogne, the designer behind Zannier Hotels Sonop Lodge in Namibia is truly infectious. Originally full time with Zannier Hotels, she now works with them as a consultant, designer, project manager, guru of all things interior, and master magician of storytelling.

For her, sustainability comes from the heart of where the story is rooted. When she looks at a location she isn’t just seeing the bedrock, the foundations or the tiled roofs. She is seeing the blanket of stars beneath which the first colonials set foot upon the Namibian boulders, or how the spices would smell to the traders. She is living the experience as those early adventurers would. What she then takes away from this is the desire and the knowledge of how to recreate, to preserve, and to sustain this for future visitors. Through telling the stories of the past and keeping them alive, she believes we then keep alive the environment in which they were formed.

When Geraldine first saw the site for Zannier Hotels Sonop Lodge she was immediately transported back to the colonial era and her early mood board designs reflected this ambience. Everything had to be perfect to set the scene, and she spent months researching and seeking out the more than five hundred unique antiques to bring this feeling alive for the guests who would come after. There is however one important factor when it comes to seeking the ideal lamp or picnic hamper and that is her and the item’s carbon footprint. Each and every piece has its footprint calculated with the help of her suppliers and wherever she is able to she will source as locally as possible. If the footprint is too high she will move on to the next object. It is not only this attention to detail, but to the environment, that makes Zannier Hotels one of the forerunners for sustainable luxury tourism.
"Ten tented suite lodge is set within 13,800 private acres of untouched Namibian desert wilderness"
"Sonop Lodge is a shining example of how storytelling and sustainability can come together"
The ten tented suite lodge is set within 13,800 private acres of untouched Namibian desert wilderness and is constructed on top of granite boulders. This in itself posed an early conundrum, as another important aspect of Geraldine and the Zannier’s philosophy is to leave everything as untouched and natural as possible. Therefore, the only exit and entrance to the camp’s site were along a very long and rocky path.

Thankfully, the local community were some of the first to be involved in the project and their natural proficiency for constructing such camps, in such conditions, made their help and input invaluable, which has continued since the lodge’s completion. Part of the sustainable heritage of Sonop Lodge is that it wishes to give back. They believe that every member of staff is part of the story. With them, and their heart and their passion, the story of Sonop Lodge and the memory of bygone days is alive and well.

Despite the Lodge’s narrative having one foot in the past, Sonop’s sustainability is very much rooted in the present. The solar panels on-site and the water drawn from the boreholes on the land that was originally farmland, as can be seen from the small farmhouse at the entrance to the lodge, ensure that the lodge not only respected the environment during its conception and creation but also long into its future.

By employing the local community and enabling them to earn a consistent wage from the camp, as well as using their unique talents to recreate the atmosphere that guests are seeking, alongside the environmental measures in place, means that Sonop Lodge is a shining example of how storytelling and sustainability can come together to create the most unique of experiences.

These are only two of thousands and thousands of examples of truly sustainable tourism running hand in hand with the guests’ unique experiences, that can be found around the world. They are not, however, limited to lodges in remote, hard to access locations, but can be found in hotels in bustling cities, farmhouses in the open countryside, beachside retreats or wherever yours and your guests’ imaginations take you.

The sky is literally the limit.
In these trying times, it is important that we look back to see where we went wrong in order to correct those mistakes. It is, however, equally important to look back to see where we got it right. To see when we took the harder path, the path less travelled, but the right path, the path towards a better more sustainable future, that will be kept alive through our guests’ experiences and all of our desires to make the world a better place.
Victoria Pearce
                          
Victoria is an experienced writer, copywriter, proofreader and editor with a background in Sales and Marketing for multinational companies such as Cosmopolitan Magazine. Having moved to Mallorca a few years ago she has been able to combine her passions of yachts and writing, covering everything from restaurants to destination guides, high profile interviews to technical company overviews. 

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