A new take on travelWritten by Sindy Seet 14 March 2021
Recently voted the World’s Best Airport by air travellers at the 2019 World Airport Awards, Singapore’s Changi Airport currently serves more than 100 airlines flying to some 400 cities in about 100 countries and territories worldwide. Each week, around 7,200 flights land or depart from Changi, with more than 62.2 million passengers passing through the airport a year.
Now, just peg those aforementioned statistics to the amount of pollution being emitted daily.
What is sustainable travel?
Without a doubt, both travel and tourism contribute heavily to our environmental footprint. So much so that Prince Harry recently announced the upcoming launch of a novel initiative, Travalyst, encouraging the industry to rethink how people explore the world.
By working with companies like Booking.com, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor, and Visa, the goal is to brainstorm potential impactful solutions to issues caused by excessive travel, or “over tourism” as the industry has coined it. This includes the negative social and environmental impacts ranging from global warming on a macroscale to harming the local ecosystem on a micro-scale.
The initiative also plans to work with the hospitality industry to ensure a transition towards more sustainable practices, such as banning single-use plastics and encouraging tourists to travel by land when having the option to do so. For example, KLM Airlines has bolstered marketing efforts by encouraging their customers to switch from a plane ride to another mode of travel, such as by rail. Hotels like the Marriott and IHG Group have taken a different approach and started to ban small plastic bottles of health and hygiene products including bath soap and skin creams.
Travalyst also looks to encourage travellers to give back to the local communities they visit to ensure both economic and cultural sustainable development through tourism.
How to travel more sustainably
One of the trends shaking the hospitality sector today is the rise in the number of consumers prioritising sustainability.
For an industry with a track record of waste production and pollution, sustainability has become a number one priority, but it still remains a major challenge for brands competing in this crowded market. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF 2019) noted that the 21st century luxury consumer is one that is increasingly well-educated and concerned with social and environmental issues. Millennials and Generation Z consumers are driving 85% of global luxury sales growth, and their expectations for luxury brands to be aligned with their values has become increasingly important.
Heeding that call is one legendary brand with great provenance – The Brando. Behind this luxurious resort on the French Polynesia is nothing short of a technology marvel that has intertwined harmoniously with the island’s rich culture and history. The concept took eight years to conceive and another four to build.
Marlon Brando and Richard Bailey, who met in 1999, spent years dreaming up the “world’s first post-carbon” resort, not only as a hotel for the ages or luxury escape, but also as a model of how tourism could be a force for good. Out of their conversations, innovations in sustainable site development, water conservation and filtration, a selection of ecologically sound materials followed, leading to The Brando becoming the only resort in French Polynesia with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification.
The property’s acclaimed Sea Water Air Conditioning system cools with little carbon output. The food-digesting machines condense a normally six-month composting process into 24 hours, turning the resort’s organic waste into rich black soil that can sustain full kitchen gardens on these nutrient-poor coral islands. The resort’s beekeepers send their robust queens to farms around the globe fighting against colony collapse.
Closer to home and within the region, ultra-vogue Asian lifestyle group – Potato Head – doesn’t have the patience to wait. Ronald Akili, the young entrepreneur behind Potato Head Beach Club in Bali and Potato Head eateries in Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong has embarked on an extraordinary sustainable initiative in Seminyak which Akili describes as an “experiential playground that combines good times with doing good in the world”.
Desa Potato Head – desa meaning ‘village’ in Indonesian – has set a new benchmark for sustainable lifestyle and luxury. The group’s Katamama hotel is formed of 1.8 million bricks hand-pressed by Balinese artisans, and its Beach Club throws the island’s most famous parties with a transition to zero waste (it’s nearly there, down to 0.3 percent).
Adding to this will be a second hotel outfitted with materials made on-site from recycled community waste, and will play host to events such as the Our Ocean conference and TED Talks in its ‘ideas center’; with solar panels covering rooftops and driveways, and wellness offered through every sense – from music therapy to traditional jamu medicinal drinks. But with so many islands on the planet in peril because of tourism, how does one reconcile that as a hotelier and also an environmentalist?
As Bailey so aptly puts: “No single developer can be held accountable. Ideally, you have developers working with governments and within the fabric of the community. That’s what we try to do. Balance comes from parties with diverse interests coming to a compromise. The real engine of change is still the customer. If the beaches are not so nice, or the way the employees from the community are treated is less palatable to the customer, then you can’t attract people to the mission of sustainability.”
How does ethical responsibility play a role in environmental sustainability?
Sustainable vs responsible travel – yes, there is a difference. Responsible tourism, like sustainable tourism, aims to foster a positive economic, social, and environmental impact on host destinations; however, responsible tourism depends on individual actors. It refers to the way in which visitors, residents, and small businesses interact with a destination. Choosing to travel responsibly and follow responsible business practices is consciously choosing to foster a positive interaction between the tourist industry and the host destination.
In short: one cannot do without the other, and only time will tell if every stakeholder will do their part to bring sustainability and responsibility together.