We often talk about wellness in the micro-sense, about how we can affect our personal wellbeing, particularly at this time. But how about in the macro-sense? Who is looking after the wellbeing of the planet and more importantly, its communities? Preferred Hotel Group are stepping up; in the launch of a new, sustainable hotel brand, Beyond Green.
It’s no big secret that in the wake of the pandemic, OutThere travellers will be looking for travel providers and brands that are ‘woke’ – ones that take greater care and consideration of the planet and the people on it. Sustainable travel has long been an industry buzzword; and there are some that are even taking the concept beyond, into a redefinition of what ‘sustainable’ means … towards the new(ish)-found notion of ‘regenerative’ travel. There are significant discussions happening now, particularly as hotel brands and travel folk the world over have had some time to digest all that’s happening. The conversation has definitely shifted, from just giving back; to how to fix the problems that have arisen in the natural course of doing business.
One of the companies looking to build this better and brighter future for travel is the Preferred Hotel Group, the family-owned travel company that represents fabulous, independent hotels worldwide. They have launched Beyond Green, a next-generation hospitality brand of hotels, resorts and lodges that exemplify sustainable tourism leadership. The 24 founding members are committed to what has been identified as three, key, interconnected pillars of sustainable tourism: ‘next-step’ environmental practices; caretaking of cultural heritage; and contributing to the economic wellbeing of local communities.
We had the opportunity to catch up with sustainable tourism pioneer, Costas Christ, whose company ‘Beyond Green Travel’ was acquired by Preferred to pave the way for the initiative. He agreed that we are witnessing an evolution of travel and tells us that “Beyond Green is all about reconnecting with our common humanity and understanding that the diversity of our cultures and different ways of life are what create the rich fabric that makes travel so enjoyable and fascinating.”
So many people think that sustainability is about giving something up, making a compromise. Costas believes that it’s actually about gaining something more, using travel as a force for good. The concept of sustainable travel is of course nothing new; and our immediate concerns lie in that the movement is in vogue, a trend, a bandwagon to jump onto. So many will do just the basics to say that they are a responsible tourism brand, but how do we surpass this ‘threshold’ level of sustainability?
To be considered as part of the Beyond Green family, a property has to do far more than lip service. They will go through a rigorous vetting process to meet over 50 sustainability indicators that align with global sustainable tourism standards and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They’ll be expected to manage overall environmental operations to establish benchmarks and set additional environmental, conservational and community goals.
For us and many OutThere travellers, the last point is of crucial importance. For nearly a decade, we’ve talked about reducing carbon emissions and plastic use, but travel brands must move away from just the eco (and economic) and embrace social sustainability too.
Costas has sights of a near-future where communities can thrive when cultural heritage and diversity is celebrated. He tells us about Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia, a joint-venture ownership with the Namibian local community conservancies of Anabeb, Torra and Sesfontein. The result is both investment in and empowerment of local people as partners with a seat at the table and decision making that affects their lives. In addition, the project serves to help protect rare and endangered wildlife – also local natural heritage.
We also discuss Ashford Castle, a property in Ireland from the 12th century that for generations has played a pivotal role in the livelihoods of the people in the nearby village of Cong. Over the last century, Ashford Castle fell into decline and was abandoned. And with it, so did the village, leaving a trail of communities that were a shell of their former selves. When Red Carnation Hotels took over Ashford Castle and renovated it, they injected life and joy back into the community, who immediately took ‘ownership’ of the destination, calling it “their castle.” A community centre was also built for locals, who can now use the space for community meetings, events and celebrations.
Castles bring up an interesting point, there have been many heated discussions in travel about how we must do what we can to highlight what may be unsavoury history, in pursuit of greater understanding of how the mistakes of the past impact socio-demographics today. We’re also far more diverse a traveller base than we’ve ever been before, so sustainability – or regenerative travel – must be reflective of this too.
Costas agrees that in the spirit of genuine hospitality, gratitude and respect is paramount. He tells us that travel is aligned with the rich fabric of life that inspires people to think in new ways and explore the world beyond our own borders, nationally and personally. In the criteria indicators required for membership, there are policies against exploitation, harassment and discrimination based upon ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion and disability; along with actions taken to communicate these policies. Costas recognises the role that diversity and inclusion has to play in his work, today more than ever.
On this matter, we will have to wait and see. We have yet to be convinced just how some of the founding properties, especially some of those in more conservative African nations like Rwanda, will fare on the subject. But like Costas, we believe travel can be a force for good, and perhaps this sustainable evolution can bring with it social advancement, governmental and societal change when it comes to certain subjects like human rights. Of the 24 founding members, we wouldn’t scrutinise the vast majority, most are in destinations and jurisdictions that OutThere travellers wouldn’t be concerned with. But there are at least five where we would. And as the Beyond Green portfolio grows, we would hope to see that the subjects of equality, diversity and inclusion – mutual respect – continue to be a lynchpin. It’s easy to be ‘woke’ when there’s time to be more holistic, when innovation is necessary for survival and when commerciality doesn’t cloud the process.
Time will tell as to how the brand will continue to evolve, as travel picks up again. But knowing what we do of the Preferred Hotel Group, we don’t think it will be too much of a problem.