What makes a hotel green? Is it employing local people, using organic products, or recycling its waste and water?

Many hotels are labelled green, but there is a wide differentiation in what they actually do. There’s a danger of ‘greenwashing’ – where properties claim to be eco-friendly, but do little more than ask residents to reuse their towels.

The fact that some businesses are trying to jump on the green bandwagon is a sign that sustainability is starting to matter to consumers. Rainforest Alliance communications associate Jessica Webb said: “Businesses see greenwash as a way to access new niche markets and to avoid more stringent regulation.”

However, beyond the greenwash, there are hundreds of excellent examples of sustainable initiatives in the hotel sector.

Frégate Island, a resort in the Seychelles, is fighting to boost numbers of the near-extinct magpie-robin. The Nisbet Plantation Beach Club in Nevis is planting an artificial reef, while Jungle Bay Resort and Spa in Dominica uses guest donations to support a facility for local disabled children.

Ecotourism is about people, activities and infrastructure. Martin Schmidt from Rainforest Expeditions in Peru, said: “In order to have great nature and cultural activities, you need to involve locals to have a business that is sustainable.”

The consensus among responsible operators is that anything that calls itself ‘eco’ needs to be scrutinised. Sunvil managing director Noel Josephides said: “If it’s an all-inclusive resort, for example, it won’t help spread the tourist pound around the destination.”

A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Tour Operators said: “The green mantra is that good green practice is actually good business practice, but it can be hard to convince people of this simple fact.”


Grading systems

Unlike the fair trade and organic food industries, there is no one universal labelling scheme in place for travel. Currently well-respected schemes include:

The ABTA Travelife scheme helps hotels self-certify and the Association of Independent Tour Operators’ star scheme is monitored stringently.

The Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations World Tourism Organization are developing a universal certification body known as the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council. Due to launch later this year, it should bring everything under one roof.


Is it really green?

Discover whether a property is truly committed to sustainability by asking:

  • Do you have an environmental policy document?
  • Do you have any certifications? 
  • Are you recommended by a reputable conservation group?
  • How do you measure and monitor your contribution to conservation and local communities?
  • How many local people do you employ and in what positions? What percentage of the total is this?
  • Do you work with local charities or organisations?
  • What percentage of products and services are sourced in the local area?
  • How do you conserve energy and recycle waste?
  • What information and advice is provided for residents on local natural areas, wildlife, energy conservation, and local culture and customs?
  • How can residents get involved with local communities and conservation projects?


Training: Boost your ecotourism knowledge

The Travel Foundation has launched an online training course aimed at improving the trade’s understanding of green issues.

Supported by Travel Weekly, the Make Travel Greener initiative has already been adopted by several major travel companies, including Advantage, The Co-operative Travel, First Choice, Thomson and Thomas Cook.