You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

6.13.2008
by gregor

Sustainable hotels grow up and get pricey

The first “eco lodge” I stayed in was in Northern Thailand in the early 90’s. It was essentially camping in a rundown thatch hut just down the street from the Bob Marley café and the endless loop of Legend playing all day and night did nothing to add to the authentic wilderness experience I was looking for. I’ll hand it to the good people of “Sunny Day Eco-Lodge,” they ran a truly sustainable operation. Energy consumption was zero. Water consumption was zero. The incredible variety of arachnid wildlife in my room was thriving and the community directly benefited from the $2 I spent on Banana pancakes. It was a hysterical experience and one that would have put most people off of anything green or sustainable or eco forever. The problem with eco travel in general has always been the perception that in order to be sustainable basic comforts have to be given up, and this was often true. I could have stayed down the street from Sunny Day and had running water and a door to my room but I wanted to be eco. Those days are long gone.

The new crop of sustainable lodges are as luxury as they come with hundred bottle wine lists and million dollar views. Unfortunately they also tend to have price tags to match, many with nightly prices well over $1000 per person per night. The trend started with luxury safari lodges in Africa and has spread to Australia, the US and South America. The lodges are built from local materials (by award-winning architects), employ local people (well versed in attending to wealthy guests), conserve water and electricity (through elaborate and expensive in-house systems) and serve locally grown organic food (prepared by internationally recognized chefs). So is this a problem? Does this mean that there is no sustainable middle-ground between a ramshackle jungle hut and a posh mountaintop retreat? All the major studies show that most travelers are willing to pay a premium to travel sustainably but a $500 per night premium? Somehow I doubt it.

The bottom line is that we all wish that we could spend the money to stay at the ultra-lux eco-lodges and as long as they’re truly benefiting local communities and economies there is nothing wrong with charging high prices. The days of the $200 luxury hotel are starting to be a thing of the past and there’s no question that it’s truly expensive to build a sustainable hotel or retrofit an existing one. The more support that we can give properties that have committed to sustainability, even in small ways, the more that mid-range hotels and lodges will go green. For now, in some parts of the world, only the rich will get to experience what true sustainable luxury means but we’ll have a lot more options in the coming years as properties of all sizes and prices come to realize that sustainable business is good business. As always, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for hotels, lodges and excursions that combine sustainability and style in all price ranges so check back often at Global Basecamps as the green trend becomes a true revolution.

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