What I’ve learned about sustainable hotels: Why it’s no wonder people are confused.

5 minute read

Sydney, Australia

GoKinda founder, Alison Greer, takes us into the world of sustainable hotels, highlighting the complexities and spilling the tea on why, despite our best intentions, we’re all a bit, well, baffled!

 

In the ever-evolving world of sustainable travel, the desire to do better is undeniably present. About 76% of travellers (give or take) say they want to travel more sustainably. At first, it seems promising, even inspiring. In fact, this very statistic fuelled my motivation to start GoKinda, a conscious travel brand. But, the more I immersed myself in this world, the more I realised that this number mostly reflects travellers’ good intentions. And while good intentions have the potential to create change, they don’t always translate into action. A distinction that could hold us back from making real progress in this space.

As the concept of GoKinda was taking shape, I was full of good intentions. I had plans to develop a simple sustainability framework, one that could underscore the credibility of our hotel selections and be easy for travellers to get behind. Given my (very) modest background in sustainability, I knew the importance of seeking expert guidance. Some incredibly kind, generous, and insightful individuals lent their time to engage in conversations with me, entertaining my novice viewpoints. Every interaction broadened my horizons in different ways, but consistently led to the same conclusion: an overwhelming number of criteria already exists. Adding one more (thanks to yours truly) would only complicate things further. The takeaway was clear: stay in my lane and make use of the existing structures.

Although my research to date had familiarised me with reputable and widely accepted frameworks, I needed to delve deeper to really understand the landscape and figure out how to simplify things for travellers – the ultimate goal. Before long, I discovered just how complex the world of eco claims and certifications really is. Globally, there are over 450 ecolabels (or eco-certifiers), with 140 to 220 of them certifying hotels (depending on your sources). The quality of these ecolabels varies considerably, contingent on factors such as the assessor (self or third-party), the benchmarks, scope of sustainability, and the need for ongoing improvement or recertification, to name just a few.

Currently, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is the closest to a universal approach. While not directly responsible for certification, the GSTC manages a (very complex!) global standard for sustainable travel and tourism that acts as a benchmark for certifiers. Of all the ecolabels, only 39 presently meet the GSTC standards. Confused yet? Us too! Making sense of this can feel overwhelming (and let’s face it; too hard).

At this moment, my inner perfectionist emerged, questioning whether our overall objective could be achieved – to make it easy for more people to travel in a way that is kinder to people and the planet. I started to worry about being called out for greenwashing if our selection process wasn’t strong enough. Eventually, my pity party came to an end, and I realised that these complexities were exactly why I needed to keep going. Most people won’t have the time (or patience) to decipher all this information. So, if I could do it for them, this is exactly where GoKinda could create value. Progress, not perfection, became the mantra. With this shift, Our Kindness Calibre was born.

PARK HYATT MALDIVES

 

 

 

Our kindness calibre

The nitty-gritty on how we select our hotels.

 

Our values align with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), a council responsible for creating and managing global standards for sustainable travel and tourism. (These are known as the GSTC Criteria).

The four pillars that inform these standards, which we use to guide our hotel choices, include:

  1. Sustainable management
  2. Socioeconomic impacts
  3. Cultural impacts
  4. Environmental impacts


You’ll notice that hotels that have opted to be formally recognised for their conscious efforts by a third-party certifier (with standards recognised by the GSTC) will appear on our website with an additional ‘certified’ tag. This means that the hotel’s operations uphold these four pillars.

Of course, not all eco-conscious hotels choose to be certified (this can be a costly and lengthy process). But we believe progress is better than perfection, so we consider each stay based on its individual commitment to become better. We trust the information provided to us is accurate. We look for the good and those taking steps in a kinder direction. 

 

Our Kindness Calibre became our compass, shaping our selection process. We decided that hotels committed to eco-certification showed a dedication to sustainability worthy of recognition. However, we held an equally strong belief in highlighting hotels that, for whatever reasons, chose a different path. This led us to look at each hotel on its individual merit. Shades of grey? Absolutely, but we’re okay with that. We resolved that for us, keeping kindness at our core and looking for the good in others, was the most authentic expression of our values. Could this approach backfire? Sure, and on those occasions, we’ll deal with it. But, choosing to assume the worst from the beginning would only prevent progress, making it a risk GoKinda was willing to take.

Given this chosen approach, we spent a lot of time choosing our words carefully. ‘Sustainable travel’ has become a buzz word in the travel industry, truthfully, the industry is a long way off travel being completely sustainable. That said, ‘sustainable’ – or, better yet, ‘regenerative’ – travel should be the goal. For us, promoting hotels as ‘sustainable’ when they’re not (yet!) sustainable didn’t feel right. We felt that to achieve a point of ‘sustainable travel,’ more hotels needed to become ‘conscious’ – to us, this means taking deliberate and intentional action to do better. That’s why the word ‘conscious’ feels more honest and accurate when we’re describing our hotels.

While this all might sound a tad overwhelming, there is hope on the horizon. Travalyst, a coalition of industry giants and academics has united to work on aligning sustainability frameworks across the travel industry. Setting competition aside, their aim is to make credible, transparent, and easy-to-understand information available to travellers, to help them make better choices when they travel. Hooray!

So, although GoKinda might not yet bring together a perfect list of globally audited sustainable hotels, I assure you, hand on heart, that every hotel in our collection is individually handpicked for its conscious efforts – making them a better choice than most. By exclusively featuring conscious hotels in our collection, we hope to inspire more hotels to embrace conscious practices. This, we believe, is where we can have the greatest influence. Is it perfect? Nope. Nonetheless, we’re wholeheartedly embracing progress. The support we receive from those 76% of travellers that want to travel more sustainably, will determine just how much progress we can make.

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