Can sustainable and luxury travel exist together?
Many may believe that the concept of sustainable travel cannot exist alongside luxury travel, which is seen as inherently self-indulgent.
However, over the past few years due to COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions, attitudes towards luxury travel have changed with many travelers now seeking something a little bit ‘extra’ when they head off on a break.
When it comes to flying via plane, many may regard it as a non-sustainable way to travel due to the issues of carbon emissions. However, there are eco-friendly solutions for luxury travel which can be found by searching for empty leg flights.
Empty-leg flights are trips that are scheduled but have no passengers or cargo and this is generally due to the plane returning to their departure airport.
By opting for an empty leg, you can experience the true luxury of traveling privately, without the price tag, and give purpose to an otherwise empty flight. In Europe, a quarter of private jets fly empty but by opting to jump onto one of these flights you can make a greener choice while flying with the utmost comfort.
You may also consider traveling by train if you are planning a short, domestic break which uses up to 70% less energy than flying by aircraft and 80% less greenhouse gas than traveling by car. Shorter flights actually have a greater carbon footprint as the majority of the plane’s emissions occur during take-off and landing. As such, for flights under three hours, especially in Europe, you should consider alternative transport where possible.
High-end, low-impact accommodation is one of the best ways to ensure sustainability when you travel as, generally, where there are fewer people there is a lesser environmental impact. This kind of tourism can also help to fund the protection of the surrounding ecosystem and community.
For example, the Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa is a luxury experiential break that funds conversation efforts partly through visitor payments, resulting in the reserve being home to one of the country’s largest populations of black rhinos.
If off-grid travel isn’t your thing, opt for a sustainable, eco-friendly hotel if you visit a city such as the Aqua Hotel in Germany which is the world’s first high-rise house powered solely by renewable energy. No matter where you choose to go, you will be able to find eco-friendly accommodations which will help you to reduce your environmental impact and carbon footprint. There will be a multitude of sustainable stays no matter where you want to visit with many of them also including volunteering efforts which can help you to give back to the local community.
Consciously choosing sustainable accommodation is one of the best ways to travel responsibly so you should look to avoid large foreign-run or international chain hotels which are likely not interested in sustainability – rather seeming sustainable as a marketing ploy. You may look to consider homestays as an accommodation option that directly benefits the local family running it while also allowing you to learn and interact with the locals meaning that you can experience cultures directly – making it a win-win!
Another option for sustainable accommodation is choosing to stay in accommodations run by marginalized groups.
These will differ from country to country but generally means staying in places that are run by those who do not have the same opportunities as others due to xenophobia, racism, or sexism, such as local ethnic or religious minorities, black and indigenous people, and women and refugees.
Sustainable travel is not always just about saving the environment so looking to support businesses that are marginalized help to care for the community and ensure that systems and locals are supported in the long term.
An example of this is the Magdas Hotel in Vienna which only employs refugees to help them to get back on their feet. This includes the hotel working with locals and creating apprenticeships and jobs for young refugees and, while this results in higher overheads for the hotel, the whole concept is about changing lives and being sustainable in all aspects.
Visiting community homestays in the village of Panauti in Nepal can also be an effective way to give back to the local community.
Here, rural Nepalese women are trained in providing accommodation which helps to reduce the over-tourism in Kathmandu. Here you can experience visiting local markets and helping to prepare a family meal alongside your hosts which benefits the community’s development through the project’s funds.
Generally, anywhere you visit that avoids mass tourism is likely to be a place where you can travel sustainably.
Focus on local
With luxury travel, often extravagance can lead to huge volumes of waste and excessive carbon emissions. When choosing tours and activities, choose those that benefit the local people, animals, and ecosystem.
While it may be exciting to experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as riding elephants in Thailand it is important to recognize the lack of benefit that it will have on others. You should always avoid anything that allows you to ride or touch animals and if you are a keen animal lover then instead consider visiting rehabilitation centers, volunteering or simply letting them be.
Responsible companies won’t allow or promote unethical practices or experiences, with many giving back to the community and local area so be sure to research your providers first. Intrepid Travel is the world’s largest B-Corp so this may be a tour provider to consider if they offer services in your location of travel as they are certain to offer trips and tours that meet the highest standards of verified environmental and social performance.
While you are away, choose locally sourced produce and traditional meals (but not those that include the meat of endangered species) to reduce your impact on the community and environment. Many chain restaurants and hotels import over half of their food resulting in a high carbon footprint so you should try to support local farmers where possible or choose to make your food by picking up in-season produce from local markets.
Many of us opt for the ‘but I’m on holiday’ mentality when traveling which can lead to over-indulgence and wastefulness but being aware of this and choosing sustainable produce can help to reduce our impact on the local environment.
When it comes to those with a large amount of money to spend while traveling, such as the top 1% who can travel by superyacht, private jet, or helicopter, there should be a focus on where you are going if you want to travel sustainably. If traveling in luxury is possible for you, you should consider heading to less affluent – but equally beautiful – places on holiday to benefit more deprived areas socio-economically.
Giving back to the local community through your tourism and appreciating the culture in the country that you visit is a great way to travel in an eco-friendly way that is not detrimental to the local communities.
Some location suggestions for sustainable travelers may be Costa Rica and Bhutan.
For eco-travelers, Bhutan is one of the top destinations due to strict visa regulations which means fewer visitors but higher spending, which is a sustainable and ethical approach to tourism.
Here, tourism has played a major role in the protection of the endangered black-necked cranes that migrate to the Black Mountains between October and March so choosing to visit a country where you can make an active difference through your tourism is essential.
In Costa Rica, eco-tourism has had a huge impact on the country’s ability to preserve the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest which is home to over 54,000 acres of private reserve and accounts for over 17% of the world’s species.
The country’s tourism model has been developed with three key factors in mind: inclusiveness, innovation, and sustainability. As such, Costa Rica focuses on tourist attractions that respect the environment and offer visitors opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint while contributing to cultural and conservation heritage.
The focus on long-term sustainability has made the country more expensive to visit but where luxury is concerned, you will find stunning stays and experiences that are not detrimental to locals and the country itself.
Consider offsetting carbon emissions
Generally, your mode of transport will be the least sustainable aspect of your holiday, however, there are ways to offset the carbon emissions of your flights or transport.
For example, Carbon Donut is a Finnish app that calculates your carbon emissions and offers suggestions for ways that you can reduce your output. Some flight providers will also offer add-on charges to offset your carbon emissions.
Sustainability and luxury can, and do, align but it is up to you to find the balance between the two. If you are wanting to travel in a way that is luxurious and have some extra money to spare then there are an abundance of ways that you can support both the environment and local people and cultures in a non-exploitative way.
There are many factors to consider when heading off on your next adventure from transport to location and food choices, so hopefully, you will have found some food for thought here.