Luxury Eco Travel: The Journey That Matters

What are the choices for the newly-affluent traveler? Is it betrayal to admit to loving a little luxury along with sustainability? Kayti Denham thinks not – as long as you understand what to look for.

Bali, 11 November 2012. There comes a time in most traveler’s lives when a bone rattling bus ride, a bug infested hotel room and a hygiene deficient meal lose their appeal. Stories about them are fun when told but the experiences don’t need to be repeated. Even so, is it betrayal to admit to loving a little luxury along with the life experience? Do we have to remain stuck in our open-toed sandals at the side of the road thumbing through Lonely Planet?

Absolutely not as even those original Lonely Planet writers are cruising five stars these days. Luckily there are solutions that allow you retain your ‘traveler’ status, receive the comfort you desire, and still get totally local while also being good for the planet.

The boutique hotel industry has expanded over the last few years to the point where it is no longer just about the ‘wow’ and ‘me’ factor. Smart hoteliers with a personal interest in sustainability and investment to go with it are creating the sort of places that allow for cultural exchange while still offering pampering and exclusivity. Places that become valued within the host community and by responsible visitors alike.

Not just the money

Many resorts now use visitors to help maintain and care for their ecosystems

And while you are likely to pay more, your visit and your contribution is also giving, and beneficial to the environment, to local culture and to local economies. Increasingly, luxury destinations are moving away from the idea of expensive indulgence to one of intelligent decisions for the good of the planet and people. While the impact of mid-range hotels and resorts on their environments is often the imposition of heavy demands on water, drainage and power, many new boutique resorts go for smaller setups. These use less building, less infrastructure, more nestling-into and adapting to natural surrounds, sensitively designed accommodation and the ability to appreciate the natural - and not  interfere with it.

Many new intelligent luxury resorts utilise recycled grey water systems, smart lighting design and the building of capacity within local communities. All these help create sustainable living opportunities that allow the local community to thrive as a result of tourism, building up cultural traditions rather than trading them in.

And a new generation of smart travellers are increasingly opting for this kind of resort. Recent research shows that consumers are aware and do pay attention to the mind set of their hosts, citing environmental concerns as high priority. Conscientious brands are promoting their values in an holistic way that creates a total understanding of what is good for us has also to be good for the planet.

Tin Mine transformed

Phuket, not unlike Bali, is facing its challenges but when the Banyan tree took over an abandoned tin mine in 1992 it began a program that transformed it into a now thriving wetland in which over seven thousand native trees grow, birds have returned to the area and the once polluted mining craters are full of fish.

The resort sources all its water through rain catchment systems and recycles grey water to provide irrigation to the landscape. Local people, suffering as a result of the closure of the original mine are now working in construction and hospitality at the resort. Their children are supported to stay in school through an education programme run with local schools. Staying there, enjoying the peace of the environment, beach walking, cycling and trekking, were all made more valuable by the knowledge that Banyan Tree had not taken from nature, but given back.

Moyo Island's pristine forests offer a glimpse of how caring for your land brings pleasure as well as profits

Likewise the Aman group offer the Amanwana tented resort on unspoilt Moyo Island. The forests, the fresh water pools, fed by rushing waterfalls, the bat caves and the offshore diving in the East of Bali are all out there for free along with the Aman's legendary exclusive retreats but the smart traveller who knows how to navigate the the souks and bazaars of the Middle East will be able to find an opportunity to head for Moyo, carrying a pair of strong shoes! Forestry wild life and marine preservation are all part of the Amanwana’s mandate and without them local villages would be looking to other means to sustain their livelihoods. Sleeping under the soft roof of my tented room, listening to the lap of the waves on Moyo, I felt good.

I hadn’t imposed, and neither had my hosts. We were part of a continuum of shared resources, the inhabitants sharing their island and in return receiving the benefits that the resort brings in terms of employment, perpetuation of their traditional lives and more.

Escape to the past

Tugu Lombok features many unique and beautiful rescued and restored furniture and fittings

Tugu Lombok features many unique and beautiful rescued and restored furniture and fittings

Many Chinese inhabitants of Indonesia threw out their traditional possessions and wiped their hands of history in an effort to integrate during previous, harsher regimes. But the Tugu Hotel changed that when they began to restore the romantic history of the archipelago. Full of magnificent statues and larger than life art the Tugu in Lombok is a living gallery of tales. Visiting this place you can immerse yourself in a fairytale of lost love, broken hearts and deeds of daring rescue; a world of ancient history and romantic dreams. You can almost touch the beautiful women, the swarthy men, the weapons, the art, the passion of life.

This unique destination would make the perfect place to begin a novel or a memoir of a traveller's life. The property on the northern beaches of Lombok is logistically easy to get to but also adventurous if you choose to come by sea, to underscore the entry into a special world that blends history, storytelling and culture. So our advice is to wander and wonder well, for as Tolkien says “Not all who wander are lost…”

 Photography by Kayti Denham

Related articles:

How to be a responsible traveller by Gaia Discovery

Travel tips for green travellers by WildAsia

Download The Gaia Guide for responsible travel in Asia.