First, a stroll through the gardens, surrounded by hundreds of butterflies and hummingbirds drawn in by native plants. For lunch, a delicacy prepared from local ingredients grown in the organic greenhouse. Afternoon plans: a dip in the solar-heated pool and a guided tour of the resort’s certified organic coffee plantation, home to 30 acres of Arabica coffee plants and shaded by a forest that shelters 130 species of birds. Later, a jaunt to the Barva or Irazú volcanoes, just miles away.
This is clearly not your average getaway. However, a stay at a resort like Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort in Santa Bárbara de Heredia, Costa Rica, is part of a growing movement among luxury travelers seeking a vacation that is as eco-friendly as it is exceptional.
“People coming here want green experiences, but they also want to be pampered and eat great food when they’re not out seeing the wild landscape of Costa Rica,” says Glenn Jampol, president of the resort and president of the Global Ecotourism Network.
Today’s Eco-Luxury Tourism
Isn’t eco-tourism for backpackers? That used to be the impression. But, a lot has changed since “lower your footprint” was added to the lexicon.
“When eco-tourism started in the 1980s and 1990s, it was somewhat equated with roughing it. There wasn’t a strong realization that you could have luxury and good amenities and sustainability,” says Martha Honey, co-founder and executive director of the policy-oriented research organization Center for Responsible Travel (CREST). Resorts like Nekupe Sporting Resort and Retreat, 40 minutes from Granada in Nicaragua, combines the intimacy of a sumptuous eight-room property with a full suite of luxury amenities within a sustainable design. Set on an 1,800-acre protected reserve, the grounds feature more than 14,000 planted trees and an animal sanctuary sustained by reservoirs developed by a local team of ecologists.
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba was developed with a similar sense of balance. “It has been rated both the No. 1 most romantic hotel in the Caribbean by TripAdvisor and the most sustainable hotel in the world in 2016 by Green Globe,” says Honey. “They clearly have captured both the high-end leisure market and the sustainability.”
A Subtle Approach
Some luxury travelers specifically seek out resorts that boast an eco-friendly profile. Others may not even be aware of the sustainability because of the way the features have been incorporated, says Stephanie Leavitt, director of sales and marketing at Bardessono Hotel & Spa in Napa Valley, California.
“The beauty of Bardessono is how subtle and simple the design aspects are, presented with a high level of service to create a thoughtful surprise for eco-friendly travel. Great effort went into making the design, experience and decor in line with the hotel’s mindful approach,” she says of features including 100,000 square feet of salvaged wood used throughout; extensive glass that reduces daytime lighting; and an onsite organic garden for preparing meals. “We want to provide guests with a luxurious experience that remains loyal to our environmental values, which have been in place since the very beginning of Bardessono.”
Evolving Beyond Eco-Friendly
“Sustainable tourism is the industry’s current hot-button term, and it incorporates three key pillars,” says Costas Christ, global sustainability strategist for the Virtuoso luxury travel network, and one of the world’s top sustainable tourism experts. “These key pillars are environmentally friendly practices; protection of natural and cultural heritage; and social and economic benefits to local people. The ideas behind sustainable tourism are not a trend; rather, this is an evolution of the global travel and tourism industry that is changing how travel companies operate, how destinations develop tourism and how people choose to go on holiday.”
With 2017 being declared the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development” by the United Nations, “it’s a call to countries around the world to adopt the principles of sustainable tourism,” says Christ. It’s also a call to travelers to embrace microtrends in luxury eco-travel, like “agrotourism, whereby travelers can stay at luxury farm and wine estates that are committed to also protecting nature, and community-based tourism, where travelers can stay with indigenous communities that operate their own lodges, in the process directly supporting local people’s livelihoods and cross-cultural understanding.”
A current hotspot for community-based tourism is Cuba, with people-to-people tours available for Americans who eschew the typical resort experience. “A lot of what is billed as high-end in Cuba is actually generic beach resorts,” said Honey. “Americans have a chance to stay in casas particulares [Spanish for “private houses”] and have a cultural experience in a sustainable, responsible way. Meeting Cubans and sharing ideas through art and music and food — it’s something you wouldn’t otherwise get to do, and it’s also beneficial to Cubans because you’re putting money right into local communities. As travelers, we should be supporting the local economy as much as possible. That’s the future of sustainable tourism.”
Article by Jaymi Naciri; This story originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Homes & Estates magazine.