Is the sustainable hotel industry more relevant than ever?

Nihiwatu on Indonesia’s Sumba Island is a model for sustainable tourism

IT’S inevitable that the tourism industry contributes to carbon emissions and the slow-burning effects of climate change, whether it’s through airline travel, on-ground transportation, hotel operation, or food wastage.

In fact, air traffic emissions alone contribute to about five percent of global warming, and the figure is expected to rise significantly with the increasing volume of air travel. When taking a holiday anywhere in the world, there seems no way around it.

However, the accommodation sector is more tuned to helping the cause. In recent years you might have noticed signs that say things like “Do you really want your towels washed every day?” in your hotel room. Large hotel chains also look to be upping their game; Hilton Worldwide donated US$1.3 million to the Global Soap Project, an initiative that recycles soap bars in hotel bathrooms.

However, cynics have dismissed these “PR-inclined” moves as greenwashing, adding that these changes  help hotels save on their laundry bills, more than helping the environment. Despite the back-and-forth opinions on the matter, it’s a good (if small) step towards helping the cause.

Putting up in an eco-resort like Nihiwatu doesn't mean you have to compromise on luxury

Nihiwatu on Indonesia’s Sumba Island should be seen as a model in the tourism industry, a sustainable hotel that nicked the top spot on Travel + Leisure’s “The Best 100 Hotels in the World”. The coastal resort has attracted travelers time and time again for a guilt-free bask in luxury.

The hotel eliminates all use of plastic service items, opting instead for recycled paper, water cooler stations and bamboo straws. The hotel’s outdoor organic garden is used for produce, while food wastage is re-used as fertilizers. Water is derived from wells that run up to 360 feet deep, and the same water is used to irrigate the gardens.

Nihiwatu is also commended for its connection with the local Sumbanese people from nearby villages who make up to 98 percent of hotel staff. Plus, guests can partake in locally produced crafts on sale to support the local women weavers who produce ikat.

Antonella Mascimino, director of sales and marketing at Nihiwatu, tells Travel Wire Asia, “Even though most of our first-time guests are not specifically conscious about Nihiwatu green programs when they book [our hotel], it is encouraging to see that they eagerly participate to our initiatives when they are made aware of them.”

Hilltop_Reserve_exterior4_[6575-LARGE]Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam too strives to employ sustainable practices, as more guests are aware of the importance of sustainable travel and the lifestyles associated with it. Norman Zweyer, director of marketing and communications at the hotel, tells Travel Wire Asia, “Our guests are those who believe, like us, that travel can serve a purpose greater than [just] a break from the office.”

Just as Nihiwatu has, Six Senses has fostered a strong relationship with nearby communities – including a school in the rural areas of Nha Trang – to get them involved in little efforts like tree-planting and beach-cleaning. The hotel believes that educating locals about sustainability is a symbol of empowerment for them.

Money might be a cause for concern for some hotels, as sourcing for energy-saving tools and substitutes can drive up costs. But Norman argues that operating a long-term sustainable plan is not more expensive to run, as operational cost savings and increased profits can be enjoyed through effective resource management.

Meanwhile, the house-sharing service is also one that’s worth noting. In 2014, Airbnb released a statement to defend its model by proving that it’s a greener option than hotels, and results in a reduction of energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste.

The Airbnb model has been instrumental in reducing carbon emissions

The study concluded that in one year alone, Airbnb guests in Europe saved the equivalent of 1,100 Olympic-sized pools of water while avoiding the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 200,000 cars on European roads.

Despite the efforts that the hotel and accommodation industry are taking, is there still a reservation among travelers to go green? Based on a study by, some Americans are doubtful about sustainable eco-resorts because of reasons such as high rates, less luxury, or the lack of trust about a hotel being truly “green”.

If there seems to be a perception among travelers that staying in an eco-resort means walking about in dim lighting, showering with low water pressure, and sleeping on husk, more clarity and education is vital in shifting mindsets. If it means adding a little extra value to your holiday, why the heck not?