Can Luxury Travel be Sustainable? What I Learnt Staying at Spice Village, Thekkady.

Sustainable luxury travel sounds like an oxymoron, but it doesn’t have to be. One sustainable luxury hotel in Kerala is showing the way.

As a travel writer, I’ve had the chance to sample many high-end accommodations and luxury wildlife lodges. Despite the comfort and pampering, I’ve often left feeling conflicted about their enormous environmental footprint.

Those cards floating about in the rooms, saying they care about the environment and wouldn’t want to wash sheets and towels everyday, that’s mostly greenwashing.

Also read: Sustainable Travel Tips for Authentic, Meaningful Experiences on the Road

Sustainable luxury travel – the idea that high-end comfort can coexist with sustainable practices.

What is sustainable luxury travel anyway?

Simply put, it is the idea that high-end comfort can coexist with eco-friendly, socially-conscious, low-impact tourism practices.

Is luxury travel in India sustainable?

Unfortunately, most luxury hotels in India tend to generate huge amounts of single-use plastic trash through bottled water and toiletries. Many don’t bother to segregate their waste, contributing to landfill and ocean dumps. And the carbon emissions generated by their indiscriminate use of electricity, air-conditioned rooms and food imported from around the world are significant. Sustainable tourism examples in the luxury space are only a handful.

As someone who tends to gravitate towards small, eco-friendly homestays, I suppose I’ve often looked at luxury travel in India – and elsewhere – with a critical eye. But that changed when I visited Spice Village in Thekkady last year. Here’s why:

The cozy huts at Spice Village are thatched and cooled naturally with dried elephant grass

Grown and harvested with the support of the forest department. It helps create a fire line to control the spread of forest fires.

Located just across the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady

Perfect for an early morning walk in the forest with a local guide and ranger. We saw a tiger kill on ours 😮

The art of natural cooling was once practiced by the local Mannan tribe – but nearly forgotten

Until Spice Village decided to recreate their traditional architecture, eliminating the need for an air conditioner even on hot, sunny days! The thatch has to be replaced every alternate year, creating employment and continued practice for local tribesmen who have unfortunately replaced their own thatched roofs with concrete.

Nearly 75% of all electricity at Spice Village comes from solar energy

Used for powering the rooms and huge boilers for hot water. Instead of storing the excess energy in batteries, it is channeled to the grid for debit at night and in the monsoon months.

After estimating that the resort discards 45,000 plastic mineral water bottles annually, they installed their own RO filtration and bottling plant

Filtration is done via reverse osmosis, then bio dynamization adds mineral back to the water. Drinking water is now served only in glass bottles – perhaps the first hotel of this size in India to do so!

Instead of single-use plastic, toiletries are available in cute, reusable ceramic jars, along with paper-wrapped handmade soaps

All waste is segregated and sent for recycling, composted for manure or made into biogas for cooking

According to an estimate by Spice Village, 250-400 kg of food waste is composted annually, using vermi composting and micro organism composting. Do other big hotels send that much or more unsegregated waste into landfills?

Rainwater harvesting and a well on site supports almost all water needs

All sewage generated by the resort is recycled, converted into odorless waste water and used to irrigate the organic garden

Building a circular system from rainwater to waste water to organic produce to compost for manure and biogas for cooking.

Old newspapers and magazines are recycled in-house into handmade paper, and used for stationary

I was blown away by the handmade paper unit, where travellers can try their hand at making recycled paper! This handmade paper is used for guest registration, scribble pads in the rooms and the outer layer of pens (though the refill is still plastic).

Much of the furniture is handcrafted from recycled pine wood

Over 50% of staff is employed locally, from the towns and villages of Idukki district

Photographed here is Baby with his wife, who oversees sourcing from local entrepreneurs.

And many everyday supplies are sourced from rural entrepreneurs

I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes and meet some entrepreneurs who supply reusable cloth bags, dustbin liners, paapad (poppadum) and candles. Hearing about their journey, from joining Kerala’s Responsible Tourism Mission training, to setting up their own small business, to supplying in bulk to Spice Village and gradually scaling up, was incredibly inspiring.

One of the two restaurants at Spice Village serves seasonal food sourced ONLY within 50 miles!

The in-house organic farm grows all kinds of herbs and leafy greens, while women in nearby villages supply pesticide-free veggies from their kitchen gardens. The chefs actually climb trees in the backyard for truly farm-to-table meals! I only wish there was a greater focus on vegan food, given the high footprint of meat, seafood and dairy.

After the lockdown, Spice Village has been reopening slowly – 40 out of 52 rooms are now open with serious covid-safety measures in place

Spread out over 12 acres of forest and spice plantation, the huts are naturally geared towards social distancing. Rooms are thoroughly sanitized and the staff encouraged to wear masks indoors. Safety protocols laid out by WHO, industry experts and the government are being followed closely.

While international travel remains a distant dream, so many incredible, less-explored, eco-friendly, socially-inclusive gems await in our own backyard in India…

Tourism – whether its family luxury travel or solo luxury travel – if done right, can help protect the local way of life, create respectable employment opportunities and positively impact the environment. Spice Village is showing the way!

Have you experienced sustainable luxury travel in India or elsewhere? Is Spice Village on your bucket list?

*Note: I was hosted by CGH Earth at Spice Village. Lucky me!

Also read:

How Guacimo Eco-lodge in Nicaragua is Changing the Way We Travel

What India (and the World) Can Learn From Sustainable Tourism in Kerala

Can Responsible Tourism Challenge Patriarchy in India?

An Eco-Conscious Wellness Retreat in India for Yoga, Creative Food and Vitamin Sea

Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable: These Travel Companies are Changing the Way We Experience India

For more sustainable ways to travel, sustainable luxury hotels, sustainable adventure travel and other sustainable travel ideas, check out this collection.

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  1. Important question, Shivya. I agree most luxury wildlife resorts have adverse impact on local ecology & environment. However, most if not all, sustainable options cater to upper segment of travel industry. In this respect, they cater to a small niche. If sustainable is also affordable, it can create a much more impact. I’m sure a lot of people might just add affordability will send a hoardes of travelers to these pristine places creating negative impact. Well, it is a difficult thing and very few locations have got this right. But yes, we need to think about our environment & ecology.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Hey Arv, I feel like it’s a bit of a misconception that sustainable options are either too expensive or one has to slog it out. But luckily there are lots of midway options now – homestays, guesthouses, Airbnbs etc – that are environmentally conscious too. Most places I recommend on my blog and on Journeys fall in that bracket 🙂

      1. Possibly, yes. The reasons for this misconception needs to be eradicated. Also, the listing for such options isn’t in one place and often it is tiring to find the one that fits the bill.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      They’re WAY ahead of their time, and have branched out to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu too!

  2. Impressed and have added to my ever expanding bucket list.Thanks Shivya for introducing this place to us.I have come across places that adopt few measures but not as extensively as Spice village.Even something simple as putting a jug of water in hotels will help reduce plastic consumption .

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Seriously hope more hotels start taking atleast that one basic measure. I make it a point to tell them at reception each time I check in, to send jugs of filtered water to my room. Spice Village takes it to another level for sure!

  3. I am happy to learn about this place being so aware of the environment and being sustainable. I hope many other places all over the world would become like that. As always I thank you for your amazing and eye opening posts, Shivya.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Really hope so Cornelia. They’re setting the benchmark and how!

  4. This is so good. Would certainly make it a point to visit this place and soak in its natural beauty.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Awesome, perfect for a socially distanced getaway!

  5. Wow so amazing and inspiring at how much can be done for our earth if only we give it some thought! Great blog!

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      I agree Linda! Goes to show that a profitable tourism business can also be built with sustainability at its core.

  6. Kerala always stands out!!!! Just with all we got around us, what can be done just looking at this post is amazing to know… wow… Extraordinary… Such a great post!!!! Great work Shivya…. 👍👌

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Thanks Karmuhil! Just being here a few days was a reminder of how much more we can do as individuals and businesses.

  7. That’s so amazng. Thanks for sharing this place, Shivya. Being a travel blogger, I too would make it a point to stay at this place.

  8. this is really impressive to see how everything can be managed naturally in a sustainable manner but the present world is just busy competing with all the technological wonders discarding the bounty of natural wonders that we already have on our planet. thanks for this wonderful blog, definitely putting this place on my bucket list!

  9. Hi Shivya,
    Great Post! I really enjoyed reading this! Its so well written. Thekkady seems like a must visit place. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photographs! I love them all 🙂

  10. Great Post! I really enjoyed reading this! Its so well written. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photographs! I love them all 🙂

  11. Good post to read and got to know about this place. Thanks for sharing, Shivya! I would certainly plan to visit Thekkady soon. Hope you and your family are safe and sound during this tough time. Take care!

  12. Hi Shivya. Seeing someone talking about environment make me really happy. I’ve read a lot about sustainable development in environment science and your post just made me feel good. These pictures are so soul soothing that it made me to plan to visit Thekkady next time I step out for any outstation trip. Also I’d say that opting for nature friendly life is a need of the time. This planet needs more people who think this way.

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