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