10—14 SEPTEMBER 2017, Marrakech | Here are details of the people and places we celebrated at our talk at Pure Life Experiences, the global show for the high-end experiential travel industry on Monday 11 September. 

Thank you, PURE, for hosting both of us Bouteco founders along with Tatler’s travel editor Francisca Kellett for an idea-sparking discussion around how to make sustainability stories sexy – and saleable. We were delighted to have so many interesting travel experts, hotel owners and members of the press join us. Founded in 2009 by travel visionaries Serge Dive and Sarah Ball, PURE Life Experiences draws the world’s leading experiential travel visionaries to Marrakech for one high-energy playful working week with two days of inspiring talks and panels at MATTER 2017. Where better to stop, think, and discuss how more than ever before, hotels need a little heart to inspire guests to book: the challenge being how to share these sustainability stories on social and as through charismatic, compelling content that will to convert into sales? Today’s luxury travellers crave guilt-free consumption and meaningful experiences, so they’re more likely to put their money where your mouth is if you can communicate your message in the right language and style.

Let’s be honest, often when people hear the word “sustainability” their eyes glaze over.  We hope to help change that and inspire everyone to be part of the solution inspire all not to lecture or scold but share inspiring stories — which in turn bring exactly the right guests to your hotels. Good for business and good for the world.
PURE Matter talk

So what words should we use?

Juliet: Community spirit… Craftsmanship… Zero waste… Education…
Holly: Provenance… Nature-led… Belonging…
Fran: Engage… Excite… Entertain…

2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism by the United Nations — yet who’s talking about this outside of the industry? Have you seen their communications? So dry…

Juliet: My editorial rule of thumb was always ‘entertain’ and ‘inform’ with every sentence — and it should be thesame sentiment when it comes to talking all things eco. This is why Bouteco was born! Less than a year ago, I wrote a feature for Beyond Luxury about the new breed of stylish and sustainable hotels as I wanted to celebrate the luxury hotels which not only promise extraordinary guest experiences but are committed to conserving, protecting and enhancing their environments – especially since you can count them all on one hand.

When I realised no one was specifically identifying these and celebrating them so I teamed up with eco expert Holly Tuppen, former editor of Green Hotelier and someone who set off in 2008 on an around-the-world-without-flying adventure documenting her travels in one of the first ecotourism blogs. Since we set up Bouteco — as consultants and as writers celebrating these hotels — it became apparent then that there are only a few journalists out there who have sustainability close to their hearts — and this includes Francisca Kellett, a former travel guidebook writer and Digital Travel Editor of the Daily Telegraph, and now Travel Editor of Tatler magazine, part of Conde Nast.

Anyone can look at nice pics of a hotel and decide whether it’s stylish… But how to know if that hotel is really one of the good guys?

Holly: It’s not very tangible but you can feel it when a hotel is doing the right things. When you walk in, the atmosphere is happy and welcoming, there’s a sense of community in the hotel and the employees are obviously part of that — bought into the ethos and proud of what they do.

Fran, you see a lot of hotels… what grabs your attention?

Fran: Small things such as no plastic water bottles in rooms, little shampoos in bathrooms, evidence of sourcing locally is important, but really it’s about the people. You can tell instantly if it’s fake – if the staff are obsequious but rolling their eyes at you behind your back. Those that are proud of where they work are usually stakeholders in some way. Good examples: Ett Hem in Stockholm; Soneva — butler who was also studying; Six Senses Zil Payson — proud and invested in where they work. Trout Point Lodge in Novia Scotia – if local community is brought in, that’s a tangible feeling.

Holly: Nikoi, Indonesia is a great example of somewhere that lives and breathes a positive ethos.

Juliet: A hotel that exemplifies having stories of sustainability at the core of its philosophy and messaging is FOGO ISLAND INN, Newfoundland, Canada. Owned by the community, it totally revitalized the economy for the 2,700 folks who live on the island,  Zita Cobb makes every decision by deciding whether it will have maximum positive impact on the natural and cultural environment.

Business is one of our best tools to do this, and we believe that ecological sustainability follows from social sustainability.  If you approach design and the business of hospitality as servants of place, you will, by default, create in a way that has integrity and specificity. What is more beautiful and stylish than integrity and specificity?
— Zita Cobb, Fogo Island Inn

And it makes a nice Instagram.

Just as we all define luxury differently, so do we do so with SUSTAINABILITY — to me it’s a hotel that’s having a positive effect on people or places — let’s find the strongest stories and be a force for good. More than leaving out the reuse towels cards.

Holly: There are other smaller examples of initiatives that are so instantly pleasing to hear about as a guest:

MOSAIC PRIVATE SANCTUARY – LAGOON LODGE setting up the bank accounts for new staff members, to kickstart a lifetime of financial independence.

SONEVA FUSHI offering swimming lessons to local kids (who otherwise, often have no relationship with the water that is such a major part of their geography)

UTHANDO's tours of eye-opening entrepreneurship schemes like a coding workshop in a shipping container.

Fran: GROOTBOS, South Africa add a small addition to the bill — about £3 —  to the room rate which transforms lives through dozens of local projects. Grootbos Foundation, Football Foundation — over 2,000 township kids trained every afternoon, plus lessons in nutrition and HIV prevention —horticultural college, training up disadvantaged youths, helping find jobs, and with Steppes Travel flying them to Eden Project.  And conservation – pretty much as far as you can see. Vulnerable fynbos.

JK: I love 11 HOWARD in New York's collaboration page on their website.

Even though sustainability is considered one of the most important issues facing the world right now. And there’s much discussion around climate change and carbon footprints, and in response three-quarters of consumers will tell you the environment, ethics and ecology is a deciding factor when they’re booking a trip. But it isn’t really. Customers don’t demonstrate a commitment to responsibility when it comes to action — only 4% of flights are offset — you need to demonstrate how it heightens guest experience.

Shaping stories around sustainability initiatives in an uplifting positive way helps you make the most of your do-gooding but converts into bookings…

It earns you press coverage — especially if you have beautiful original photography and provides content for social media.

Holly: It’s not just the end-customer that you’re communicating to — multiple stakeholders are drawn in and become more engaged through good sustainability messaging. Employee retention improves, relations with your destination strengthens, investors like a legacy project and local communities will be more supportive. Always demonstrate that THE INITIATIVES boosts guest experience.

THE SCARLET in Cornwall has done a good job at positioning itself as the UK’s only luxury eco hotel and spa. By doing this they’ve tapped into a niche audience without putting-off other groups of people, and have gained more press exposure.

THE PIG’s £25 25-mile seasonal menu this autumn is a clever promotion supporting their emphasis on provenance and One Aldwych in London has just started a vegan-friendly menu — which ‘sells itself’ by tapping into such a niche audience.

Fran: SINGITA is very proactive in terms of conservation and community engagement. They’ve realised that “the day of handouts is over. It doesn’t work.” and instead needs to be a “symbiotic relationship”. So they are doing good, but they are also finding guests are now much MORE interested in the experience than the luxury. Huge change in recent years. They want to become immersed and give something back. Engage with the area they are in, and once they have experienced the genuine conservation and met the people positively affected by the lodge they are staying at, they donate —– huge amounts too. Over $10 million per year! And Instagram – this stuff matters. Incredibly stylish and sexy on Insta, but telling interesting stories…

Juliet: Wilbert Das ex-Creative Director of Diesel had the fashion industry leaving him craving a project where he felt he was investing in something meaningful. “UXUA’s sustainability aims are related to preservation of both nature and culture,” he says. “We avoided invading into natural environment, either the spectacular beachfront or rainforest around us, and instead repurposed a handful of empty, colonial fishermen homes at the heart of old Trancoso beside homes still occupied by native families.  UXUA has extended its commitment to the community by launching UXUA Casa, a homewares collection using local carpenters, weavers, ceramic artists, and still emphasising the use of recycled materials. These are totally authentic, sustainable initiatives by which tourism deepens local traditions instead of eroding them, and leaves the nature untouched.

If you lookat current travel trends you'll notice they align with same values as sustainability…

—Local seasonal natural
—Artisanal work and craftsmanship
—Collaborations and community buy-in
—Experiential and immersive
—They make guests feel and think through intelligent luxury

Holly: Kasbah du Toubkal pioneered the luxury eco lodge.…

When it comes to sustainability who are the influencers we can keep an eye on to inspire us?

Fran: A perk of the job is that I get to meet lots of very interesting people, many high net-worth types, and some big players include Tara and Jessica Getty, David de Rothchild, and Ben Goldsmith. Getty’s — families no longer want to go and mess around on lilos in the Med for a fortnight, they want them to LEARN something. Ben Goldsmith too, whose model is interesting as it pulls in local stakeholders — so in Ibiza, eg villa owners who have been coming for decades and noticed degradation in the coastline, are called on to donate and get involved. Creates “preservation funds” — very successful.

But it's also important to look at other industries such as Charity:Water's model.

Holly: The majority of customers do care, but only if it improves their experience.

Why did Tatler choose to do a sustainability edition?

Fran: I think it goes back to the HNW individuals. Talter’s readership is the richest in the UK, and it’s those people who frankly can afford to care. They are genuinely interested in these issues. As the Gettys told me, they don’t fly off the Med for a fortnight — they go and stay in the Singitas and the &Beyonds and the Sujans. They are very well travelled and highly educated and difficult to fool – so stories have to genuine and green-washing won’t work with them.

How do we know if it’s greenwashing?

Holly: Firstly, greenwashing should never be a hindrance — if you do something for the right reasons, it’s going to be hard for people to pick holes in it.  Hotels also shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the challenges around sustainability — complete transparency can never be accused to be greenwashing, and most people understand the complexity.

Employee buy-in is key — if a hotel lives and breathes its sustainable ethos, then guests will know that it’s genuine. I was recently talking with people that work at Ted Turner’s ranch in New Mexico who said that watching Ted (who’s a billionaire) walking around the ranch picking up rubbish, is always inspiring — the conservation ethos is genuine because it comes from the top.

Juliet: Focus on one theme — water, waste — and “own” that – Alila does this well with their water bottling.

And, as we all know price is often the biggest consideration when it comes to booking.

Better transparency is needed in communications so that consumers can make informed decisions – but do it in an inspiring and uplifting way –  show potential guests how staying in a certain hotel or by taking that trip is going to feel better for them – and make a positive difference.
Listening intently