It’s hard out there for an environmentally aware high-end traveler. Armed with the desire, and the means, to travel in style – yet also armed with the knowledge that disproportionate amounts of nonrenewable natural resources are used for the leisure of luxury travel – can lead to an uncomfortable feeling of guilt. And who needs guilt when taking a well-earned vacation? After all, leisure travel and luxury vacations are all about pampering and relaxation, not cognitive dissonance. Sustainable luxury travel plans sounds to some like an oxymoron.
Fortunately, there are ways to enjoy luxury vacations in distant destinations without leaving the large carbon footprint typical of leisure travel.
- Carbon offset programs offset client’s emissions by funding renewable energy programs. The carbon dioxide emitted by airplane travel, for example, is measured per person (for each consumer), and funds are proportionally given to supporting wind power and other clean, renewable energy resources. Sustainable Travel International offers just such a carbon offset program, and several luxury hotel and adventure travel companies have already signed up. Leading Hotels of the World has partnered with STI, to promote more carbon neutral travel: Its Leading Green Initiative invests money in clean energy development like solar and wind power.
- The Fairmont luxury hotel chain is quietly leading the way for all hotels and resorts to provide more environmentally friendly vacations. In 1990, before it was in vogue, Fairmont was the first hotel chain to launch the linen exchange (you know, leave your towel on the floor for a new one, hang it on the towel rack to reuse), and paper/glass recycling. The Fairmont Green Partnership Guide aids understanding how to run more energy efficient luxury hotels. High end leisure travel buffs can stay at any Fairmont resort hotel, and know that the luxury amenities are paired with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmentally responsible, green travel ideas.
- The Sierra Club offers many, many volunteer and eco travel vacations around the world. Founded by John Muir in 1892, The Sierra Club is the oldest “green” nonprofit organization in North America. This is one nonprofit organization that really walks the walk, so to speak. Ecotourism sponsored by The Sierra Club can be a luxury vacation as well: From a birding vacation in the Redwoods area of Marin County California, to a walking tour of historic Dordogne Valley, France, there is time for luxury and leisure in quite a few of The Sierra Club’s conservation minded green travel plans.
- A trip to a tropical destination can be in and of itself a treat – and a luxury. Not all eco travel and sustainable tourism involves sleeping in tents on the cold, wet dirt. Environmentally responsible resorts can offer many of the leisure activities and upscale amenities of their more generic cousins – and often with the option of cultural immersion that makes vacations truly memorable. The Finca Luna Nueva Ecolodge in Costa Rica is one such example. It’s a resort in the rain forest (luxurious by ecolodge standards), with fresh organic, locally grown offerings on the menu, private cabins, ecotourism activities, and a mutually beneficial relationship with the nearby indigenous people.
- Alaska is obviously less tropical, but for many people just as remote. Alaska has a growing sustainable tourism industry, with the same upscale amenities that deluxe travel vacations offer anywhere. In Alaska, ecotourism trips take people to the wide open spaces that are increasingly rare elsewhere in the United States. The outdoor activities make use of the natural environment of fjords and glaciers, with soft adventure, whale watching, fly fishing, and more in the warmer summer months. Avoid the huge mega-cruise ships, and take an ecologically friendly small cruise ship to explore Alaska’s Inside Passage; there are options for a variety of experiences regarding sustainable Alaska vacations.
- Napa Valley, California is many people’s top choice for an upscale romantic getaway. What with Bouchon, ad hoc, and most famously the French Laundry, some of the best restaurants in the world are here (with award-winning California Wine Country wine and a price tag to match). Tom Keller’s empire is strongly influenced by the local food movement; dining at one of his restaurants supports small family farms over the faceless conglomerate ones. For more sustainable lodging, the Bardessono Hotel & Spa is LEED Platinum certified. To celebrate Earth Day, the Bardessono has a new eco travel-oriented package; Hike the Day Away includes two annual memberships to the Napa Valley Land Trust, and a night in a King Spa suite.
There’s no need to sacrifice luxury in responsible leisure travel for sustainable tourism to have a positive effect. A few minor changes in vacation plans — “green tweaks” — and travelers are already helping make the Earth a healthier place. After all, anything you do is better than nothing.