Glamorous and guilt-free, these luxurious eco-hotels are breaking new ground
Luxury and eco don’t tend to go hand-in-hand. Seven-star hotels, honeymoon resorts, penthouse suites overlooking the city – customers paying top dollar expect more than the average hotel guest. And since much of the green movement has been about reducing use of nature’s elements, eco and luxe have largely been at opposite ends of the spectrum – until now.
While ethical travel was once a niche market, it’s fast becoming the norm. In recent surveys by travel community website TripAdvisor, only nine per cent of travellers said they’d actively sought green hotels in the past. But 22 per cent are planning to be more eco-conscious in their future travel decisions. And 34 per cent of respondents claimed they would pay more to stay at an eco-hotel.
“An environmental policy is an essential part of operating a business today,” says Katie Malone of Hong Kong’s Langham Place (+852 3552 3388, www.hongkong.langhamplacehotels.com), one of the city’s most luxurious hotels. “We receive a lot of feedback from customers who say they choose us because of our ethical policies. We aim to provide five-star service, five-star quality and value for money, while trying to minimise our environmental impact.”
Langham Place isn’t alone in it eco-luxe goals. From Britain to Bangkok, new hotels are cropping up that are uber-luxurious uber-green.
Britain’s green groundbreakers
One UK eco-hotel that has been creating a stir is The Scarlet in Cornwall (01637 861800, www.scarlethotel.co.uk). “We wanted to design and build a hotel that could prove luxury needn’t be unsustainable,” says Emma Stratton, one of the hotel’s owners. “We felt that many hotels offered a bloated and excessive guest experience – too much heating or air conditioning, too many silly toiletries, too much rich food that people don’t want.” But they still wanted to pamper guests, and so the concept for eco-luxe The Scarlet was born.
Opened in September 2009, the 37-room hotel doesn’t scrimp on the guest experience, with indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs and steam rooms, a Michelin-starred chef in the restaurant and décor fit for the pages of Wallpaper magazine. Yet look under the surface, and you’ll discover the indoor pool is chlorine-free and, like the steam room, heated with the use of solar panels, while the temperate outdoor pond-style pool is purified by plants.
As you soak in an outdoor hot tub, cocktail in hand, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, you won’t feel the least twinge of eco-guilt: the water is being heated by a wood-burning stove, and all the wood used in the design and running of the hotel, it’s FSC-certified, ensuring it comes from sustainable sources.
“Our first hotel, Bedruthan Steps, has won many awards for it sustainable practice, and we know our customers appreciate our core green ethos, choosing us over competitor hotels because of it,” explains Stratton. Family-friendly Bedruthan Steps is down the road from The Scarlet, near Newquay, but it doesn’t compare in the luxury stakes. “I think the demand for eco-luxe will continue to grow, and hotels that don’t do anything about this will suffer.”
Pottering about your spacious hotel room in The Scarlet’s fluffy bathrobe, you certainly won’t notice a lack of the expected five-star amenities. Large energy-efficient LCD televisions, plentiful LED lighting, free internet and floor-to-ceiling windows with sea views set the scene. A cosy feeling pervades even in midwinter, thanks to underfloor heating and the plentiful hot-water supply to the freestanding bathtub and the Italian-style walk-in shower – all warmed by a biomass boiler fuelled by locally sourced wood chips.
The list of eco-credentials of The Scarlet continues – greywater recycling, sustainable construction, locally sourced food, living roofs – and it runs through every aspect of the hotel, from the triple-glazed windows right down to the tealights (the tin is recycled and the melted wax returned to the candle factory for reuse). Even the keenest eco-campaigner would find it difficult to fault the hotel’s ethical credentials.
But those not interested in responsible travel won’t notice anything different because the green message isn’t shoved down your throat. It all just happens quietly in the background, letting guests get on with enjoying their holidays. “Some choose us because we are a green hotel, others simply because we’re a great hotel, but all of our customers tell us they appreciate our ethics and respect what we are trying to do,” says Stratton. “Customer loyalty for both of our hotels is high.”
The Scarlet isn’t Britain’s only eco-hotel, but it’s certainly the one that’s pushed the envelope the furthest on both the eco and luxury front. Others are learning by its example, though.
Following the leader
This summer, the Dorchester Collection is opening Coworth Park (+44 (0)1344 876 6000, www.coworthpark.com) in Surrey. As you’d expect of the company that owns The Dorchester in London and The Beverly Hills Hotel in California, Coworth Park won’t skimp on the luxury experience. It will be the only hotel in Britain to have its own polo field, as well as an equestrian centre and underground spa.
While guests are experiencing the sumptuous stately home surroundings, they might not realise the hotel is growing its own carbon-neutral fuel supply in the form of sustainable coppice willow, that their rooms are being heated by a biomass boiler or chilled with ground-source cooling, and that much of the food for the two restaurants will be provided by Coworth Park’s organic kitchen garden. The spa, too, will have its share of eco-cred in the form of a living roof planted with herbs that will be used for treatments in the spa, and carbon-negative lime hemp used in the building structure.
Romantic resorts with heart
Beyond the UK, hotels in pristine, natural settings were some of the first to adopt environmental principles. But many didn’t have to make much effort to be green. Beach-side shacks were built with local materials simply because they were cheap and plentiful, and forest cabins eschewed air conditioning because they didn’t need it anyway. But few of these have provided the standard of facilities and service demanded by guests looking for pampering holidays.
Six Senses was one of the first luxury resorts to create a social and environmental policy when it opened in Soneva Fushi in the Maldives in1995. There are now 26 Six Senses resorts around the world, and the company’s green policy has grown to include everything from animal welfare to waste reduction.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t have luxury in life but it needs to work with nature and be sustainable,” says owner Sonu Shivdasani. “We encourage guests to go barefoot and get closer to the natural surroundings in our resorts, and we create accommodation using sustainable materials. We also understand people want access to quality, modern comforts. It’s about doing things well and sensibly, without impacting on the planet.”
This is implemented in all the properties it owns and manages, including its stunning Hideaway Zighy Bay in Oman and Hideway Hua Hin in Thailand. But Six Senses has really pushed the glam-green boundary with its first eco-villa.
“Today’s wealthy individuals want space and privacy when they travel,” Shivdasani says. “They want to be close to nature and have experiences. Six Senses is about offering innovation in an authentic environment.”
Template for the future
The new Six Senses Soneva Kiri (10 nights on a tailor-made holiday with Kuoni (01306 747008 or www.kuoni.co.uk, with seven nights at Soneva Kiri and three nights in Bangkok, including flights from Heathrow and transfers, from £3,274pp) on the exclusive, little-developed island of Koh Kood, Thailand, has created one of the world’s most cutting-edge eco-luxe villas.
Lush foliage thoroughly conceals the roof of the resort’s zero-carbon Eco Villa, discreetly tucked away in the rainforest. Hidden from prying eyes, guests can splash in their private natural freshwater pool, cleaned only by plants and waterfalls. Or step into the outdoor shower area, hewn from local sandstone and recycled soda bottles, and utilising harvested rainwater, heated with the use of solar panels. And before dinner, they can pick up a bottle of bubbly from their own terracotta wine cellar.
Indoors, sunshine streams through the domed skylight, eliminating the need to turn on the energy-efficient lamps until dark. One-metre-thick exterior walls, made from local sandstone and adobe mud bricks, along with recycled newspaper insulation in the green roof and heat-stop glass in the windows, provide superior insulation properties, so the experimental solar and thermal-mass air conditioning system needs only be used on the hottest days.
The Thai craftspeople who built the villa used few power tools, with most of the work being done by traditional methods. Non-toxic products, even down to the adhesives, were used throughout, so you’ll be breathing only fresh, clean air as you recline in the huge bed..
Soneva Kiri’s Eco Villa is set to be replicated on a larger scale when Six Senses launches its new Evalutions resorts, currently being developed. And while the other villas at Soneva Kiri aren’t as cutting-edge, they still showcase Six Senses’ ethos throughout.
City hotels have been the last to realise the importance of sustainability, with few of the luxury brands giving more than a token nod to the green movement. New York was set to get its first true eco-hotel last year, yet the much-hyped Greenhouse 26 has never even broken ground. And while London hoteliers take a few tentative footsteps towards sustainability, base2stay (www.base2day.com) and Andaz Liverpool Street (www.andaz.com) both have a few initiatives, while the trendy Zetter (www.thezetter.com) is the city’s green leader. But the closest London gets to full-on eco-luxe is One Aldwych (020 7300 0500, www.campbellgrayhotels.com), situated at the crossroads of the theatre and business districts.
“One Aldwych doesn’t actually pitch itself as an eco-hotel,” says Howard Rombough, public relations director. “No one is perfect, and there are always challenges balancing the expectations of luxury hotel guests and being an environmentally sustainable property.” But the hotel is on the right track, having won three awards in the last year for their green credentials.
The hotel certainly ticks all the boxes for stylish, modern luxury: superb spa and gym, a gourmet and a casual restaurant, fashionable cocktail bar, private 30-seat Blu-Ray cinema and rooms filled with one-off artworks and furnishings, Frett bed linens and goose-feather duvets. But the 18m swimming pool is chlorine-free, the bathroom toilets use 80 per cent less water than typical cisterns; there’s a no-bleach cleaning policy; excellent recycling; and good amount of local and organic foods used in the restaurants.
This is largely down to the owner, veteran hotelier Gordon Campbell Grey. In his 20s, he worked for charities, doing projects in Bangladesh, Morocco and Nicaragua, and he continues as Vice President for Save the Children. His commitment to operating a hotel in as ethical a manner as possible stems from his loathing of excess, not because it boosts the bottom line. However, it undoubtedly has a positive financial impact.
“Energy efficiency and recycling have financial savings – for every business and household anywhere,” says Rombough. “But more importantly, guests calling to enquire about room availability regularly ask the Reservations team about the hotel’s green credentials. For this reason One Aldwych now places key elements of its environmental efforts on the hotel’s website (www.campbellgrayhotels.com) and also in every room in the guest directory.”
High-rise, high-flying Hong Kong isn’t known for its green thinking. But the eco-luxe trend is creeping through even here. At the glamorous 665-room Langham Place (+85) 3552 3388, www.hongkong.langhamplacehotels.com), luxury is certainly abundant: Art Deco chandeliers hang from the ceilings, intricate Chinese screens decorate rooms, a rooftop pool overlooks the city. But the hotel also proves that skyscraper five-stars take significant steps towards sustainability, some of them surprisingly simple and effective.
On Langham Place’s guest floor corridors, zoning control ensures lights aren’t left on non-stop during low-traffic periods. Traditional lights have also been replaced with energy-efficient ones in large parts of the building, including back-of-house areas and lounges. The air conditioning is much more efficient than the norm, using the heat produced by it, which would normally just be blown into the atmosphere, to warm the hotel’s hot-water system. And while these measures might not seem huge, in such a large hotel, they make a big difference, both to the environment and to the hotel’s bottom line.
“There are always financial considerations,” says Malone. “Being environmentally friendly can, in the short-term, be more expensive. But the cost to the environment through pollution is far greater than the additional financial cost to an organization.”
Today’s luxury hotel guests are increasingly demanding ethical credentials in their hotels, from sustainable design right down to expecting toiletries not tested on animals. Luckily, hoteliers are finally waking up to this fact and realizing that to retain their customer base, they need to invest in the environment.
Back for more
“Long term, there will be benefits,” says Stratton of The Scarlet. “Not only will an eco-hotel have lower fuel costs, but our experience shows that other benefits include improved staff retention, as our teams share our ethical view on life. And using local suppliers and people, both to provide services to the hotel and to work in-house, gives a property genuine individuality and sense of place.
“Guests are now happy to pay a little more for something that is genuine, local and ethical, and they keep coming back.”
Solage Calistoga, USA
+1 866 942 7442, www.solagecalistoga.com
Laid-back chic pervades in California’s answer to Tuscany, the Napa Valley. In the woodsy part of wine country, this contemporary 89-room cottage-style resort and spa features furnishings made from natural, sustainably farmed and recycled materials, bamboo and reclaimed cedar, and non-toxic, low-VOC paints Heating is thanks to the resort’s underground geothermal springs, and cooling uses the green evaporation method.
Urbn Shanghai, China
+8621 5153 4600, www.urbnhotels.com
Built with recycled and locally sourced materials, other eco cred includes passive solar shading (lets in winter sun, blocks summer sun), carbon offsetting, energy-efficient lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation using new technologies. Rooms feature sunken lounges, walk-in rain showers, freestanding bathtubs, 42-inch LCD TVs, fitness kits and modern Chinese décor.
The Lenox, Boston, USA
Urban eco-tourism pioneers, The Lenox has been implementing ethical policies at its city hotel since 1989, and it’s undoubtedly one of the greenest city hotels in the world, featuring everything from green energy to a dedicated channel in guestrooms showing environmental films. The glamorous old-world interior of this fin-de-siècle hotel will transport you to another time. Rooms vary in style, some in keeping with the traditional 100-year-old building, others modern and light.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, Fiji
A pioneering eco-luxe resort, the pristine tropical setting is honeymoon-perfect. With enough awards – both for being green, and for being luxurious – to fill one of its thatched roof villas, you can be sure you’re in good, caring hands here.
Old Bangkok Inn, Thailand
On the site of a former palace in Bangkok’s historic centre, this 10-room boutique hotel features solar panels, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, low-flow shower heads, in-room recycling bins and matches any contributions a guest chooses to make to one of four local charities. The individually designed hotel rooms are filled with handcrafted furniture and silk linens and soft furnishings created by local artisans or purchased from nearby antique dealers.
UXUA Casa Hotel, Bahia, Brazil
With a beach lounge created from derelict fishing boats, casas once owned by hippies and overhauled in luxe style with native materials, and initiatives to help the locals, including a school funded by the hotel, you can be sure its heart is in the right place. But because the owner, Wilbert Das, was creative director of fashion brand Diesel, you can also expect inimitable style.