Magazine article Ecos

The Lapse of Luxury: With Luxury Hotels Booming around the World. Matthew Brace Reviews What This Rapidly Growing Sector of the Australian Tourism Industry Is Doing to Reduce Its Appreciable Environmental Impact, and Educate Its Guests

Magazine article Ecos

The Lapse of Luxury: With Luxury Hotels Booming around the World. Matthew Brace Reviews What This Rapidly Growing Sector of the Australian Tourism Industry Is Doing to Reduce Its Appreciable Environmental Impact, and Educate Its Guests

Article excerpt

International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM), the global exhibition that monitors and promotes the top end of the travel market, says the luxury sector is growing at 'more than 10 per cent per annum, more than double that of the mainstream travel sector'.

According to ILTM's Marketing Manager, Tim Latimer, '20 years ago booking a five-star hotel was the preserve of the few. Nowadays a culture of"treating" has evolved, meaning that even those without a high disposable income will save up to indulge themselves'.

'As for the very affluent--the sky is the limit--they are looking for more and more personalised exclusive experiences,' he said.

The result is a bewildering array of increasingly extravagant five-star hotels opening around the world, offering dazzling examples of decadence: private butlers, sports cars for hire, airport pick-ups in Rolls Royces and helicopters, private swimming pools on private islands, and cellars full of vintage wine and champagne in the middle of deserts or on remote tropical atolls.

But this acceleration in luxury, and consumption, has also coincided with the increase in our awareness of global warming and the urgent need to embrace all things environmentally sustainable. So what are luxury hotels and resorts doing to handle these two seemingly conflicting trends?

Nowhere near enough says Ecotourism Australia, a national organisation for the ecotourism industry that also covers luxury operations. Its Chairman, Mastair McCracken, who has more than 35 years of management experience in the luxury end of the market, told Ecos, 'I don't want people thinking luxury hotels are doing their bit to be sustainable because they are not.'

'There is still so much more that hotels, especially at the luxury end, can do. Luxury hotels are the great sinners when it comes to the environment.

'I know exactly how much they use in terms of resources. They are not mature about sustainability at all.

'At what point are people prepared to forego the luxury in hotels and move towards recognising that we can no longer live the way we have for the past half a century?' he said.

With a high daily turnover of guests paying for the highest standards, multiple choices and generous allocations in personalised services, room furnishings, laundry, food and appliance usage, luxury hotel operations use significant amounts of water and energy, and produce large amounts of waste.

Few hotels or resorts have comprehensively attended to their immediate environmental efficiency, and fewer still have extended that assessment and commitment to their broader supply chains and life cycle partnerships.

Many research and sustainability groups believe that one of the fundamental reasons why the luxury hotel industry's approach to sustainability is not more mature is the lack of legislation. There are no laws to regulate sustainability within hotels, whether they are servicing leisure or business markets.

Even basic definitions of the key concepts have been hard to agree on, causing confusion in the industry. For example, 'ecotourism' and 'sustainable tourism' are often used as interchangeable terms. Although they have largely mutual objectives, they are not identical notions.

Ecotourism generally involves minimal-impact activity in ecologically sensitive areas, such as Tasmania's World Heritage Area, rather than downtown Sydney. But sustainable tourism is a wider concept that can be adopted industry wide, in remote conservation area luxury lodges as well as big urban five-star hotels. Ecotourism is essentially one example of how the much broader notion of sustainable tourism can be implemented.

The task for change-motivated groups, such as Green Globe, t the worldwide benchmarking and certification program for the travel and tourism industry, is to convince all luxury hotels and resorts that they should adopt sustainable practices, regardless of where they are located. …

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