Magazine article Geographical

Low-Impact Luxury: High-End Travel Has Long Been Synonymous with Environmental Irresponsibility, but an Increasing Number of Luxury Operations Are Using Their Big Profits to Fund Big Ecological and Social Programmes, and Buff Up Their Green Credentials

Magazine article Geographical

Low-Impact Luxury: High-End Travel Has Long Been Synonymous with Environmental Irresponsibility, but an Increasing Number of Luxury Operations Are Using Their Big Profits to Fund Big Ecological and Social Programmes, and Buff Up Their Green Credentials

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The daily dilemma for guests staying on the private island of Frigate in the Seychelles is whether to walk up to the resort's award-winning Rock Spa on a granite plateau overlooking the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, or to head to one of seven private beaches, turn around the signpost to 'Beach Occupied', and have the ice-white sandy shore to themselves. Or, like I did one day, you could decide not to venture too far from the comfort of your bamboo-thatched villa, furnished with African chamfuta teak boards and Botticino marble floors, call for room service from a private butler and kick back on the sofa on a cloud of fluffy Egyptian-cotton cushions with a jug of fresh tropical fruit juice. It has been nearly five years since I visited Frigate, and I still daydream of being back there, especially during the frigid heart of a British winter.

Of course, such first-class service in a first-class setting doesn't come cheap; a night in a one-bedroom villa on Frigate will set you back 2,600 [euro] (with a minimum stay of three nights), although that's not out of the ordinary in the Seychelles--there are any number of luxurious island hideaways in this tropical archipelago that provide a similarly deluxe playground for the sybarite.

But at what cost to the environment does all this extravagance come? If you look beyond the infinity pool, Frigate Island does, in fact, have a commendable conservation record. Over the past decade, 100,000 trees have been planted on this small island, it has reintroduced the endangered Seychelles magpie robin, and recently installed a rainwater-harvesting system that the hotel says provides up to 60 per cent of the island's water requirements.

NEW DEFINITION

However, not all luxury hotels are quite so conscientious. A vast amount of energy is required to run these palaces. Then there's the packaging of luxury cosmetics, the disposal of waste in fragile ecosystems and the huge amounts of water needed to supply the spas, swimming pools and saunas. Not to mention the carbon footprint emitted in the process of actually getting there.

According to Jan Peter Bergkvist, former vice president of sustainable business for Scandinavian hotel group Scandic, the good news is that the understanding of what constitutes luxury is changing. His former employer has one of the most comprehensive green policies of any hotel chain. In 2007, it committed to eliminating half of its C[O.sub.2] emissions from fossil fuels by 2011, and the other half by 2025. The majority of its hotels have been awarded the Nordic Swan eco-label, and the group has announced it will no longer buy in bottled water to its hotels, instead offering bottled, filtered water from its own taps.

Bergkvist believes that the kinds of measures Scandic has taken are just as applicable to luxury island hideaways. 'We're seeing a new definition of luxury,' he explains, 'one that leaves wastefulness behind and instead focuses on resource efficiency and sustainability.' People's values are changing, he says. 'And when you pay a lot of money, you expect even more that the supplier is doing business in a responsible way.'

Bergkvist says that one of the best examples of upscale sustainability is Six Senses Resorts & Spas, a small luxury chain of hotels, resorts and spas located primarily in the Maldives, Thailand and Vietnam, which he says 'has used sustainability as a strategic part of its vision . …

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