Luxury Tourism's Emphasis on Eco-Tourism

By Mandy Chomat Executive VP of Sales & Marketing, Karisma Hotels & Resorts | May 14, 2017

Leisure travel contributed $7.58 trillion last year to the global economy, with the luxury sector in particular growing a phenomenal 48 percent in the last five years, according to a special evaluation of the World Travel Monitor®, which is conducted by IPK International. Furthermore, consulting firm Deloitte found that the number of travelers who are aware of sustainable travel issues and the willingness of said travelers to spend on environmentally-sustainable travel have increased by a third in the last decade.

Luxury hospitality companies around the world including Karisma Hotels & Resorts, Bulgari Hotels, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and Six Senses, among others, are responding to spikes within their own industry and eco-tourism, introducing environmentally- conscious products and implementing environmentally-friendly practices into existing properties. Given that travelers to these hotels and resorts expect nothing but the best, the successful integration of green within the luxury travel space is being done in extreme eco-chic fashion. But first, an understanding of the fundamentals of eco-tourism.

What is Eco-Tourism?

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines eco-tourism as "Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples." Although certain areas and properties may be challenged to abide by the strict definition of eco-tourism, there are still ample opportunities to reflect its key characteristics on-property and beyond, including: Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity; Support for local conservation efforts; Sustainable benefits to local communities; Local participation in decision-making; and Educational components for both the traveler and local communities.

There is often the argument that increased tourism can negatively impact the environment without appropriate management. However, tourism is also a major contributor to generating the revenues necessary to protect natural areas. This is particularly true of luxury travel, which is defined by the World Travel Monitor® as costing more than $750 per night on short trips and more than $500 per night on long trips, and producing the income required to fund programs that benefit the planet.

By example, the owners El Dorado Spa Resorts by Karisma, an award-winning collection of Gourmet Inclusive®, luxury properties in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, recently commission the creation of the world's largest artificial reef, Kan Kanan. Stretching longer than the Brooklyn Bridge, Kan Kanan - meaning guardian of the sea - covers more than a mile of coastline parallel to the coast of Punta Brava in Mexico. It was built by a team of expert engineers, environmentalists, architects and specialized divers at a cost of $1 million as a monumental solution to the deterioration of the marine systems. Kan Kanan intends to divert attention and negative impact of time on the natural ecosystem, and fight against climate change to preserve the Mexican Caribbean's splendor. It is the new home to thousands of sea species and is protecting the coast from natural erosion.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.