The pandemic has been a lesson in slow living. In the last two years, people have begun to notice many previously-ignored aspects of their life, including health and environment. They have come to realise one cannot thrive in the absence of another, and that to take care of surroundings and to keep them clean and hygienic means to prioritise health.
Earlier this year, digital travel company Booking.com had concluded in its Sustainable Travel Research Report that 91 per cent of Indian travellers want to travel sustainably in the coming months — a 3 per cent increase over the company’s 2021 data. In addition to that, while 94 per cent of travellers confirmed that sustainable travel is important to them, 68 per cent cited recent news reports about climate change that influenced their choices.
Why has there been an uptick in recent months in sustainability in travel, and what do experts and travel enthusiasts feel about it? More importantly, when it comes to implementing conscious and green travelling, what must be kept in mind? On the occasion of World Environment Day today, we sought answers.
Akanksha Redhu, a Delhi-based content creator and photographer, who travels extensively, said sustainability is the need of the hour.
“In the pandemic, people who would only ever travel to international destinations, were forced to look at domestic options. They learnt more about their own country and the state it is in. When you travel to certain places, you see mountains of trash. But, when you go to cleaner and prettier destinations, you leave that world behind and think it is not your problem,” she told this outlet, adding that this mentality changed in the last two years.
Ranjith Singh — who is “obsessed with motorcycles and adventures” — said sustainable travel is a balance between responsible travel and preserving the environment. The traveller and motorcycle enthusiast from Kanyakumari regrets that with people moving and travelling now more than ever, there is a “great risk to the environment”.
“Most people travel for two reasons: to get famous on social media or because their next-door neighbour is doing it. I don’t find it good for the environment because they have zero idea of what they are doing to the planet,” he said, adding that he champions campaigns like #LeaveEveryPlaceBetter by Royal Enfield, because they protect the environment by encouraging the use of steel water bottles, cotton bags, etc.
According to Ritu Mehrotra, commercial director, APAC at Booking.com, the pandemic has made people more aware of their impact on the environment and on people around them — including local communities — which has made travellers conscious of the kind of trips they take. “Indian travellers are slowly becoming mindful of how far they travel, right from how they arrive at a destination to how they explore the place,” she told indianexpress.com.
Mehrotra added that it is also the responsibility of accommodation providers to make sustainable choices easier and more affordable for guests. “There are five key areas they can focus on: reducing waste, energy, and greenhouse gases, protecting nature, using less water, and supporting local communities.
“Simple initiatives to practise sustainability include eliminating all single-use plastics, installing water refill stations, recycling bins, and offering tours and activities organised by local guides. Booking.com has introduced ‘Travel Sustainable Badge’, which accommodation partners can attain by adopting these practices,” she remarked.
Pratik Mazumder, the CMO of Mahindra Holidays and Resorts stated that travellers today are choosing hotels that are taking steps toward sustainability, like solar power panels, rainwater harvesting, to name a few. “Resorts and hotels have indeed begun to employ organic materials, limiting the use of plastic, and picking ecologically-friendly solutions in order to offer a sustainable experience,” he told this outlet.
He added that at their properties, all “70W AC fans have been replaced with 28W DC fans, occupancy sensors have been installed for lighting management, and diesel hot water generators have been replaced by heat pumps”.
“There are installation of flow restrictors, wastewater recycling and reusing, and rainwater harvesting to recycle and reuse 250 million litres of wastewater each year. In the fields of solar installations, energy conservation, water conservation, garbage recycling, and biodiversity, the company has implemented a variety of sustainable practices at its 84 resorts across India and abroad,” Mazumder shared.
Shruthi Shibulal, the CEO and director of Tamara Leisure Experiences Pvt Ltd is of the opinion that a sustainable business is a thoughtful business, and since Gen-Z has become a prominent segment of the travel market, eco-sensitivity and responsible tourism are becoming the cornerstone of travel preferences.
“Most sustainable practices are neither complex nor cost-prohibitive. They simply require careful assessment, some experimentation and attentive planning.” According to her, there are three areas of focus that hotels can employ: conservation, preservation and restoration.
“Offering turnover services on demand and measuring food portions can immediately serve to reduce consumption and waste. Installing outdoor lighting sensitive to local wildlife, landscaping with indigenous plant life to protect the existing ecosystem and building with locally-sourced materials can serve in preserving environmental balance and contributing to local economies.
“Restorative measures include hiring locally. Over 50 per cent of Tamara’s pan-organisational staff comprises local residents who bring their knowledge of landscape and culture to our offerings. We regularly participate in food donations, tree planting and clean-up drives in partnership with local communities,” she told indianexpress.com.
Beyond energy conservation and recycling
Rahul Puri, the multi property general manager of The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi and The Westin Sohna Resort and Spa, believes that as the pandemic-battered world tries to get back on its feet, sustainable practices become tools to rebuild the local economy.
“At the Westin Sohna Resort and Spa, we offer ‘Go Local: Farm to Table’ — an experience crafted exclusively in-house for guests to be able to understand the concept of sustainable eating. The activity is a traditional farming experience that allows them to learn more about village culture,” he shared with this outlet.
Explaining further, he said that guests are taken to an “organic farming zone”, wherein they “interact with horticulturists and farming experts, experience working on the field, planting and picking their own fruits/vegetables and having them freshly-cooked in a recipe of their choice”.
“Guests can take a tour of the farm to see how fruits and vegetables grow, learn about beekeeping, vermicomposting, rainwater harvesting, greywater filtering, crop rotation and more. They can get their hands dirty by connecting with the soil. The initiative is not only to promote a healthy diet and to protect the environment, but also to give our guests a first-hand experience of rural life,” Puri explained, adding that sustainability is much more than energy conservation or recycling. “It has become the key to survival in the face of mass tourism in the tourist and hospitality industry.”
Tips to travel sustainably
While travelling is only going to gain momentum in the coming months, what can a traveller do to ensure they leave little-to-no burden on the environment?
Redhu suggested that if one is doing a solo road-trip, they can carpool and travel together as a group. “Public transport is a more sustainable option. Some hotels still use plastic bottles, so it is better to carry your own metal water bottle. If you are travelling within India, eat local food and support local communities. They want to keep the area clean and in its natural state, so support them as much as you can.”
Singh agreed, and concluded by saying that it is important to “leave every place better” than you found it. “Respect the local population and always keep some liquid cash so that you can support local businesses,” he said.
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