Beyond Green Travel's Costas Christ on the importance of sustainability to hotels

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Despite this year's challenging economic landscape, Preferred Hotel Group has continued to make sustainability a priority. The company, which counts the Preferred Hotels & Resorts and Historic Hotels of America networks among its brands, acquired sustainable tourism services and consulting firm Beyond Green Travel in June. Then, in mid-November, Preferred unveiled Beyond Green, a global portfolio of sustainably-minded hotels, resorts and alternative lodging concepts. Hotels editor Christina Jelski caught up with ecotourism pioneer and Beyond Green Travel founder and president Costas Christ to talk about Beyond Green's launch and the evolution of sustainable travel.

Costas Christ
Costas Christ

Q: Pre-pandemic, sustainability was one of the hospitality industry's biggest buzzwords. With sustainable travel becoming an increasingly crowded and noisy space, what new perspective does Beyond Green bring to the table?

A: I'm happy sustainability's become a buzzword, because it feels like we've finally hit that tipping point and are making a breakthrough. But with that comes both opportunity and concern. There's opportunity in the fact that we're having a much more global dialogue, and we're seeing companies that perhaps, in the past, didn't give sustainability its rightful due, now realizing this isn't going away. The concern is around how we ensure that what's being talked about isn't just, "Hey, the latest thing in marketing is saying you're sustainable, so let's just say we do something [sustainable]." We've created this portfolio, Beyond Green, as an opportunity for travelers to be able to say, "Here's a group of hotels, lodges and camps that I can stay in, that I can feel confident about, and here's why." We want to provide that information, that "why."

Q: Beyond Green member properties are required to protect a destination's natural and cultural heritage and contribute to the social and economic well-being of local communities. Can you talk about the brand's broader view of what it means to be sustainable?

A: Not only do we realize the immense importance of environmentally‐friendly practices -- the "reduce, reuse and recycle" aspects -- but we also recognize that the travel industry, in essence, sells nature and culture. We share a responsibility to protect the very natural and cultural treasures travelers seek to experience and enjoy. And the people who live closest to what you want to protect -- be it coral reefs, endangered species or archeological sites -- [become] partners and allies when they have a seat at the table and they're part of the decision-making process. So, for the travel industry to truly be sustainable, to protect the treasures the travel industry sells, its products, culture and nature, which basically grace every travel industry brochure on the planet, then we must work to uplift local people's livelihoods as part of that objective. And it's also the right thing to do.

Q: With cleanliness and safety top of mind for hotels during the pandemic, has sustainability had to take a temporary back seat in any way? Can a hotel be both sustainable and Covid-conscious?

A: It requires creativity, but it's possible. People are already wearing effective and reusable cloth masks. And there's no reason why we have to use single-use throwaway plastics, because we now have viable and safe products made from biodegradable materials, like cornstarch. We also have several founding members, like Ashford Castle in Ireland and the Post Ranch Inn in California, for example, that have implemented an environmentally friendly cleaning system called Premium Purity, which is a nontoxic, incredibly effective and scientifically proven way of cleaning that's not harmful to the environment.

Now, I do understand that these are tough economic times for hotels, and those items cost more. But I would respectfully say the following: Sustainability is now an indisputable need of the travel industry. We all thought millennials were going to be the drivers of sustainability because they care about it, and they do, but move over, because Gen Z is [driving it even further]. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a story that goes like this: "We were planning my family vacation, and my 13-year-old daughter just wouldn't leave me alone about where we were going to stay, whether it was environmentally friendly and if it helps the people there." Our goal is for that 13-year-old daughter or son, or anyone, to be able to say, "Hey, we're going to book with one of these Beyond Green properties, because this is what travel should be." 

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