Tourism by definition is an unsustainable activity and luxury travel even more so. There is no place one can go to without burning copious amounts of fossil fuel. Add to this the excesses that are passed off as luxury and it isn’t surprising then that every trip, stay and exploration is carbon negative. However, given that travel is an imminent luxury, the positive side of tourism cannot be discounted and it can aim to balance some of the ill effects of tourism activity. An increasing number of people are travelling to engage, immerse and come away inspired, so if one can reimagine luxury, every tourism activity can aim at being a gentle exploration of the beautiful planet we live in.
One of the first things that comes to mind is the slow movement. Slow food and slow travel are a cultural shift towards slowing down and travelling to fewer places instead of zipping around the world to simply tick off tourism highlights and eating only Instagrammable foods. The luxury then is to settle in and explore each destination slowly and do things that are off the beaten track. Savouring every aspect of the destination-food, heritage, culture, people-by staying long enough can then be viewed as a luxury experience.
In a fast-paced commercial world, the compromise is, invariably, time, health and one’s relationships with the people around them. Conscious luxury travel should aim to bring the focus back towards providing these and commerce has to redefine itself to address these issues. Zen designs and environment-friendly architecture or repurposed heritage buildings with personalised services for guests who are addressed by their names rather than a room number, is to return to a more connected world. Gardens rewilded to create a natural ecosystem for butterflies, birds and other living creatures to again cohabit are lessons in living in harmony. Locational advantage would be to stay in a place that automatically lends itself to a digital detox with no access to internet, mobile connectivity to allow families to reconnect over delicious meals prepared using organic ingredients grown in local farms and kitchen gardens in keeping with the farm-to-table trend, as opposed to wasteful buffets.
With climate change at our doorstep, every business has to realign itself to face the challenges of excesses across industries. Luxury travel with a conscience also puts the onus on the travellers to choose experiences and brands that are aware of the crisis and are proactively taking steps to remove plastic from their everyday operations, especially single-use plastic, or working towards harvesting water, recycling, safe disposal of garbage and using land and resource with responsibility. The day is not far when world travellers will choose their stay based on the above parameters. The time really is now!
Large corporations building hotels in areas already inundated with hotels yet speaking about responsible luxury, is a blatant contradiction. The irony is that conscious luxury travel has to become mainstream and has to be a part of the government tourism manifesto.
For conscious luxury travel to trend, it has to be embraced by the industry and motivated by the consumer. Every conceivable luxury experience one would travel for-food, culture, wildlife, nature, craft, textile, wellness-has to be viewed from the framework of sustainability. Hospitality projects cannot shy away from their commitment to the community around them which begins with being aware of the fact that local resources first and foremost belong to the land and its people and are only loaned to the itinerant travellers. Conservation of heritage and nature, no-motor activities, community engagement and positive impact on their livelihood, highlighting intangible cultural heritage, sensitive land and resource use are all key to the new luxury experience. This will also lessen incidences of urban migrations over tourism.
With awareness, I believe, every traveller has the potential of making a range of conscious choices on every trip which will, ultimately, mitigate one’s carbon footprint. These could be the tenets of luxury travel with a conscience-guilt-free and earth-friendly. Invariably, there will be more and more things that can be added to this basic list of dos and don’ts, but with the world forced to change and our children rooting for it, conscious travel, even in the luxury space, is not just a choice. It is the way ahead!
-The writer is founder of Rare India, Shoba Mohan.