Interview Spotlight: Bringing Sustainability to Luxury Hospitality

Interview with Holly Tuppen, Travel expert and co-founder of Bouteco

Panel speaker at Trend

Holly TuppenHolly is an expert in sustainable travel helping brands and hotels to have a positive impact and communicate their initiatives in an engaging way. Her latest venture, with Juliet Kinsman (founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith), celebrates the world’s most beautiful, sustainable hotels.

The night before Holly rode back into Hyde Park on her bike to complete a 20-month circumnavigation of the world, she reflected on her trip by writing ‘The Values’. One of these was ‘Never forget that small deeds bring great joy’, which seems more important than ever in today’s increasingly disturbing and confusing world. Holly comments, “If we can’t control the state of world affairs, at least we can do good in our immediate communities, environment and families. When it comes to hotels becoming more sustainable, this is also pertinent. It doesn’t take much to have a positive impact on the lives of others, and when working in an industry such as hospitality, why would you want to do it any other way?” 

1.What brought you to sustainable travel?

In 2008, I circumnavigated the world without flying — sailing across the Atlantic, cycling up America, building websites for charities in Nepal and hitch-hiking along the Silk Road. It was by far the most incredible thing I have ever done, and on returning to London, I felt compelled to spread the word about the positive impact travel and hospitality can have. I became Marketing Manager for Greentraveller, the UK’s first responsible travel operator, and was Editor of Green Hotelier for five years. This involved acting as Communications Manager for the International Tourism Partnership also, and I helped to shape Corporate Social Responsibility strategies for the likes of Hilton, Marriot and Starwood. As a freelance writer specialising in eco travel, I’ve long been encouraging sustainability and luxury travel to go hand in hand —so when Juliet mentioned an idea to set up Bouteco, I jumped on board.

2. What makes a hotel ‘sustainable’?

People hear the words ‘sustainable hotel’ and think of solar panels or signs scolding guests to reuse towels, but there’s so much more. Yes, these are the ones committed to the environment, conservation projects, energy saving, water saving, waste reduction, ethical and sustainable sourcing but they don’t need to be labelled this officially to be worthy of being recognised for having a positive impact — even hotels that make the effort to put bees on their roof are making a difference, and we need to shout about the hotels just starting out on their sustainable journey, as well as drawing inspiration from those leading the field.

3. How can you prevent hotels using sustainability as a merely “marketing” tool? As a customer, how can you trust they really are what they say they are?

The bottom line is always very important for hoteliers and sustainable initiatives can require upfront investment. It’s understandable that hotels want to market and communicate their commitment to sustainability — and it’s important that they do so, others can learn from what they are doing. The hotels that use green-speak merely as a marketing tool won’t be offering an authentic experience and guests are quick to recognise this.

4. Is sustainable hospitality a luxury Trend?

In some ways, yes, but in others, no. Hospitality businesses need to become more sustainable for tourism to continue to be beneficial for everyone. If there is no wildlife, no clean beaches, disgruntled local communities, polluted streets and increased levies on carbon emissions and waste, many hotels will cease to exist and the communities that rely on tourism for their livelihoods, will fall apart. We’re seeing more and more consumers across all sectors wanting brands to reflect genuine, human stories and sustainability often weaves into this. This may be deemed a trend — but it’s one that’s here to stay.

5. In your opinion, what do you think customers expect when looking for a luxury experience?

The word ‘luxury’ doesn’t mean much anymore — across all sectors. The super-rich want experiential travel more than ever; be that staged tribal warfare in Papua New Guinea or running marathons in Antarctica. For other luxury travellers, rather than having everything on tap, they are turning towards experiences that offer headspace and simplified decision-making — whether that’s in an off-grid treehouse in Tulum (Papaya Playa) or a farmstead in Ibiza (La Granja). A common thread is that rather than ‘having it all’, luxury is increasingly underpinned by provenance and storytelling — where things come from, who made them, how they were created and why and sustainability often underpins this.

6. Which hotels do you think are taking the lead in sustainable travel?

All the Bouteco Heroes of course! Grootbos runs a green school, sports camps and enterprise programme for young people from the local townships, Song Saa have been pioneers in marine conservation in Cambodia since their inception, White Pod provide total comfort in innovative off-grid accommodation and The Zetter here in London has its own 1500-ft borehole beneath the building which helps make the building self-sustaining.

7. How is Bouteco helping hotels to embrace sustainability?

Bouteco will be a platform to help people find the world’s finest eco-minded hotels. By curating these hotels, and sharing their inspiring stories, Bouteco is putting sustainability on the map when it comes to luxury travel. Not only are these hotels doing the best thing for their local environment and communities, they provide the best experience.

Bouteco also works with hotels of all shapes and sizes to help them on their sustainable journey. We provide hoteliers with practical recommendations when it comes to implementing energy-efficiency programmes, waste reduction, ethical and local suppliers, how to have a positive impact on the local community and how to ensure team members are on board. Bouteco helps hotels to weave this conscience and commitment into their brand and communications, through storytelling, digital content and video. 

In September, we’re publishing our first Trend Report, examining and explaining how sustainability sells in the luxury-hotel industry — and beyond.

8. What would you recommend to any hotel brands pursuing sustainability?

Talk to other hotels in the industry and learn by example — there’s no point reinventing the wheel. Don’t be overwhelmed by how much there is to do or become fixated on what you’re not doing; prioritise and commit to those actions you can follow through with and take it one step at a time. Focus on one issue that you can really ‘own’ and get behind that with all your energy. Spread the word far and wide about your commitment to sustainability — the positive response will help keep you and team members motivated.

Don’ miss Holly Tuppen participating in the panel debate at Trend, next Tuesday 25th of July. Anna Nash from Aman Resorts and Daisy Bird from Bird Travel PR will also be there. Ana Andjelic will be the keynote speaker.
A few tickets remain. Reserve your place here.

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