By Jeff Chu
Mar 29, 2021
Photo: Six Senses Zil Payson, in the Seychelles
TRAVEL + LEISURE’S GLOBAL VISION AWARDS aims to identify and honor companies, individuals, destinations, and organizations taking strides to develop more sustainable and responsible travel products, practices, and experiences. Not only are they demonstrating thought leadership and creative problem-solving, they are taking actionable, quantifiable steps to protect communities and environments around the world. What’s more, they are inspiring their industry colleagues and travelers to do their part.
Our readers know that, in many cases, a hotel is more than just a hotel. Sometimes it’s a space to work or meet; other times, it becomes a place to meditate. We eat at hotels, swim at hotels, learn at hotels, and in some cases, even live at hotels, whether in an emergency or as a lifestyle choice. These are all things that these businesses can do for us. But properties and their guests don’t exist in a vacuum. Every time a building goes up, it’s going up somewhere where there used to be something else, and the surrounding communities will feel its impact.
These four Global Vision Awards honorees asked, why not make that impact positive? Stay with them and rest a little easier.
The Fari Islands, which ring a stunning lagoon about a 50-minute speedboat ride from the main airport in the Maldives, didn’t exist just four years ago. This man-made archipelago is set to begin welcoming guests this year with three new resorts, each with its own island and its own take on sustainability and luxury. The Ritz-Carlton deploys eco-friendly prefab construction and an expansive solar panels setup; the Patina has an organic permaculture garden and an onsite water-bottling plant; and the Capella will employ a “culturist” who weaves local heritage into the resort experience. But what makes this development unusual is the fourth island, called Fari Campus, which will be dedicated entirely to resort staff. In addition to the requisite housing and office space — back-of-the-house operations for the three resorts will be centralized here — there will be leisure, entertainment, and social facilities that are much more extensive than is typical. The idea is that those who care for the hotel guests should also be cared for themselves. This includes options for career advancement and continuing education: a tourism academy, operated in collaboration with the tourism ministry of the Maldives, will also be housed at the Fari Campus.
Habitas is Latin for “you live” or “you dwell” — but the modern quandary is, How? What kind of mark do you make on the place where you stay? What imprint do you leave behind? For this fledgling hospitality group, deep reflection on these questions led to an innovative way of creating hotels — a vertically integrated model in which almost everything is done in-house, from design to manufacturing to construction. Habitas‘s construction is modular: the bulk of a building is prefabricated and flat-packed at its factory in Mérida, Mexico, and then shipped for on-site assembly. This method reduces waste and boosts efficiency. “Traditional construction processes are some of the least sustainable practices in the world,” explains co-founder and CEO Oliver Ripley. “Being vertically integrated allows us to design with a focus on sustainability, both in terms of materials used and a light-touch footprint on the land.” Of course, a light-touch footprint isn’t the same as no footprint, so Ripley notes that Habitas also funds reforestation efforts “totaling at least two times the volume of material we use.” To its existing properties in Windhoek, Namibia, and Tulum, Mexico, Habitas is adding three new hotels this year: two more Mexico properties — in Quintana Roo and Baja Sur — and one in Saudi Arabia.
Museum Hotel Antakya
When the Asfuroğlu family began building a hotel in Antakya, Turkey, in 2010, they did what every developer must do in designated zones of this history-rich city, which stands partly atop the ruins of ancient Antioch. They conducted a borehole archaeological survey. The scope and scale of what they found shocked them: a trove of artifacts spanning two millennia. The subsequent excavation, Antakya’s largest in nearly a century, transformed the hotel’s focus — and upon opening last year, the Museum Hotel Antakya became a worldwide exemplar of honoring heritage and history. Among the hundreds of treasures on display: a spectacular, second-century mosaic of the Pegasus, made from stones in 162 hues, which is visible through a glass floor in the lobby, and another depicting colorful birds. The latter is especially meaningful to Sabiha Asfuroğlu Abbasoğlu, who heads up the family’s hotel group. “Our family’s surname is Asfuroğlu, and asfur means ‘bird’,” she says. “This mosaic reaffirmed that our involvement with the project was meant to be.”
No hotel brand has integrated sustainability quite like Six Senses — and the way CEO Neil Jacobs sees it, the brand’s eco-friendly mission is also good business. Six Senses’ breathtakingly granular guidelines for new construction cover everything from wood sourcing to the toxicity of fire retardants on fabrics. Each of the brand’s 17 hotels has an organic garden, and there’s an on-call permaculturist at HQ in Singapore to help troubleshoot problems.
An informal competition even began among the properties after a general manager in Thailand started raising chickens to provide guests with fresh eggs. Zighy Bay, in Oman, bought 1,000 goats for cheese and yogurt, and Shaharut, scheduled to open in Israel in August, will have camels for milk, too. At every property, a percentage of revenue is reserved for local sustainability initiatives, and potential owners who question that are rejected. (Six Senses operates but doesn’t own its hotels.) At Con Dao in Vietnam, the fund has supported endangered-turtle research, while at Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles, it has helped restore habitat for rare flycatchers. Plastic usage has halved brand-wide since 2018, and Six Senses aims to be entirely plastic-free by 2022, eliminating additional items like coffee capsules and yogurt containers. “Great food, great service, beautiful places…those are a given,” Jacobs says. “But wellness and sustainability are the key drivers of our success.”