Sustainability is the New Luxury-Tourism is a business of leisure and recreation. Therefore, quality (luxury) is a key differentiating factor between products. In this industry, excesses also define luxury. Too many tourism professionals still believe that sustainability threatens quality. They still see sustainability in terms of reducing water use, reducing energy use, and reducing waste, reducing noise, and construction using natural material among others. Indeed, at the advent of ecotourism/sustainable tourism in Kenya, no tourism facility with rooms that had four concrete walls, would have passed an ecotourism (sustainability) test (scorecard). Sustainability was also more about what the business did and had less focus on the consumer. This perception is informed by early practice of sustainability, which focused on reduction of negative environmental impacts.
There was another influence on early practice of sustainability. Businesses were managing negative impacts to “look-good”. The consumer and by extension luxury, were subconsciously ignored. This perception was consolidated as the ecotourism movement became associated with adventure/nature tourism. It is about this time that lodges in Kenya experimented with concepts like “dry-toilets”, introduced new aspects of game viewing like walking safaris, transformed the lodge concept from 100% concrete to use of local material and reduced the number of beds per facility to reduce impact. They also started to engage local people as guides and improved the bucket shower concept. Later developments involved partnerships, conservation and land management approaches. The journey of sustainability had begun. Over the years the sustainability space has broadened and the concept has significantly evolved.
However, the early sustainability considerations, based on reductions, green architectural designs and “look good” activities, remain valid. They define, in my view, the “minimalist” era in the sustainability evolution. However, the
Today, emphasis is on adding value to products and services by heightening social and environmental values of the product. The focus is on the customer as well. As such, businesses can create new experiences for guests by incorporating sustainable (green) elements to products and services. For example, food experience can be enhanced by sourcing produce from certified organic suppliers, enabling guests to pick their combination of fresh vegetables from a vegetable garden, buying from “fair trade” labels, or even instituting measures to manage food waste. Businesses can also enhance the food experience of guests by joining global campaigns to reduce food waste and sharing this information with guests. Equally, accommodation experiences can be enhanced by “green sourcing’ of fittings and furnishings.
As demand for ‘green/clean” production expands, opportunities to enhance experience through sustainability are being made available everywhere, making it possible for every aspect of tourism to incorporate sustainability without compromising quality. It is reported that by the end of 2014, sustainability had become much more achievable, doable, common practice on travel and tourism industry.
This transition from “doing good” to “being good” and focusing on enhancing product/service experiences, as opposed to only reducing negative impact, can be equated to a shift from linear to circular economies. It is about harnessing innovation and creativity to enable positive outcome. In tourism, positive outcomes are nothing more than memorable experiences for guests.
As with the shift from linear to circular economies, the transformation of sustainability into experience (luxury) is a systematic process that requires good governance as well as sustainable management systems and structures. These processes and systems are best observed through practices of award winning businesses/leaders in sustainable tourism – in essence reviewing current trends in sustainable tourism.