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OPINION

Eco travel: where less is more

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaFor hotels the grass has never been greener as costly luxury perks are brazenly excised to 'save the planet' and to ease traveller guilt. But do eco-travellers exist?

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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Eco travel, where less is more

What the...! Where did all my luxury perks go and why am I paying more for a zero-calorie binge?

HAVE you ever wondered why your 500 thread count linen is not getting changed daily? Or why that bespoke spa menu is just a solitary if heroic leaf of lettuce? Or why your unwashed soggy towels still lie in wait to enjoy the comforting camaraderie of your expanding waist? It's because hotels are trying to save the world.

They are also, like Trump's White House and equally anonymously, trying to save you from your worst instincts.

More and more hotels today are subscribing to something called ISO 14001 and if you think it is an inmate registration number from Prison Break you'd better scurry online and figure it all out because it is going to hound you for the rest of your travelling life.

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The adoption of ISO 14001 standards have purportedly helped Hilton save over US$550m since 2009 through reduced water usage, cuts in waste, drop in energy consumption and a shrinking carbon footprint. You get the drift. Hotels are going green. ISO is the new tool of cool and, coolest of all, hotels know that do-gooder customers simply cannot disagree if the only alternative is climate change and the return of Godzilla .

{guests applaud and willingly prostrate themselves for further flagellation on account of the earth's great misery as interpreted by mega-corporations

Go-green deals are much the vogue suddenly and hotels observe Earth Hour with meticulous attention, turning off all power for a full 60 minutes while sweaty guests applaud and willingly prostrate themselves for further flagellation on account of the earth's great misery as interpreted by mega-corporations. Yet people complain monstrously when the power goes off in New Delhi at the height of summer. India celebrates Earth Hour capriciously and at random but wins no plaudits for its efforts.

Of course it is entirely true that resources are finite and must be preserved and used with thrift and care. The Sixties generation learned this from nation-builder parents who survived and participated in great wars and independence movements thus realising the value of life and scarce resources. Millennials today are rediscovering that sense of care for the planet bombarded as they are with messages of imminent doom. The time is ripe then for another green revolution.

Yet when hotels take away luxury benefits under the guise of going green – thus enabling them to save huge sums of money on bed turndowns, laundry, food, staffing and electricity – will guests go along with the script? Conventional wisdom says that guests prefer eco-friendly establishments and green services as they feel better about themselves and because they associate themselves with a healthier Planet Earth.

Data suggests this may indeed be the case. Booking.com reports two-thirds of peripatetics "intend to stay in eco-accommodation" while many more wish to "travel sustainably". Factors range from "being impressed by natural sights" (60%) to "feeling guilty" (32%) about the adverse impact of their travels. The travel booking giant believes among the adjustments luxury travellers are willing to make are an acceptance of energy-saver bulbs (94%), air-conditioning only while the room is occupied (89%), and less frequent towel and linen changes (75%). This is music to hotelier ears.

Another study from Cornell found that for many travellers "green operations still do not override considerations of price and convenience in selecting a hotel." While the jury is out on whether eco-friendly practices boost a hotel's earning power (some would say not), companies like ecobnb are entirely predicated on customers wishing to spend money on green escapes. They believe there's profit to be made.  

And then you take just one economy roundtrip flight Hong Kong to London and your carbon footprint rockets up to a walloping 1.66 metric tons of CO2 to offset which you might spend say US$35 on replanting trees in the UK or a significantly larger sum replanting trees in recently deforested Hong Kong following Super Typhoon Mangkhut's rampage. Or you might treat me to several meatless "Impossible Burgers" to prevent me from sauntering to the supermarket to buy non-free-range meat. This is not a threat. I happen to like the stuff. The mission statement says "We found a way to make meat using plants." And save the planet… Here we go again. But can they cook up a gorgeous low maintenance woman from soya who doesn't scream '#MeToo' every time you think twisted vegan thoughts? Time will tell.

But I shall insist on an LEED certificate. The acronym simply stands for leadership in energy and environmental design, a certification that applies equally to schools, buildings, healthcare and urban development, but not as yet to women. I am now on the prickly horns of a dilemma and, lacking a matador's artful evasive grace, what do I do? As a self-paying solo business traveller do I pick the most romantic hotel (nuts), the most luxurious (totally nuts), the greenest (hmm), or simply the most economical (well…)?

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