How Sustainable Travel Got Sexy
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How Sustainable Travel Got Sexy

We've come a long way in a decade

In Francisca Kellett’s first column for Country & Town House, she recalls her initial forays into the world of sustainable travel – and how much the industry has changed in the past decade.

The Trip: Sustainable Travel

Sky Penthouse at 1 Hotels Miami sustainable travel

Sky Penthouse at 1 Hotel Miami

When did sustainability get sexy? Why does everyone look like a model? Where can I get one of those cocktails? These are the questions that went through my head when I first saw the pool at 1 Hotel Miami, but it was the first that seemed the big one. This was 2015 and the rest of the hotel was a dead giveaway – huge living wall in the entrance, bamboo keys, drinking water taps in every room, all very eco and refreshing. But the pool was a scene. Buxom beauties sipped cocktails in reusable cups, bronzed meatheads oiled themselves with reef-safe sunscreen and there wasn’t a plastic straw in sight.

It was cool and fun and I couldn’t quite believe it. Because go back ten or 20 years, and sustainability was definitely not cool. We didn’t even call it ‘sustainability’. When I first dipped my toe in this world, as a volunteer at Tourism Concern in the early noughties, we called it eco-travel, or green travel. Tourism Concern was brilliant and hard-hitting, a lone voice campaigning for ethical tourism. But it wasn’t exactly… fun. Its campaigns were serious and thought-provoking – more UN motions than yum mojitos – and too many people didn’t care at all.

Editors certainly didn’t. When I first started writing for newspapers, my personal passion landed on deaf ears. Too niche, they said. Too boring, too worthy. And it was worthy. Eco-travel meant staying in a yurt and making your own yoghurt, all while wearing an awful lot of hemp. It did not mean a stay in a downright sexy hotel. It did not mean fun. I was told again and again that no one wants to be lectured to on holiday. And that’s true. We go on holiday to relax, to leave behind our everyday worries like work and school and impending climatic doom.

view from Sky Penthouse Terrace at 1 Hotels Miami

The view from Sky Penthouse Terrace at 1 Hotel Miami

And then I stayed at the 1 Hotel and you know what it didn’t do? It didn’t lecture. It didn’t ‘teach’. There was no guilt or deep thinking required. Sustainability was just there, woven into the fabric of the hotel. It was effortless. That was my lightbulb moment: we don’t need to ram this stuff down travellers’ throats. We can incorporate it gently, cleverly – and no need to scrimp on the luxury. So I did. By then I was the travel editor at Tatler magazine, and I’d drop in nuggets about conservation and community impact, while also mentioning celebrity guests and thousand-count sheets.

Now, thank god, we can be bolder. As travellers wake up to the impact we have on holiday – according to Booking.com’s latest sustainability report, 76 percent of us want to travel more sustainably – we can shout louder about how travel can be a force for good.

It’s everything I could have hoped for back in the dark, serious days of the noughties: travel doing good, and a magazine – like this one – that champions sustainability in all its joy. I’ll be joining the conversation on these pages, and I promise I won’t lecture. So pull up a sunlounger, relax, have an ethical cocktail. It’s just as delicious, and it’s guilt-free.