By building sustainable hotels and developing robust human-resources programs for staff members, these Global Vision Awards honorees are improving the hospitality industry.

By Jeff Chu
Updated March 13, 2020
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The Breakers Hotel
| Credit: Courtesy of The Breakers

The Travel + Leisure Global Vision Awards aim 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.

A hotel can serve as much more than a place to rest one’s head or a gateway to a destination. It can be a major employer for locals and a force for change — both in society and for the hospitality industry at large. A 2019 report from Booking.com showed that fifty-five percent of travelers want to make more sustainable choices on the road, it’s no surprise many hotels are adopting eco-friendly practices and creating robust benefits and well-being programs for their employees. But the honorees in this Global Vision Awards category are particularly pioneering, with long histories of choosing environmentally responsible materials, avoiding single-use plastics, and supporting the land and communities around them. — T+L Editors

Desa Potato Head

Credit: Courtesy of Desa Potato Head

Asia-based hospitality group Potato Head grounds itself in a deep respect for nature and artisanal craftsmanship — two beliefs fundamental to the company’s Jakarta-born founder Ronald Akili. What that looks like in practice: supplies at Desa Potato Head, the company’s flagship complex of bars and hotels in the Bali resort town of Seminyak, come wrapped not in plastic but in banana leaves, according to Balinese custom. For the construction of Katamama, Desa’s all-suites boutique, Indonesian architect Andra Matin turned to Balinese artisans who had been making bricks for local temples for generations. And for Potato Head Studios, the newest Desa hotel, designer Faye Toogood created furniture using sustainable local rattan, which has been harvested from native palm trees and used on Bali for centuries.

Inkaterra

Credit: Courtesy of Inkaterra

Jose Koechlin, founder of the Inkaterra hotels collection, often says that his properties’ greatest asset is the natural environment that surrounds them. As such, he’s put conservation and sustainability at the core of his business. Since its founding in 1975, the company — the first Peruvian business to be certified carbon-neutral — has built a collection of seven stunning hotels in the wilderness of the Peruvian Amazon and high in the Andes Mountains. Each property integrates a robust model for both studying and nurturing the environment.

For starters, Koechlin is investing heavily in science: all of the hotels have at least one facility built in the service of conservation and biology. Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, an eco-lodge in Puerto Maldonado, maintains a butterfly house, while Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo has a rescue center for the research on and protection of the spectacled bear, South America’s only native bear species. Inside Tambopata National Reserve, the Inkaterra Guides Field Station — an eco-lodge that also houses a training center for the company’s guides — goes one step further. Its GreenLab, the Amazon’s first molecular-biology and genetics lab, welcomes researchers who study local ecology and work to conserve the diverse species endemic to the rain forest.

Koechlin and his team of naturalists have also collaborated with scientists to inventory the flora and fauna in and around Inkaterra properties. They have identified 29 previously unknown plant and animal species, such as a subtropical rusty-red amphibian called Koechlin’s tree frog, named in the hotelier’s honor.

The Breakers

Credit: Courtesy of The Breakers

While travelers will notice touches like the therapeutic sand-quartz massage bed and a chromotherapy tub at this Palm Beach, Florida, hotel’s spa, they probably won’t notice the remarkably holistic human-resources program designed to foster employees’ well-being.

Each of the 2,200 staffers, from the front-desk agents and bellhops to the managers, can get free nutrition and fitness training with an on-site advisor. During the growing season (typically November to mid-May), the 124-year-old hotel hosts a weekly, low-cost farmers’ market so that staffers have easy access to healthy food. Physicians are available for free 24/7 consultations through a telemedicine program, and the hotel goes beyond the usual 401(k) savings plan and company match, offering free financial counseling. To support employees’ charitable interests, the Breakers also allots up to 16 annual paid hours per person for community-service projects. In 2019, workers contributed just shy of 24,000 hours to local and national charities; major beneficiaries included Habitat for Humanity, the Palm Beach County Food Bank, and a homeless-outreach center called St. Ann Place. All told, this 360-degree approach has cultivated a staff whose pride in being there is palpable in every guest interaction.

Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort

Credit: Courtesy of Bucuti & Tara Resort Aruba

Beachfront cocktails at sunset and couples massages in ocean-view cabanas are par for the course at luxury Caribbean hotels. What sets this Aruba property apart is its status as the region’s first certified carbon-neutral resort — a distinction that stems from Austrian founder-owner Ewald Biemans’s relentless efforts to restore and preserve the paradise he encountered 50 years ago. Environmental consciousness informed Bucuti & Tara’s design, from the fitness-center floor surfaced with recycled tires and laundry bags made from upcycled linens to the solar panels that provide about 15 percent of the resort’s electricity. Gardens are irrigated by treated gray water from sinks, showers, and laundry. And the gym takes the idea of empowerment to a new level: as guests work out, exercise equipment also generates electricity for the resort.

Villa Copenhagen

Credit: Courtesy of Villa Copenhagen

Adaptive reuse is nothing new, but few hotels combine sumptuousness and sustainability as successfully as the 390-room Villa Copenhagen — slated to open this spring inside a neo-Baroque post office in the heart of Denmark’s capital. In an unusual move for the industry, the Preferred Hotels & Resorts property (pictured), led by managing director Peter Høgh Pedersen, has pledged to hew to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals — a set of 17 holistic principles for building a more just future. Villa Copenhagen’s ethos, termed “conscious luxury,” includes material comforts and beautiful design, of course, but also demands fair labor standards and the creation of community gathering spaces. It means maximizing local purchasing and minimizing waste, such as choosing conference-room chairs made out of plastic dredged from the ocean. This philosophy meets the real world in the property’s Earth Suite: a space designed by local firm Earth Studio that features brick and wood salvaged from the original post office, textiles woven from recycled plastic, and furniture by sustainable Danish manufacturer Mater.

Note: The Breakers is currently closed through April 8.