In the process of cleaning off my desk I came upon this article I had ripped out of Conde Nast Traveler on “green hotels,” appropriately called False Advertising. Just as half the products and herbal concoctions in Korea claimed to be “good for health” when I was there, every hotel with an ample PR budget seems to be falling all over itself to say, “We’re green!” Witness the writer’s experience in Costa Rica:
When I asked the manager of one so-called eco-hotel what makes his property green, he responded, “Well, for one thing, all of our rooms have air-conditioning, but mostly I think it’s the ocean view.” The proprietor of a similar establishment, when asked the same question, told me that her assistant manager was a volunteer firefighter in his spare time. Among the massive all-inclusive resorts and water-guzzling golf courses of the gated “Papagayo Eco-Development,” I spoke to reservationists who assured me of strong commitments to the environment on the part of their employers, but when pressed could point to nothing specific.
Unfortunately, it’s only fair for me to admit that the more luxurious a hotel is, the more wasteful it is usually going to be. A budget guesthouse isn’t going to have its own huge generators and the guests are probably not drinking eight plastic bottles of water a day from their always-on minibar. The guests there are going to use their sheets and towels more than one night—often they don’t have a choice! But a big hotel can do other things right when they’re getting $500 a night.
The article notes that Lapa Rios Ecolodge can afford to transport items 230 miles to a recycling center. Orient-Express carted decades worth of trash away from Machu Picchu when it set up operations in Peru and is at the forefront of keeping the area clean because of its Hiram Bingham train and the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. A big new development I just visited in Honduras is the first one on its bay to recycle all waste water on site and use solar power to heat its hot water. These things cost money.
Some efforts don’t cost money though and are more a matter of attitude, of really caring what happens to the land and the people surrounding the place where tourists are sequestered.
I’ll leave it with this quote from the False Advertising article:
“I think it really boils down to one question: How does a business contribute to the conservation of the local community?” says Ronald Sanabria, of the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance. “If a business—even one in a city—can’t provide you with a concrete response, it’s not practicing ecotourism and there is no substance to any claim that it is. It’s up to the consumer to decide if that’s acceptable.”