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A Responsible Approach To Luxury Travel (No, You Don't Have To Stint On Showers)

16/01/2016 8:39 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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WASHINGTON - JANUARY 5: Rose props float in a bath tub in the Presidential Suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel during a press preview of the hotel's 'Presidential Privilege 2005 Inauguration Package' January 5, 2005 in Washington, DC. The $200,500 package features a five-day, four-night stay in the 3,500-square foot Presidential Suite, private jet service to and from Washington, 24-hour personal butler service, designer inaugural ball fashions, tickets to an inaugural event, a personal chauffer-driven Maybach for the entire stay and a U.S. flag which had flown over the U.S. Capitol as a commemorative gift. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Solo travel, backpacking trips, family vacations, weekend getaways and more -- the travel sector has seen exponential growth in recent times. And with this grows our carbon footprint and the impact on the environment. Personally, I want to travel in style, but I also want my travel and stay to be environment-friendly, so I try to make my trips as responsible as possible.

But what is responsible travel? In bare bones terms it simply means that when we travel, we do not harm the environment in any way. Responsible tourism allows local communities to earn through tourism; it supports conservation; it supports local community initiatives; and it tries to limit the environmental impact of the vacation itself. It means that while travelling, we ensure the conservation of environment, we help and preserve the local heritage and culture, and possibly, we also give back to the destination in as many ways as possible. When we travel responsibly, we buy local, we don't litter and we follow a "leave no trace" policy. We choose hotels that employ locals and restaurants that serve local food and which support the local economy.

Luxury travel is now increasingly defined by a rising commitment to people, planet and self-improvement as much as indulgence, pampering and conspicuous consumption.

And I can say from experience that responsible travel is not only better for our planet, but it is also much more interesting and memorable.

While backpacking, couchsurfing and homestays are natural allies of responsible travel (they are literally down to earth, small in scope they allow you to assess your own impact on the environment), but what about luxury holidays? Can you be responsible, ethical and sustainable while staying at a five-star hotel or going on a luxury cruise? Can you do more than just reuse bed linen and limit your laundry?

The answer is, yes, luxury travel can be responsible. With the increase in the number of aware travellers and responsible travel trends, big airlines and hotel conglomerates are becoming more environmentally considerate. In recent years, sustainability in the travel sector has progressed from a truly niche consideration to an industry-wide priority. Many establishments are adopting eco-friendly initiatives and encouraging sustainable travel practices.

Whenever I opt for a luxury stay, I want it to be guilt free. I want to be responsible towards the planet. But let's get one thing clear: responsible travel should not be a burden on the guest.

I mean, a luxury hotel cannot charge $300 for a day and not let the guest take a bubble bath because it's a waste of water, right? I once stayed in a hotel in Singapore, which in the name of being "responsible" has an "only one item for laundry per day rule". Not fair for the traveller who's paying you a hefty sum, right? Strangely, I don't see many people taking about it openly.

So, how does the luxury travel industry make a guest's trip responsible in a way that it does not become the traveller's liability?

The answer is to find ways where high-end travellers are both pampered and yet able to give back to the community. Luxury travel is now increasingly defined by a rising commitment to people, planet and self-improvement as much as indulgence, pampering and conspicuous consumption. High-end hotels and airlines need to integrate sustainability into their offerings in exciting and inventive ways and continuously push boundaries.

ITC is the greenest luxury hotel chain in the world. You read it right, not just in India, but in the world. Makes you feel proud, right?

I know that a lot of big luxury airlines have options of selecting carbon offsetting charges into ticket prices -- like British Airways, New Zealand airlines Pacific Blue, Jetstar and the world's first carbon-neutral airline, Silverjet. It might not be the biggest step towards a sustainable and responsible luxury, but it's a start.

Hotels certainly have more opportunity to be sustainable, and a few big brands are already practicing it. The best example that comes to my mind is the ITC Maurya in Delhi -- it is a LEED Platinum-certified hotel that recycles 100% of its used water. They have a water treatment plant right at the back of the property, where all the hotel's used water is ozone polished and is then re-used in toilet flushes and other appropriate ways. The ozone polished water looks crystal clear and is completely odour less. This plant has helped reduce the total water consumption of the hotel by 50%. The Maurya also meets almost 58% of its electrical energy demand through renewable sources.

It comes as no surprise that ITC is the greenest luxury hotel chain in the world. You read it right, not just in India, but in the world. Makes you feel proud, right?

And that's the thing, a great degree of pride comes with knowing that all our travels can now be responsible, sustainable and have a minimum impact on the environment.

So, the next time you fly with a luxury airline, do opt for their offsetting charges. It is going to increase your fare, but if you can afford to travel in style, I'm assuming you can afford this as well. And, when you stay at a luxury hotel, do ask them about their sustainable practices and their responsible tourism policy. And if you are not satisfied, you should give your feedback on how they could change their ways and improve their responsible tourism practices. Make sure you don't just lecture - be aware and do your part too!

A version of this post first appeared on author's blog.

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