No One Cares about Sustainable Travel? We Beg to Differ

We are big fans of and its founder and CEO Rafat Ali. We love how he speaks up and challenges industry leaders and politicians on travel-related issues.  Last month, Ali published a great article entitled “The 21 Uncomfortable Truths That I Have Learned About the Travel Industry”.  In it, he says that some of the learnings have been “reinforcing”, some even “humbling”, and others somewhat “disappointing”.  While we agree with most of his “truths”, we find one of them particularly uncomfortable.

#13 “… no one cares about sustainable travel, not the travel industry, and certainly not the travelers.  Going green or caring about the environment are ego-boosting mantras taken out at the right moments and soon to be forgotten in the daily scheme of things.”

Ouch.  To say that no one cares might be a bit of an overstatement.  I for one know that we at Cayuga care and I know plenty of other colleagues and friends who certainly do too.  At the Cayuga Collection, we are passionate about having a positive impact through our hotels and lodges.  We find inspiration every day in the incredible influence we’ve been able to have on conservation and community.  Our business may not be huge scale, but it does employ over 450 locals in remote areas of Central America and we’ve contributed to the protection of thousands of acres of endangered rainforest.

At our hotels and lodges, we walk the talk.  We don’t pull out insincere “ego-boosting mantras” to make ourselves or our guests feel good.  We’ve been implementing best practices in sustainability since the mid-1990s and have stuck to our values through financial and political crises time and time again.  We’ve also managed to “export” the model from Costa Rica to neighboring Nicaragua and Panama, setting the standards for the next generation of hoteliers.

Take a look here to find out in more detail how we do sustainability The Cayuga Way.

As for travelers, do they care about sustainability?  Rafat Ali thinks not.  We, on the other hand, don’t know if the answer is so clear-cut.  There’s certainly a wealth of research out there suggesting that travelers do care, but when it comes to decision making, sustainability doesn’t seem to rank so highly on their list of priorities.

Here is our take: We understand that most of our guests don’t book our hotels and lodges because of our eco-leader status.  What’s more, we doubt that the many international awards we’ve won for our sustainability work even come into it at the decision-making stage.  One thing we’re confident about though is that once they stay with us and experience the symbiosis o, they start to become more and more interested and even passionate.

Who says sustainability cannot be sexy? Kura – located in Uvita, Costa Rica – is a perfect example of how sustainability and luxury can co-exist and create extraordinary guest experiences.

By far we’ve seen the biggest impact with our complimentary “back of the house” tours, extended to all of our guests.  At some point along the way, while they’re exploring the hotel’s installations and learning about how we apply sustainable practices in every area of the operation, something just clicks.  Almost every time, a kind of transformation takes place within them.  Our guests get passionate about sustainability and start to care a lot.

In an ideal world, we would love to show our sustainability efforts and back of the house to every single guest that visits us. We find that especially children are very interested to learn about sustainability and how to do things right.

To a certain extent, we do agree with Rafat.  Not enough people in the travel industry truly care about sustainability.  We see a lot of greenwashing going on and not enough action.  Being “sustainable” isn’t about quick fixes that “help the environment”.  It’s a philosophy that requires long-term commitment, investment, and a bigger picture view.

So… how can we change this?  How can we expand our reach from Central America to inspire more industry leaders and travelers?  We have invited Rafat to come and visit us, and are eagerly awaiting his response.

We would love to discuss this topic in more detail.  What’s your take on sustainable travel?  Have you been inspired by our “back of the house” tours?  Ideas and thoughts from travelers and industry professionals welcome.  Leave us a comment below or write to us at

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Hans Pfister

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