The Duke of Sussex launched Travalyst in 2019, a collaboration with major travel platforms like Tripadvisor, Skyscanner, Visa, and Booking.com, to establish a common measure for sustainability across the travel industry. They’ve released a first draft of their sustainable accommodation attributes for accommodations. Let’s dig into them below.
Why have a list of sustainability attributes?
For consumers, it’s difficult to know what a hotel means when it says it’s “eco-friendly”. What is sustainable tourism? What does it mean if a tour company offers you a “regenerative travel experience”? The idea with Travalyst is to bring big tourism players together and agree on the criteria for claiming something is good for the environment. It could develop into something similar to LEED certification for buildings that are good for the environment and the people in them.
Establishing a set of criteria for sustainable travel makes sense to your Guide. As I’ve booked my adventures for the new year, I’ve used my own set of criteria to identify which accommodations and experiences I want to support, always keeping in mind that question of: What do I want to give to the places I walk through?
How do Travalyst’s Sustainable Accommodation Attributes stack up?
Let’s get something out of the way quickly: Many people will be dissatisfied that these attributes for sustainable accommodation don’t go far enough, or may not even reach a bare minimum. But as Travalyst lays out the mission in their annual report (PDF), they want to “build a unified sustainability framework to drive forward a new, more responsible model for travel.” And they want to do that with “a global coalition of the world’s leading service providers in the travel industry.”
Considering that, this first draft is not about an ideal state. This is about what they could get large tourism-dependent corporations to sign on to during the biggest tourism slump in memory. Reading through the list, several of the attributes immediately jumped out as tax write-offs and incentives. Electric car charging stations? That’s a 30% tax credit and installation costs paid for in the US. LED light bulbs and low flow shower heads? In some Canadian provinces, you can get the full cost of those as a tax credit. Opt out of daily cleaning and towel replacement? Most hotel chains have already done that, and it was saving them money (although the pandemic ate those savings with more extensive cleaning protocols). Hotels need a recycling plan? All businesses in Japan are required to recycle by law. That law came into effect 21 years ago.
But if you’re launching a certification, and you want to get traction, you need to get it in front of people. So it makes sense you’d create an initial set of attributes many hotels would already qualify for. Immediately Google, Tripadvisor, and Booking.com can label accommodations as sustainable, and that generates interest and starts to shape consumer behaviors. I’m most interested in where these sustainability attributes go from here.
What do we want to see in eco-friendly accommodation criteria?
Considering Travalyst’s attributes were created in cooperation with large corporations, it’s not surprising the Destination & Community category is the shortest category. That seems to be where the employee health and welfare would fit in, but none of the attributes mention staff, work hours, or wages. This Guide would at least expect a living wage to be a criteria for a sustainable hotel. If employees can’t afford to eat and live because they work at your business, that’s definitively unsustainable.
In the Biodiversity & Ecosystems category, let’s see an attribute related to the ecological impact of construction or the size of a resort. If you destroy habitat and displace communities to build a resort, it doesn’t matter how many EV chargers you install, it’s never going to make up for that.
Let’s see an attribute on how a property disposes of waste. Organizations like Surfers Against Sewage are raising awareness about raw sewage dumping along the UK’s beaches. Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, only stopped dumping its raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean in 2021. There’s a global problem of using oceans as toilets and trash dumps. A sustainable hotel cannot.
Perhaps Travalyst can take some lessons from LEED certification. Graded levels will be important to consumers as any sustainability certification grows. It will give hotels an entry to eco-friendly practices, while also giving them an aspirational ideal to move towards. It’ll help consumers see clearly why they’re paying more for sustainable accommodation and exactly how that’s supporting the planet.
What sustainability criteria do you look for in an accommodation?