Q&A with Six Senses' head of sustainability
Six Senses has long been a pioneer in sustainable travel. The group has been championing an eco-friendly approach since its inception in 1995, and continues to marry sustainability and luxury across its 33 global hotels and spas. As the eco-luxury trend gains traction, Aspire chats to Six Senses' head of sustainability, Jeff Smith, about why responsible tourism is so necessary and how the group continues to implement it across an ever-growing portfolio of properties.
Have you seen a rise in affluent clients actively seeking eco-friendly holidays?
Six Senses guests continue to demonstrate strong demand for responsible hotels and holidays. According to Booking.com, more than two-thirds (68%) of travellers intend to stay in eco-accommodation in 2018, which is reassuringly up from 65% in 2017 and 62% in 2016.
Why do you think an increasing number of luxury travellers are becoming concerned with their green footprint?
The world has woken up to the fact that our impact on the planet matters. We see those impacts in climate-related forest fires and in rivers choked with disposable plastic. These are no longer hypothetical concerns, but a harsh reality. People want to be part of the solution, and most importantly I believe they want to trust that their impacts are being properly managed for them during their holidays, allowing them relaxing, rejuvenating, and legitimately guilt-free vacations.
When did Six Senses start investing in sustainability and why?
Sustainability has been central to our brand since our origins in the 1990s. Before anyone was calling this ‘sustainability’ we were curating luxury guest experiences that benefited local communities and environments. Today, we have a standard clause in our management agreements that provides funding for these programs, above and beyond normal hotel operations. By investing in local communities and environments we protect assets essential to our business – people travel to see the world, experience unique cultures and see beautiful places – so it’s in our best interest to maintain strong communities and healthy ecosystems. That’s just good business.
Can you give our readers some examples of how sustainability and conservation is implemented in Six Senses resorts?
Where to start? Each individual resort develops a program that meets local needs. All Six Senses resorts bottle drinking water in reusable glass bottles, compost organic ‘waste’ and use that to feed our organic gardens. We got rid of plastic straws in 2016 and are focussing now on what we call ‘Plastic Free 2022’. All units track waste, water, and energy and are audited for compliance to our Sustainable Operations Guideline system which covers behaviour and equipment in great detail across all hotel departments. Outside the hotel, local community and environmental projects are selected based on the specific needs of that location: from water filters in the community, to teachers in schools, to coral nurseries, to reforestation work. Funding is kept at the local level and used to enhance the sustainability of each hotel location.
Which destinations and resorts are best suited to travellers wishing to have a more eco-friendly holiday?
All Six Senses destinations are well suited to ‘eco-friendly’ holidays. Our strongest marine biology team is at SixSenses Laamu in the Maldives, our biggest organic farming impacts are at Six Senses Bhutan, while in the Seychelles Six Senses Zil Pasyon is reintroducing critically endangered plant species in an island restoration program. Each Six Senses location takes on projects specific to the local ecology – so I recommend interested guests check out all properties and find what interests them personally.
The term eco-luxury is now being touted. Is being sustainable and luxurious a hard balance to strike?
We do not find any contradiction between being luxurious and being sustainable. In fact, our more discerning guests tend to expect that any potential negative impacts resulting from their stay will be managed for them, seamlessly, resulting in fantastic experiences that also benefit local communities and the environment.
Why is it important for travellers to be thinking about responsible tourism?
Irresponsible tourism erodes the very things that all travellers love: beautiful and authentic destinations. For all of us who love to travel and want to continue our journeys, we must protect the value.
What can travellers do to improve their eco footprint when they travel?
Carry a refillable water bottle, offset travel related carbon emissions, and stay with Six Senses!