Can holidays be sustainable?

13 Mar 2021 by Tom Otley
Wilderness Safaris Little_Kulala__TCunniffe_035

Most of us are waiting to start travelling again, but can resorts and flying ever be sustainable? A webinar organised by Grifco PR brought together four resorts to discuss sustainability challenges.

The resorts were: Wilderness Safaris, Quinta do Lago Resort, Sani Resort and Svart

Each resort presented what it did to aid the environment and local communities, with each focusing on particular areas of concern.

Before looking at what each resort does for sustainability, I asked how they squared being eco friendly with the reality that most of their guests had to fly to get to their resorts. Here is what Neil Midlane, sustainability manager from Wilderness Safaris, said about that:

“Africa is a long haul destination for most of our guests and, with the rising awareness of the impact of air travel, has obviously been a concern to us. We also have to keep it in perspective, though. Global air travel makes up about two per cent of global carbon emissions around the world, so it is still tiny though it is projected to grow to about eight per cent. Of that two per cent, air travel to and within Africa is tiny, is less than 5 per cent of the 2 per cent.”

“What we have also realised is that when you take tourism out of these wilderness and wildlife areas in Africa they immediately come into threat of being converted into other land uses. And we know very well intact eco systems are far better at sequestering and holding carbon than converted landscapes or land converted into agricultural use.”

“There’s always these trade-offs that we have to make. And one of the trade-offs for travel to Africa is that you are going to have a carbon footprint from your air travel, but you also have to realise that by making that trip, you are essentially protecting these last wildlife places and the biodiversity and the functioning eco systems, and without going there they very won’t likely exist in 20 or 30 years.”

Here’s what each of the companies is doing…

Wilderness Safaris Little-Kulala-Namib-desert

Wilderness Safaris

The company has 40 camps across seven countries (Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe), and says it “helps to protect more than 2.3 million hectares across seven biomes harbouring 33 IUCN Red List species.”

While you would expect reusable water bottles to be filled with water that has been filtered through a reverse osmosis filtration system, the company has an even more innovative approach to plastic. It has reduced 3,000km of plastic in the form of cling wrap usage and replaced it with buzzy wraps (made with bees wax), many of them made by local villagers in the communities Wilderness Safaris support.

Other measures include:

  • Seasonal menus based on local fresh and indigenous produce for ingredients.
  • ‘Upcycling shift’ – whereby all cuttings and excess fruits and vegetables are used to make preserves, reductions and dehydrated snacks. The aim is to use all ingredients, from ‘root to stem’. In Rwanda and Namibia, anything that is unable to be used is turned into compost for the camp’s herb and vegetable gardens.
  • The camps also make use of pits where waste can degrade, which once filled, are covered with soil. This local disposal also reduces the need for additional trucks to remove waste. In some areas such as Rwanda, Botswana and Namibia, there are alternative arrangements with pig farmers who make use of the organic waste.
  • At Toka Leya in Zambia, organic waste is broken down at the on-site worm farm where compost is made to nourish the saplings that are planted as part of the camp’s reforestation project. Waste water from the camp is also cleaned and then used to irrigate the newly-planted trees and nursery seedlings.
  • 17 of the 45 Wilderness Safaris camps are 100 per cent solar (historically, generators accounted for 50 per cent of the company’s carbon emissions). The remainder all use a variety of hybrid solar and other power systems to mitigate fossil fuel usage. In addition to this, Wilderness Safaris have 845 solar geysers providing hot water to guests and staff, greatly reducing its power demand.
  • As Neil said (above), by operating sustainable safari camps, Wilderness Safaris contribute to the conservation of wilderness areas. The carbon that is sequestered helps ensure that the capacity of the planet to reabsorb it is not reduced, and that the photosynthetic processes that occur in these wilderness areas are not interrupted.
  • For water conservation, the camps employ various methods. Examples of this are:
    • Water efficient shower heads, taps and toilets
    • Rain harvesting where practicable or viable
    • The use of appropriate eco-detergents which are made using natural ingredients that do not pollute water sources or the environment
    • Water meters to take daily recordings, reported to a central database monthly
    • Water reticulation maps – to ensure that faults and leaks can be traced quickly
    • Low pressure systems set up in areas that are not connected to municipal water
    • The recirculation and use of ‘waste’ water from reverse osmosis filters
    • Biannual water tests in all lab certified camps
  • Waste water management requires careful management. As many of the camps are located in areas with high water tables or alongside rivers, 30 per cent use above-ground sewage treatment plants (STPs). These systems ensure there is no contamination of ground or surface water.
  • Forming and supporting Children in the Wilderness (CITW), a non-profit organisation that aims to facilitate sustainable conservation through leadership development and education of children in Africa including supporting local schools.
  • Supporting and creating Adult Empowerment Projects including community businesses to provide income generation.



Quinta do Lago Resort

Quinta do Lago in the Algarve, Portugal, is best known for its three 18-hole championship golf courses and lifestyle facilities including The Campus, a world-class sports hub designed for both professionals and amateurs. Business Traveller asked CEO Sean Moriaty if golfers really cared about the environment.

“I think they do actually. Golfers are very keen on everything from the material of their golf clothes, what it’s made of and where it is made through to their equipment. It’s all about communication and making sure the wider audience knows what we are trying to do.”

The golf courses at Quinta do Lago are currently closed [because of Covid restrictions], and the famous South Course is closed for even longer as it undergoes redevelopment. Moriaty says part of this is also to do with sustainability.

“The design is finished. We want to replace some of the grass types to more warm weather grass types which are less dependent on water”

Moriaty says that the whole resort is over 2,000 acres and leads down to the Ria Formosa “…which is a huge nature resort and we only allow nine per cent of development which means there’s a huge amount of green belt area which is given to nature reserves and green areas. It’s a huge focus for us, always has been, but now it’s more top of mind for our visitors.”

The resort is working with the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) and, following its ‘On Course’ environmental stewardship programme, has launched a multi-tiered plan with three key aims: to foster nature, conserve resources and support the community. This includes:

  • improving irrigation and introducing native plants in and around the golf courses to control and remove invasive exotic species
  • building ‘bug hotels’ for insects – helping to control garden pests so reducing the use of insecticides
  • increasing the number of bird-nesting boxes and constructing bee houses
  • removing single-use plastics at its restaurants
  • using a new fleet of electric golf buggies across the resort

In addition, the resort will offer guided nature walks through the golf courses and educational trips to the resort farm.

Mark Tupling has been recently appointed as golf course superintendent at Quinta do Lago and will oversee the implementation of the strategy on the golf courses.

“As a trained agronomist, I am an advocate for environmentally-responsible approaches to life and this is something I also aspire to uphold in the way I manage golf courses. Quinta do Lago is blessed to border the Ria Formosa – one of the world’s largest nature reserves – and working with environmental organisations is a key focus of mine in promoting the benefits that golf courses offer in nature.”

The resort is one of the biggest employers in the Almancil area with more than 500 staff employed throughout the year.


Sani_resort_Halkidiki Greece

Sani Resort

Sani Resort in Halkidiki, Greece, launched a sustainability programme several years ago aimed at improving the resort’s sustainability performance, from energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources, to water conservation and sustainable procurement.

Recent successes include a three per cent reduction in energy use in 2019, a 48 per cent reduction in water use per guest since 2016 and the recycling of two million kilos of materials in the last five years. All single use plastics have been banned at the resort since 2019 and all of the resort’s electricity usage comes from renewable sources.

Central to Sani Resort’s sustainability vision is the resort’s goal to become Greece’s first carbon neutral resort by 2024. Sani Resort’s zero carbon footprint is already in place for 2020, due to the offsetting of carbon emissions. Its own renewable energy projects are currently being developed, and by 2024 all renewable energy will be produced in fields close by to the resort. Coupled with this, the team at Sani Resort are consistently developing ways to reduce energy use across the hotels and outlets.

A 1,000-acre ecological reserve surrounds the resort with 10 Blue Flagged beaches, and over 250 acres of protected wetlands and forest trails. The resort encourages its guests to connect with nature whilst on holiday.

Home to 225 bird species, the resort’s birdwatching tours in the Sani wetlands have seen a 680 per cent increase in participation since 2013. Additionally, in 2019 alone, over 3,400 guests took part in a Sani eco-excursion during their stay – including the Sani Explorer activities for children and external excursions, such as beekeeping trips, olive harvesting and day trips to the American Farm School of Thessaloniki.

Sani Resort’s full 2019 Sustainability Report can be viewed here.




The futurist-looking 99-room Svart hotel will open in Norway’s Arctic Circle in 2022 and claims it will be the world’s first ‘energy-positive’ hotel. What does that mean? Well, its low-impact design will allow the project to consume approximately 85 per cent less energy than the traditional hotel. In fact it will “produce more energy than it uses”, aiming to be “fully off-grid, carbon neutral and zero waste within the first five years of operation”.

The hotel’s roof will be clad with Norwegian solar panels that were produced using clean, hydro-energy. This will further reduce overall carbon footprint, while energy-intensive building materials such as structural steel and concrete have been avoided as much as possible.

Architects working on the project “conducted an extensive mapping-out of how solar radiation behaves in relation to mountainous context throughout the year, in order to optimise energy output”. The findings influenced the design of the hotel, with hotel rooms, restaurants and terraces strategically placed within a circular design to exploit the sun’s energy no matter the time of day or season.

Inspired by the Norwegian Fiskehjell (a wooden structure used to dry fish) and Rorbue (a fisherman’s traditional seasonal home), the hotel is being built upon a weather-resistant wooden supporting structure. This will be constructed using poles that stretch several metres below the fjord’s surface, dissolving the boundary between land and fjord. This ensures zero land impact and reduces seabed disruption to the absolute minimum.

Located in Norway’s Meløy municipality, Svart will perch atop the crystal-clear waters of the Holandsfjorden fjord, at the base of the glacier itself. The glass-fronted, circular design will provide a panoramic view of the fjord, glacier and in the winter months, the spectacular Northern Lights, all without compromising on guests’ privacy.

All transfers from the airport will be by electric car and Svart’s two electric boats will be charged by the surplus energy produced by the hotel, and will provide transfers by water.

Four restaurants will provide a variety of dining options at Svart, while a 1,000-square-metre, indoor-outdoor spa will offer a variety of holistic treatments, from the traditional and Norwegian, to the medically and technologically cutting-edge. All Svart therapists will use 100 per cent sustainable, locally sourced products.


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