A Bit About The Origins Of Clean The World

Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World, with used hotel soap before it will be recycled for those in need. Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Reusing things versus wasting them has been a major theme in these pages, especially in relation to travel and hospitality. Looking back at posts about washing hands for a cleaner world and then another about soap making for the same, it is not surprising we had already featured Clean The World in a couple earlier posts. Thanks to Victoria M. Walker for this conversation with the founder:

Getting the World Clean, One Recycled Bar of Soap at a Time

Meet Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World. The nonprofit recycles partially used soap left behind from hotel guests for those in need.

When hotel or motel guests check into their rooms, they expect at the very least to be greeted with a clean space, a made-up bed and in the bathroom, soap.

But what happens when you leave that soap behind? Continue reading

Raise the Roof


Yesterday evening, I watched a truck filled to the brim with groundsmen and bundles of bright greenery drive past the main plaza of Chan Chich Lodge. I thought nothing of it until I spoke with Crist this morning. Little did I know, this truckload of fan-shaped leaves was a major component of the contextual design and functionality of the property, and therefore, a huge element of my internship in sustainable hospitality development.

Today was a roof repair day.

The roofs of the cottages on site are constructed using a traditional Mayan style of layering young bay leaves on top of each other, starting around the perimeter and working in and up to create four slabs. Over time, the sun dries the plants to a sandy brown color and hardens them into a durable barrier. An entire roof is never redone at once. Instead, only weak spots are repaired. What is needed is cut down from the surrounding forest, and the old leaves are decomposed and recycled back into the earth: the epitome of closed loop system sustainability.

This practice dates back to ancient Mayan civilization. The men would go into the forest and cut down young, green bay leaves— but only a week and a half before or after a full moon. Why? Continue reading

Demanding Action From Those Accountable


Newly bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef near Palm Island in February. Photograph: Australian Marine Conservation Society

We could not have said it better:

As the Great Barrier Reef faces the return of coral bleaching, why are Mantra, Accor and Marriott still silent on Adani? Continue reading

A Stay in History

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959. Credit Dave Chance Photography

Earlier this year when I wrote about the Art Institute of Chicago’s Airbnb listing of their reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Arles bedroom I thought that was the pinnacle of Airbnb cool.

Staying at a home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright seems equally as fun but far more expansive then the 19th century artist’s exuberantly painted bedroom – taking in the view for starters.

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959, is one of Wright’s last commissioned works. It’s a hemicycle-shaped dwelling made of brick with a vast windowed living area overlooking a lake. Continue reading

Hotel As Showroom

Merrick-West-Elm-1200 (1).jpg

A prototype for a room in the hotel chain that the furniture retailer West Elm plans to launch in Charlotte, North Carolina, and other cities. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY WEST ELM

This article goes on to make a very specific point about the experience of this company, in the state where it is based, which is not so much what caught my attention (more on which below):

Jim Brett, the president of West Elm, the furniture chain that sells what you might call mainstream modern furniture, was looking for the brand’s next act. He didn’t think he’d find it at the mall; West Elm already has more than a hundred stores. Children’s furniture might have been a logical next step, but it is burdened by complex safety regulations. Where else do lots of people sleep and sit? Brett, a frequent traveller, had spent countless nights in sterile, unwelcoming rooms. Hotels seemed like a good opportunity.

Last year, West Elm opened a commercial division for office furniture, and the company is now making furniture for Marriott’s SpringHill Suites hotels. More significantly, West Elm also signed a deal with a partner to open its own branded hotels. Brett and other executives discussed design ideas and scouted locations in mid-tier U.S. cities whose hotel markets seemed underdeveloped. Charlotte, North Carolina, was especially promising. Continue reading

When Silence Is Golden


It is not a principle of branding, per se, that silence is golden; just the opposite normally, since getting the message out is the point, and messages seem defined by noise, however subtle or clever. But Finland, by way of this article in Nautilus, has had me thinking, in the couple days since I read it, about alternative views on the value of silence, on messaging, on branding:

One icy night in March 2010, 100 marketing experts piled into the Sea Horse Restaurant in Helsinki, with the modest goal of making a remote and medium-sized country a world-famous tourist destination. The problem was that Finland was known as a rather quiet country, and since 2008, the Country Brand Delegation had been looking for a national brand that would make some noise.

Over drinks at the Sea Horse, the experts puzzled over the various strengths of their nation. Here was a country with exceptional teachers, an abundance of wild berries and mushrooms, and a vibrant cultural capital the size of Nashville, Tennessee. These things fell a bit short of a compelling national identity. Someone jokingly suggested that nudity could be named a national theme—it would emphasize the honesty of Finns. Someone else, less jokingly, proposed that perhaps quiet wasn’t such a bad thing. That got them thinking. Continue reading

A Bite Into the Past

Shanghai airport selfie

Singapore airport selfie

Singapore is a strange yet interesting place to experience a 16 hour layover in between flights from India and the Gold Coast of Australia where I have recently arrived. It’s a mecca for travel and a melting pot for cultures from around the globe. Upon arrival, I found myself starving after refusing to buy a $14 turkey sandwich from my low-budget airline. Luckily I also found myself surrounded by restaurants with countless choices of different cuisines inside of the airport. Of all the choices, I couldn’t force myself to part ways with the amazing smell of Indian spices and I sat down and ordered my “go-to”, my “Kerala heaven on a plate”: lacha paratha and a beef biriyani. I took my first bite and it took me way back… Continue reading

Munnar in 24 hours

The classic 350cc Royal Enfield or “Bullet”

When I arrived in Kerala around 6 weeks ago it would never have occurred to me to drive here in India. Based on my first impression of driving I was overwhelmed just sitting in the passenger seat. But between making new friends and my thirst for experiencing more of this beautiful state, it’s amazing what a mere 45 days can do. But a journey is multi-faceted; it’s not only about where one is going, but how one gets there, and everything in between.

I arrived to Fort Kochi in the late afternoon in search of a Royal Enfield, a classic Indian-made motorcycle that I’ve had a crush on for a while now. The older models are “backwards” to the typical bike, with the gear foot-lever on the right side and the break lever on the left. I was determined to find the newer model where the arrangement is “normal”. After scouring the city and asking every bike rental and all the contacts available to me, it was apparent that there was no chance of finding what I was looking for. With that news I made the decision to go with what was available rather than what I wanted, (a perfect example of the flexibility that India demands) and I paid the Rs. 800, roughly $13 for the rental. I couldn’t believe what I’d just done: My first time driving in India and I’d rented a totally unfamiliar bike from an unfamiliar source with a 6 hour drive ahead of me, at night. My nerves were tingling at the realization!

Luckily, Dilshad, a friend from Marari Pearl who’d been planning everything for us, was with me. We started the drive through Cochin rush hour traffic. Slowly, I began to stretch my motorcycle-memory-muscles, and gradually the drive became more pleasurable. Soon enough, I was flirting with my 350cc beauty and she was smiling back.

Continue reading

Mindo, Ecuador: Tourism without context



An ethereal plant from the ginger family from an orchid garden in Mindo

I just got back from Mindo, Ecuador, a small town with a lot to do. It’s about an hour and a half from Quito and we took a bus through winding roads in a cloud forest with beautiful sights of waterfalls along the way. Upon arriving, we promptly found a hostel and went ziplining within the first hour. After that, we did a “tarzan jump” off a 30 meter platform into the cloud forest. In the afternoon, we went tubing followed by a tour of a chocolate factory. Before dinner that day, I had a full, multi-layered sensory experience of my body in nature. It wasn’t until later, when I saw a mural on a wall, full of paintings of gringos and tourists ziplining that I realized what was missing. Continue reading

Aerial Photography, Old School Edition

A pigeon with a small camera attached. Neubronner used the trained birds to capture aerial images before and during the war. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY DEUTSCHES BUNDESARCHIV

A pigeon with a small camera attached. Neubronner used the trained birds to capture aerial images before and during the war. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY DEUTSCHES BUNDESARCHIV

A post on the New Yorker‘s website adds one more drop in the ocean of appreciation we have for birds:

The Origins of Aerial Photography


…In 1908, Julius Neubronner, who had used carrier pigeons in his work as an apothecary, filed a patent for a miniature camera that could be worn by a pigeon and would be activated by a timing mechanism. Continue reading

New Year and New Beginnings, 2014


Photo credits: M N Shaji

New Year’s Eve is a time of new beginnings.We believe in celebrating with all our guests all the achievements and learning of the previous year along with the joy of stepping into a new year with new expectations and beliefs and hope for new opportunities. We welcome our guests in the traditional Indian way with a small performance followed by aarthi and tikka and blessings from an elephant who represents the elephant headed god Ganesha, the god of beginnings. Continue reading

Tourism Event in Thekkady

Entrance to the Tourism Event

Entrance to the Tourism Event

This past weekend Cardamom County was the venue for a Thekkady Destination Promotion Council (TDPC) event to promote the activities available in Thekkady and Kumily. At first I thought it was just going to be like other conference events I had witnessed in my 3 months here, but I soon realized I was wrong. The first evidence of my misconception came when someone asked me if I was coming early to see the elephants before the guests arrived.  I was completely surprised by the question but of course I responded, “yes!” quite aware that this event was becoming a lot more interesting than I had previously thought. Continue reading

Kettuvallom – Houseboats

Photo credits:Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

The publishers of the most recent edition of the Lonely Planet India place Kerala’s backwaters as second only to the Taj Mahal in their “must do” list of the country. The houseboat experience is partially the reason why. Traditional Kettuvallom are thatch-covered barges built to carry rice and other commodities through the waterways that once formed the lifeline of Kerala’s transportation systems. Continue reading

Entrepreneurial Conservation In Rajasthan

Photography by Robert Polidori.  BLUE HEAVEN | Built in the 15th century by Rao Jodha, the walls of the fortress of Mehrangarh are 70 feet thick. Many of the houses of Jodhpur are painted blue to deflect the sunlight, and, according to folklore to repel insects.

Photography by Robert Polidori. BLUE HEAVEN | Built in the 15th century by Rao Jodha, the walls of the fortress of Mehrangarh are 70 feet thick. Many of the houses of Jodhpur are painted blue to deflect the sunlight, and, according to folklore to repel insects.

The Wall Street Journal carries a feature that is quite our cup of tea:

EACH SPRING, Maharaja Gaj Singh II hosts a Sufi music festival inside his family’s vast desert fort in the Indian city of Jodhpur. From a distance, this monumental sandstone fortress, called Mehrangarh, looms over the city’s chalky blue buildings, evoking the country’s ancient and otherworldly history. And yet people fly in from across the globe because the festival—and the maharaja who hosts it—blends old India so deftly with new. Continue reading

Reflecting on My Time at Cornell

Moving is almost always a bittersweet experience.

Over the past week, my move from Ithaca back to California certainly erred more on the side of bitterness, and like many of my peers, I find it very difficult to believe that I am now a Cornell alumnus. But the four years have indeed come to an end, and I now sit in my room in Cupertino, wondering what graduating from the Hotel School would mean for me. In the process, I thought back to some of the advice that professors and mentors had given to me during my undergraduate career. It’s with great pleasure that I share some of that advice today with my fellow Cornell students and alumni.

Cornell central campus: a sight that I will dearly miss.

Continue reading

So I’ve arrived at Cardamom County

This week, I arrived in Thekkady, at the frontier between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. My name is Allegra I’m a french professional who decided to take a break from hectic Paris to learn about entrepreneurial conservation and eco-tourism. I’ll spend the next two months at Cardamom County with Raxa Collective. Cardamom County borders the Periyar Tiger Reserve. As it nears the center of a bustling spice-trading town, I sometimes forget we’re in a forest. Nature always finds a way to remind you though. Continue reading

The “What’s Different?” Series: Delta Vancouver Suites

I was already snapping photos of the signage in the lobby when I was greeted by the Sales Manager at the Delta Vancouver Suites. She was happy to discuss the many green initiatives and practices at the property, and I was eager to learn them. As a conversation with one of the hotel’s managers, this visit was perhaps more informative than my previous night spent as a guest of the Century Plaza.

The last of the in-room plastic water bottles

We started with a tour of guest rooms, which get great natural light and where she explained that the hotel was in the process of phasing out plastic water bottles, newspapers and coffee makers in guest rooms. The water bottles are replaced with filtered tap in reusable bottles, and newspaper and coffee available on request or in the lobby.

Over a tasty lunch I gained some insight into the employee perspective. Continue reading

The “What’s Different?” Series: Century Plaza, Vancouver

As my first of the trip, I checked into the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa in Vancouver with ears piqued and eyes peeled, self-inducing a sensitivity to visible manifestations of the hotel’s “green” commitment. But nothing about the lobby seemed different from your average hotel: reception, elevator bank, informational television screens, a café, a spa – it all seemed quite deluxe.

Then I arrived in the room. Continue reading

The “What’s Different?” Series: An Exploration of Green Hotels in Western North America

With links to so many globally impactful human activities, such as transportation, lodging, foodservice and agriculture, the tourism industry is uniquely positioned to effect a paradigm shift toward this thing called sustainability. Buzzword though it is, sustainability has perhaps too many potential concrete applications to be easily defined in abstract terms. With a certain root sense of lasting or enduring, and more current denotations that are important in a global way, sustainability can be manifested in many real ways through business.

Finding myself motivated by applications of this concept in hospitality businesses, I set upon a mini-quest during the summer, making a series of five visits to hotels that do it well.

In the What’s Different Series, I will recount site visits and room-nights in hotels that have incorporated a commitment to sustainability into their communications and business identities, with the goal of identifying just what’s different? In hotels where I stayed a night, I’ll evaluate what sets the guest experience apart, if anything, from the experience at an “ordinary” hotel. Are there sacrifices? Perks? For the hotels that granted me a conversation and site visit, I’ll cover more about what they actually do differently in operations. What are the policies? How are the employees involved?

With its so many facets, hospitality has the opportunity to set a wide variety of examples of sustainable business. Looking forward and working forward, the questions I’m asked (mostly by myself in rumination), boil down to: what consists of sustainability in hospitality, and how do we get more companies to do it? Continue reading