A New Word, A New Way

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Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Words matter. And from the outset of this platform we have let sustainable reign when talking travel, or tourism, or hospitality.  I am happy to have Elaine Glusac’s primer on new vocabulary to consider when discussing all our favorite, familiar topics. After 25 years with a word, a concept, that has worked wonders, this new message sounds about right to me. Regenerative, the word, the concept, does not make me think any less of the arc of sustainability’s useful life, which I think has a long stretch to go. But regenerative has a spring in its step:

Move Over, Sustainable Travel. Regenerative Travel Has Arrived.

Can a post-vaccine return to travel be smarter and greener than it was before March 2020? Some in the tourism industry are betting on it.

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Kevin Steele/Playa Viva

Tourism, which grew faster than the global gross domestic product for the past nine years, has been decimated by the pandemic. Once accounting for 10 percent of employment worldwide, the sector is poised to shed 121 million jobs, with losses projected at a minimum of $3.4 trillion, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

But in the lull, some in the tourism industry are planning for a post-vaccine return to travel that’s better than it was before March 2020 — greener, smarter and less crowded. If sustainable tourism, which aims to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel, was the aspirational outer limit of ecotourism before the pandemic, the new frontier is “regenerative travel,” or leaving a place better than you found it. Continue reading

A Taste Of The Place

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llustration by Rebecca Mock

Adam Davidson recounts the best sandwich he ever ate—a local specialty of the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria—and Dan Pashman sets out to re-create it.

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Uptown Funk

In the last couple of months, Amie and I have focused on how to more effectively evoke the taste of a place. We have specifically been thinking about the future of a family dairy farm in Costa Rica. Click the image above to hear, in just under one hour, a story told by a few people we admire about how important taste can be to our experience of a place.

In addition to dairy, which is a shorter term initiative, we have been working with coffee for some years. All those years have been beta, which has worked well as a complement to our hospitality projects. Now we are preparing to go from beta to live. And that description of a sandwich in Aleppo, and the obsessional hunt to ensure that its very particular culinary heritage is not lost, is a motivational tipping point to get that coffee to your kitchen sooner.

We have tasted coffee from one of the regions of Costa Rica that gets less attention than others. And we have tasted the “natural” form of this coffee, which has very little in common with the monsooning accidental innovation in India but gives us a new way to enjoy coffee. And we have tried chilling it. Wow. We’re calling it Uptown Funk. Hopefully you can try it soon.

Perspective On The Plastic Straw

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A typical Stone straw ad from a newspaper in 1899 (Google Books)

When we arrived in south India mid-2010 our toolkit was full of fifteen years worth of entrepreneurial conservation initiatives, starting in Costa Rica and followed by work in the Galapagos Islands, Chilean Patagonia, Montenegro, Croatia and Siberia. It took us a year to understand all the important ways India differed from everything we knew from elsewhere. Then Amie started targeting the elimination of plastic from our hotel operations, starting with bags in the gift shops. She might have been a latter-day Doña Quixote, tilting at packaged water bottles. All tourists had been instructed by guide books and travel agents to insist on these, and it was not as simple as deciding we knew better.

I might have been a latter-day  Sancho Panza, with a front row seat to the action and as occasional contributor to solution-sourcing. But nevermind the literary allusions. We did eliminate plastic bottles, and then moved on to straws, both in India and back in Costa Rica. We are still working on straws, which oddly enough are more puzzling than disposable water bottles. Alexis Madrigal, as always, has our gratitude for this illuminating history and perspective that helps stoke our motivation:

Disposable America

A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw. Seriously.

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MIRAGEC / GETTY

A straw is a simple thing. It’s a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America.

Over the last several months, plastic straws have come under fire from environmental activists who rightly point out that disposable plastics have created a swirling, centuries-long ecological disaster that is brutally difficult to clean up. Bags were first against the wall, but municipalities from Oakland, California, (yup) to Surfside, Florida, (huh!) have started to restrict the use of plastic straws. Of course, now there is a movement afoot among conservatives to keep those plastics flowing for freedom. Meanwhile, disability advocates have pointed out that plastic straws, in particular, are important for people with physical limitations. “To me, it’s just lame liberal activism that in the end is nothing,” one activist told The Toronto Star. “We’re really kind of vilifying people who need straws.” Other environmentalists aren’t sure that banning straws is gonna do much, and point out that banning straws is not an entirely rigorous approach to global systems change, considering that a widely cited estimate for the magnitude of the problem was, umm, created by a smart 9-year-old. Continue reading

Resilience, Greece & Reasonable Questions

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Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign currency earner. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Nearly forty years ago I was in Greece for the second time. I accompanied my mother on a visit to the village where she was born and had lived until her teens. We had spent an extended period in that village ten years earlier, and into my child’s mind it had imprinted vivid memories that, by 1979, were as fresh as the smell of bread baking in the stone oven of that village home. And now, that re-visit with my mother is as vivid as can be, and even has a sound track. That album had just been released and someone in the village had a cassette tape of it, and it played from the sound system of a Volkswagen Beetle, doors open, as we had a meal overlooking the mountains.

I have had one opportunity to bring to Greece the sustainable tourism development tools I have been working with since the mid-1990s. This recent story in the Guardian, too short to truly appreciate the scale of the questions raised, is a welcome reminder to me of the work to be done in a place I care deeply about.

Greece tourism at record high amid alarm over environmental cost

With 32 million visitors expected this year, fears grow that the country cannot cope

Greece is braced for another bumper year. The tourists will not stop coming. For every one of its citizens, three foreign visitors – 32 million in total – will arrive this year, more than at any other time since records began.

It’s an extraordinary feat for a country that has battled with bankruptcy, at times has been better known for its protests and riots and, only three years ago, narrowly escaped euro ejection. Tourism is the heavy industry that has helped keep catastrophe at bay.

But is Greece almost too successful for its own good? Tourist numbers have increased by an additional two million every year for the past three years. Arrivals from China alone have doubled since 2017. But with forecasts predicting record numbers over the next decade, a growing number are asking: can Greece really cope? Continue reading

Laguna Seca

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Yesterday afternoon, Emily and I went on a walk at Laguna Seca with Luis, the nature guide who picked me up from the airport on the first day. This experience is one of many guided walks offered at Chan Chich Lodge.

The tour started as soon as we hopped into the truck. Throughout the 25-minute drive to Laguna Seca, Luis would stop whenever he saw a bird among the trees along the road. He would intricately describe what and where he was looking, because to the untrained eye, it seemed like he stopped the vehicle for no reason.

How he can spot an olive-colored parakeet in olive-colored vegetation in his peripheral vision I will never know, but he – along with the several other guides at Chan Chich – offers an invaluable skill to the property and the nature surrounding it.  Continue reading

A True Guest Lecture

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Tadarida brasiliensis by Texas Co-op Power

Chan Chich is home to an array of wildlife, and coming from Arizona, many of the tropical mammals, birds, and insects are new to me. It isn’t surprising that this lodge attracts environment-enthused guests, currently two professors who study bats. Doctors Patricia Brown and Bill Rainey were kind enough to put together a miniature lecture about their bat research for the other guests and students last night.

Throughout their research, the Doctors’ goal is to change the human perspective on the creature from Dracula-esque to eco-systemically vital. This talk couldn’t have had better timing; Emily and I found two bats near our cottage the night before and knew next to nothing about them.

Even though there are 28 species of bats in Arizona, prior to the lecture, the extent of my bat knowledge was that young Bruce Wayne developed a phobia of them after falling into a well. My understanding of the creature has now expanded to the non-fictitious. Continue reading

Organic, Bird-Friendly Cold Brew Coffee At Chan Chich Lodge

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At All Day, a coffee shop in Miami that’s on the must-visit list of coffee fanatics, cold brew is the foundation of the menu. Credit John Van Beekum for The New York Times

Apparently it is iced coffee season up north. It is intern season here at Chan Chich Lodge. Maybe an intersection? Emily, from an agriculture and environmental engineering background, and Alana who is an aspiring sustainable hospitality developer are off to the races, as they say. They were out in the forest yesterday with GPS tools, a GIS mapping app and the assistance of Migde and Hector on the trails, developing a more scientific way of estimating the incidence of Ramon trees in our 30,000 acres.

More on that from them. But more on coffee from me. We have been cultivating an estate coffee unique to Belize, organic and as bird-friendly as you will find. Let’s add cold brew to your list of summer experimentation? Migde and Hector, aka bartender and waiter and therefore defacto coffee baristas, will be setting up the instrumentation in the kitchen.

How Cold Brew Changed the Coffee Business

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Welcome to Belize

FullSizeRender.jpgHey there! My name is Alana, and I am a second semester senior at Cornell University studying business and hospitality. I am spending the summer as an intern at Chan Chich Lodge, where I will apply my Property Development studies to a conservation context. Post-graduation, I am hoping to work somewhere at the intersection of sustainability, hospitality, and development, so interning here in Belize seems like a great place to figure it out!

Upon landing, two things caught my attention: the vibrant, rainbow-colored “Welcome to Belize” sign on the airport tarmac, and the humidity. Both new, and both indicative of what (I’m assuming) my 10 weeks here will be like. Continue reading

HEC 92 Call To Action On Sustainable Hospitality

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I already mentioned this session earlier, but I just got this snapshot in my inbox, which we took at the end of that discussion, so another quick comment. After an excellent Q&A (there is more than one CEO of a global brand visible in the audience if you know who to look for, among lots of other top industry talent and future leaders) we decided to turn the camera on everyone present, ourselves included, and our ask was simple: stand if this session has given you an idea what you will do differently starting Monday morning. Everyone stood, of course. So this snapshot, this call to action, was a way to do a reality check when the time comes…

A Conversation About Sustainability

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This is a shout out to friends at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, particularly the team leading this year’s Hotel Ezra Cornell, and especially Carmel Bendit-Shtull (she invited me to moderate this panel and for several months helped us plan it all out). The panel included Diana Dobin, President & Chief Sustainability Officer, Valley Forge Fabrics, Inc.; Bennett Thomas, SVP – Corporate Finance & Sustainability, Hersha Hospitality Trust; Eric Ricaurte, Founder, Greenview; Uttam Muthappa, Founder, Ithica Hospitality Consulting; & me (Panel Moderator). I will share a video of this if and when it is made available. Continue reading

2017, International Year Of Sustainable Tourism For Development

The United Nations, and its subsidiary the World Tourism Organization, are promoting the celebration of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. We just celebrated 20 years of working in the sustainable tourism space, and UNWTO’s efforts help focus our attention now on the next decade’s worth of effort:

“With more than one billion international tourists now traveling the world each year, tourism has become a powerful and transformative force that is making a genuine difference in the lives of millions of people. The potential of tourism for sustainable development is considerable.  As one of the world’s leading employment sectors, tourism provides important livelihood opportunities, helping to alleviate poverty and drive inclusive development.”
 United Nations Secretary-General, Banki-moon
World Tourism Day Message, 2015

Continue reading

A Place To Reflect, To Reconnect, To Recharge

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This past week I have been at Villa del Faro with Seth and Jocelyn, reviewing plans for 2017. It was a week in which the thought came to us: people need time to reflect (among other important things). I took this photo of the Stone Beach Cottage at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday and I can visualize many friends, colleagues, and plenty of as yet unknown folks who would benefit from some reflection time there. Continue reading

Villa del Faro’s Layout

The hotel entrance

There are just over a dozen buildings on property, and most of them are for rent by guests wanting to get away from bustling cities or hectic work environments and come down to Baja for some relaxation and the sound of wind and waves.

Villa del Faro’s website references the architecture and interior design as a blend of Mexican hacienda and Italianate villa, which I think perfectly reflects the feel of the structures and decorations experienced as one wanders through the gardens and arches.

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An Introduction to Villa del Faro, via Birds

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male Hooded Oriole at Villa del Faro

Jocelyn and I are visiting a property on the southern tip of the state Baja California Sur in Mexico, on the long peninsula running from the mainland into the Pacific Ocean, creating the Sea of Cortez. Grey and Humpback Whales use the sheltered and warm waters in the Bay of California to give birth and raise their calfs, but unfortunately for us, we aren’t here at a time during which these marine mammals can be seen from the many patios and balconies at Villa del Faro.

Continue reading

Gallon Jug, Conservation The Belizean Way

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Two months ago I had the opportunity to visit Chan Chich Lodge in Belize, something I had wanted to do for decades.  Sometime in the 1990s I first heard of it, from various visionaries in Costa Rica who considered it to be a model on which to base development, both at the property level and for the destination as a whole. Chan Chich was mentioned frequently in conversations, in Costa Rica and throughout Mesoamerica, when the notion of sustainable tourism was first being developed. Continue reading

Please Do Not Close The Door, Iceland

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The Northern Lights above the ash plume of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano Lucas Jackson / Reuters

We have had a thing for Iceland for a few years now, mainly due to Seth’s honors thesis. But none of us currently contributing to this blog have actually been there, yet. There is a plan in the air, very vaguely, for several of us to meet up there one day soon. Thanks to writers such as the Atlantic‘s Feargus O’Sullivan, and our own ongoing discussion on travel conundrums, we are not rushing into the plan, but contemplating it in back burner mode. We know we cannot wait forever:

Iceland vs. Tourists

It’s not easy fitting 1.2 million annual visitors onto an island of 330,000 residents.

Food Supply Change

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Accor plans to plant 1,000 vegetable gardens at its hotels by 2020. Photograph: Alamy

Only by scaling up the farm-to-table concept will we see a change to the industrial food production processes that lead to waste and related problems. We cheer our colleagues at Accor for this initiative:

Major hotel chain to grow vegetables at 1000 properties to cut food waste

Accorhotels, which includes Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure and Ibis, will reduce number of main courses on offer and record all food thrown away

One of the world’s biggest hotel chains has announced it will plant vegetable gardens at many of its hotels as part of a plan to cut food waste by a third. Continue reading

What A Certain Change Of Scenery Can Do

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

The photo above will make sense below, I hope. Read on. Derek is with us in Kerala for one more week before he moves on to Australia. I am reflecting on his time here, while also currently in conversation with prospective interns for the second half of 2015. And I just received news of Michael, the poet prince of past interns, who is currently on a tug boat in the Atlantic ocean. His experience, since graduating from Amherst College the year after he interned with us, is not typical of anything other than that we have had a very interesting variety of interns who go on to do very diverse, interesting, meaningful things of their own choosing.

These reflections are mixing up with reflections on Ethiopia that I hope to make enough sense of to produce one relevant post, soon. The meaning of our Ethiopia expedition, I already know, will have something to do with the value of perspective, and change of scenery, and leapfrogged expectations.

The pitch for an internship with us is related to those same values and is straightforward, in one sense: practical work experience in sustainable hospitality, social enterprise, or some variation of the two. The trickier part of the pitch is being clear about the value of spark plugs blowing out in the middle of the night before you’ve reached the top of the mountain.  It is not possible to predict what a particular spark plug moment is going to be like in the future, or even that a particular person will be ready for it.

But it is possible to predict that most of us, most of the time, benefit from removing ourselves from our comfort zone. We may have just one zen moment, or a whole string of them, or none at all. And any of those may be just the right thing for us. It is making the decision to put one foot forward in a particular direction, and living with it for as long as it is useful for you, that seems to be the real source of valuable life experience.

So, the photo. It is not necessary to know who this philosopher was, or even that he was a philosopher. Just knowing what follows is enough to appreciate that sometimes a change of scenery is the best way to prepare yourself for the next big thing in your life:

…He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”) Continue reading