Many travelers—and agents, for that matter—still consider “luxury” and “eco-friendly” to be mutually exclusive terms. But Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, operating boutique properties in Asia, the South Pacific, Mexico, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, is out to change that.
“Tourism is a very powerful tool when it comes to environmental conservation,” says David Woodward, regional director, marketing, Eastern USA. “The sheer number of guests visiting a hotel each year provide a platform for allowing masses to experience and become aware of any platform a tourism provider wishes to share,” including eco-tourism.
“Our hotel sites are chosen for the combination of their cultural and physical beauty,” he continues. “With such criteria in mind, it is all the more imperative to the Banyan Tree business model to not only protect the cultural and physical beauty of the location, but also to share and promote an appreciation of that combined beauty.” The company can build a serene, opulent getaway like Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, he says, but without preserving its surroundings, that property wouldn’t feel quite as upscale after a few years.
“Banyan Tree defines success not just financially, but also socially and environmentally,” Woodward explains. “Sustainable development as a socially responsible business is a core value of the group. These values have been embedded as core values since our founding and have enabled us to be agents of social and economic development in countries where we have a presence. With our triple bottom line concept of success as a backdrop, we seek to minimize our impacts while also maximizing our positive contributions to our surroundings.”
At the Mayakoba property, for example, the property initiated efforts to save the local endangered melipona bee by creating hives for them to use as habitats—with the opportunity to reap honey in the process. Another initiative manufactures traditional Mayan chewing gum. “These products are purchased by the hotel to provide a sustainable income for local people,” Woodward says. Additionally, the resort is planting trees and raising awareness of the area’s cenotes in an effort to protect them from erosion or destruction by development.
Similar efforts take place at every Banyan Tree property, thanks to two programs: Greening Communities and Seedlings. “Greening Communities aims to not only enhance the air quality globally and to beautify locations, but also to raise awareness of the need for environmental conservation and reducing the negative ecological impacts of human activity,” Woodward explains, noting that in practical terms, the group aims to plant 2,000 new trees each year through 2016. Seedlings, meanwhile, “aims to support at-risk young people aged between 12 and 18” through three phases: mentorship, scholarships and internships. The mentorship phase pairs at-risk youth with associates from Banyan Tree who have undergone mentorship training. Scholarship, the second phase, provides resources for students who would otherwise be unable to continue their education. The third phase, internship, gives young people experience working in the resorts’ operational areas, including customer service, marketing, and landscape architecture.
These impressive efforts don’t impede clients’ enjoyment of the properties. Banyan Tree guests fall into three groups, he says: the “global traveler” seeking authentic local experiences; the “pampered relaxer” who travels for spa and luxury; and “relationship builders,” or couples on a romantic escape. Having local products like endangered bees’ honey—and the peace of mind of knowing that their stay has minimal impact on the community environment—improves the global traveler’s experience. Meanwhile, the luxury, privacy and service of the resorts themselves puts couples and upscale travelers at ease.
And these are undeniable luxurious properties. Banyan Tree Al Wadi, 45 minutes outside Dubai, puts clients in lushly designed villas, each with pool access right outside their doors, plus a 32,000-sq.-ft. spa, golf course and nature reserve. At Banyan Tree Madivaru in the Maldives, clients stay in five-star tented villas, and have the chance to indulge in a private dinner for two on a sandbank island. Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul in Korea is an urban take on the experience, with plunge pools in each room or suite and a spa staffed by therapists specially trained in Thailand.
Banyan Tree also offers little luxuries to agents. The invitation-only eXtraordinary Travel Consultants (XTC) program offers rewards like discounts of 50-75 percent at the properties, up to complimentary room nights and discounts on food, beverage and spa. “We’ve had a very positive response from agents around the world,” Woodward says. “As of April 15, there were over 250 XTC USA registrations out of a global total of 1,400 members, and these numbers continue to grow.”