How to find sustainable travel accommodation

Want to make sure that your next room is environmentally conscious? Holly Tuppen explains how to spot the most sustainable stays, whether booking a city hotel or rural retreat

6 mins

Accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes, and so does its potential for positive impact, from pioneering wastewater management to employing those that need it most. A recent survey (2021) revealed that although over 80% of travellers want to book sustainable accommodation, just under half of them don’t know where to look. So, here are a few thought-starters to help guide the way.

Locally owned, small and independent properties are often more sustainable than big hotel chains. They are less likely to have the enormous water and carbon footprint associated with construction, more likely to use local employees, artisans and suppliers, and genuinely care for the destination, both environmentally and socially. Locally owned stays also avoid the economic leakage of internationally owned properties; your money is more like to remain 100% in the destination you’re travelling to.

In South America, pocket-sized Guyana demonstrates how accommodation can cater to guests and locals alike. As part of a new tourist circuit in the country, the Guyana Tourism Authority helped four indigenous communities build ecolodges that they own and manage. In rural Himalayan destinations throughout Nepal, India and Bhutan, group walking tour operator Village Ways has taken a similar approach, supporting villagers to create homestays via building and administrative advice and funding. Similarly, in Borneo, KOPEL is a community-run conservation organisation established by a former Intrepid Travel group leader. On Intrepid’s Borneo Family Holiday itinerary, visitors spend a night in KOPEL’s unique jungle huts on stilts.

In each example, the accommodation has a low impact on the environment and is built and operated on a community’s terms. These homestays and ecolodges also help rural communities thrive economically, avoiding urban migration and maintaining a more sustainable way of life.

Read next: The best eco hotels and lodges in the world


Monteverde’s Senda hotel aims to fully immerse visitors into the local culture and nature

Monteverde’s Senda hotel aims to fully immerse visitors into the local culture and nature

Sustainable city accommodation

Our travel plans don’t always involve off-grid ecolodges and homestays, so it’s important to scrutinise city hotels for sustainability, too. Urban accommodations leading the way also provide solutions to specific, local needs. For example, Lemon Tree Hotels in India employs people that are usually denied work opportunities due to a learning or physical disability. In Austria, 80% of employees at Magdas Hotel are refugees.

In water-stressed San Francisco, Cavallo Point’s water reclamation system saves a million gallons of water per year. Reusing 75% of the building’s former interiors has also saved thousands of tons of construction waste from landfills. In Prague, Mosaic House Design Hotel not only recycles wastewater but uses its excess heat to generate energy; its only the second building in the world to do so.

Green certifications are a good indicator of commitment. There are over 200 out there, so look for those that are Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) recognised or certified and involve some form of onsite (ideally external) assessment. is currently displaying over 30 certifications officially approved by the GSTC, Green Tourism and the EU Ecolabel (although booking direct is best for the destination).

Read next 6 European cities with inspiring green initiatives 

Other things to look out for include an environmental policy with concrete figures and targets to prove that a hotel is walking the talk. A sincere commitment to solving the climate crisis demonstrates an understanding of the bigger picture. Addressing conservation and biodiversity restoration is critical here, too. Even a city hotel can do its bit to support our much-depleted natural world by using any available space for insect-friendly plants and partnering with urban conservation initiatives.

Other things that demonstrate a will for positive change include a sustainable sourcing policy, local hiring (ideally more than 70% of employees will be from the local area), green teams, living wages (higher than minimum wage), an understanding of responsible travel issues like over-tourism, and a diversity, equity and inclusion policy.

If all this research seems a little daunting, one of the best ways to tell if accommodation is genuinely committed to sustainability is to ask. The most passionate advocates for a better future will be eager to share what they’re doing.



Reality check: Airbnb

Airbnb has revolutionised how we travel, allowing visitors to leap straight into the beating heart of a community. However, it has come at a cost. In 2019, a report by the Economic Policy Institute found that ‘the presence of Airbnb raises local housing costs’. Several major cities (including Barcelona and Paris) have since tightened regulations to tackle over-tourism and ensure that housing caters for residents rather than tourists. Fairbnb is a sustainable alternative; it doesn’t allow people to list second homes, and a percentage of fees go to community projects.

Top tips for sustainable accommodation

Inside at Senda Hotel (Mike Dell - Coffee Abroad)

Inside at Senda Hotel (Mike Dell - Coffee Abroad)

Mountain Bothies Association

This charity maintains over 100 shelters across remoter parts of Great Britain, available for overnight stays — the ultimate low-impact digs. Most are only available via footpaths, like Guirdil, a 19th Century shepherds’ cottage on the western shore of Rum. Before getting involved, read up on the Bothy Code to ensure these places remain special for everyone to enjoy.

Canopy & Stars

B Corporation-certified Canopy & Stars has always had a responsible ethos. Not only does it direct people towards off-grid cabins and innovative environmentally sensitive shelters but it is also majority employee-owned and aims to plant one million trees by 2025.

The Long Run

Having guided nature-based places to stay towards more sustainable operations for over ten years, this membership organisation knows a thing or two about positive impact travel. The Long Run’s 40 accommodation members operate according to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce.

Regenerative Travel

These independent hotels were brought together by Amanda Ho and David Leventhal in 2014 to regenerate people and places. Properties like
Playa Viva in Mexico and Tiger Mountain Lodge in Nepal strive to advance local efforts.

What does sustainable accommodation look like to an employee? We ask Jessica Ortega, Concierge and Nature Guide at Senda Hotel, part of the Cayuga Collection, in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Jessica Ortega from Senda Hotel

Jessica Ortega from Senda Hotel

“Here at Senda, we have received so many guests that want to support a hotel that cares for the environment and local Monteverde community. We sell local goods in the gift shop, including some from a local craft cooperative for women we helped set up and employ locally. In the rooms and hotel, everything is from Costa Rica – it’s not just sustainable but also provides a better experience.”

“One thing guests love is our genuine passion for the natural world and deep knowledge of the local wildlife. We even talk to guests about separating and recycling the trash and why that’s important. They leave not only understanding the cloud forest but also how to care for the natural world anywhere.”

“One of the best things about working at Senda is the opportunity to help species on the brink like the Golden-Eyed Leaf Frog that was once thought extinct due to climate change. It’s a great way to demonstrate hope.”

“Hotels are in a good position to promote biodiversity. Wildlife comes to Senda, not because of gimmicks like laying fruits or artificial feeding but because we have spent a lot of time planting native species throughout the property.”

- Jessica Ortega

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