The Journey of Sustainability


The Journey of Sustainability


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What does the future hold for sustainable design and travel in China? We caught up with participants at the recent 5th International D.E.S.I.G.N. Hotels Forum in Shanghai to learn more.

The term ‘design hotel’ now has a refined definition generally shared by architects, designers, owners, investors and hoteliers in China. According to Dr. Lin Hao, lead architect of Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu (among other award-winning projects), to be acknowledged as a ‘design hotel’ nowadays, the property must have the A to E components –Art, Beauty, Culture, Design and Eco. While the first four components seem to be conventional wisdom, the new scope elevates the role that ‘eco’ (or, more correctly, ‘sustainability’) plays in the future of design hotels.

(Photo credit: Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas)


The consensus during the forum was that a new wave of savvy travellers are now demanding authentic (note, it does not read ‘bespoke’) experiences and bidding farewell to the cookie-cutter approach. Venturing beyond the typical attractions, travellers want to dive deep into local culture, history and experiences, explore the natural wonders of the destination and connect with the locals in a sustainable way.

Sustainability links authenticity to goodness and perpetuity. Delphine Yip-Horsfield, Chairman and Chief Design Officer of naked Retreats (located in the Zhejiang province), believes sustainability is a balance of local culture, luxurious comfort and functional design that is aesthetically appealing while respecting natural resources.

During a panel session, Amber Marie Beard, Vice President of Sustainability of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, highlighted that Six Senses’ resort properties globally share one common theme – sustainability is in the design, blended in the environment and represents a lifestyle that guests can feel and take home.

(Photo credit: Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas)


Six Senses Con Dao is a classic example. It is the first five-star resort in the archipelago islands and has been recognised as one of the world’s top eco lodges by National Geographic Traveler. The luxury villas featuring efficient architectural design are created from reclaimed teakwood and sustainably-sourced materials; guests are presented with locally inspired and sourced cuisines and various leisure activities are available for guests to explore the marine wildlife and the colourful history of the island. On the community front, the resort also works with the National Park on a long term plan to protect the Sea Grass area, and Thai Waters and Crystal Water to offer clean water supply to the local children.

There have been numerous debates about whether or not Chinese travellers understand sustainability, nonetheless, the collective awareness of the deteriorating climate-environmental conditions and the increasing threats to health have certainly lead to renewed attention to the subject matter.

In the realm of tourism and travel, we see more local and international hotel brands jump onto the bandwagon to launch green and sustainable initiatives of different scale; the China Luxury Travel Network has launched “The 3 E’s” scheme to offer practitioners tools and resources to educate, engage and evaluate their stakeholders; National Geographic Traveler China has launched the Sustainable Travel Award to recognise best practices in sustainable tourism in China; and of course, the mushrooming of sustainable luxury lodges in different parts of the country – coming up later this year is Six Senses’ first resort in China, located at the scenic and majestic Qing Cheng Mountain, adjacent to the historic UNESCO World Heritage and Natural Cultural site.

All these, thankfully, point to the fact that China’s reputation for sustainable tourism is improving and the concept is quickly gaining wide acceptance. As Beard puts it, sustainability is a journey. It needs interpretation, but more importantly, action.

Jenny Lo

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