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Consumers Want Sustainable Travel Choices and Canadian Brands Are Delivering


The Fairmont Pacific Rim has adopted numerous industry-leading sustainability practices and is among the 3,500-plus Canadian properties that have earned a Booking.com Sustainability Badge. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

The first time I became cognizant of sustainability as a term in the hotel industry was in 2012. The first ALT Hotel opened near Toronto’s international airport and among the features it was marketing was an innovative geothermal heating and cooling system that was designed to reduce energy consumption. Geothermal energy helps the ALT Hotel Toronto become “nearly self-sufficient in terms of heating and air conditioning” of its facility.

The system was difficult and expensive to install. Nevertheless, the Canadian-owned hotel, part of the Germain collection of brands, made the decision to shift its focus to feature environmental awareness at its core. From the outset, sustainability was a hallmark of the ALT properties. They’ve proven to be trendsetters. Governments of all levels have almost universally adopted mandates to proliferate sustainability initiatives and drive the goals of environmental policy. Tourism businesses have needed to adapt. Several, particularly the small and boutique businesses, have robustly done so.

Early pioneers like the Kimpton chain, which launched in 1981 in San Francisco with eco-consciousness as a distinction, and newer hotels such as ALT and Victoria’s 14-year-old Parkside Hotel & Spa, arguably the most environmentally friendly large hotel in Canada, showed sustainability could enhance the guest experience and not deter from bottom-line performance.

As corporate leadership has taken up sustainability as a business objective and not just a cause, projects continue to emerge that drive home the importance of environmentalism. Sustainable Travel International launched in 2002 to lead businesses on an environmentally aware operations path and corporations have worked individually and collectively to embrace more eco-friendly practices.

Among the most ambitious and progressive initiatives is the Booking.com Sustainability Badge. Globally, 500,000 properties have earned one of the three levels of badges — an increase from 100,000 in 2021, the first year of the program.

The badges are determined through an intensive assessment program that includes each partner property sharing the practices they follow with Booking.com. The online reservation service then uses an independently validated criteria model to assess the property and its initiatives for badge eligibility. Badges are awarded if the property’s sustainability impact score is determined to be high enough by Booking.com’s model. To be awarded a Level 3 badge, a property must achieve 32 sustainability attributes.

In Canada, Booking.com says the total number of properties with a sustainable badge exceeds 3,500, as of April 2023. (There are 7,001 hotels and motels in the country.)

One of the trailblazing properties also happens to be a recognized leader in luxury hospitality. Fairmont Pacific Rim, considered by many to be the finest hotel in Vancouver, made the decision in 2021 to remove single-use plastics from its customer experience. That meant a shift to cherry wood for one of the most essential items of a hotel stay: the keycard. The property removed 36,000 plastic keycards from its inventory.

The food program was especially impacted by the hotel’s environmentalism. An organic farm in Chilliwack, about 90 minutes by car from the hotel, provides 90% of produce for the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s restaurants. Untouched banquet food that was once thrown out is now safely packaged for donation to the Second Harvest program that feeds homeless people living in Vancouver’s downtown east side. In 2022, donations from the hotel totalled more than $12,000 worth of food and fed greater than 4,000 people.


Fairmont Pacific Rim has eliminated the use of plastic keycards, shifting to cherry wood as a sustainable alternative. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Perhaps most impressively is the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s efforts at its outstanding flagship restaurant, The Botanist. The wine list is comprised of fully organic choices and the menu is filled with local and carefully curated items.

Another notable leader that has earned the Booking.com accolade is the ONE Hotel in Toronto. Its breakfast and lunch restaurant, 1 Kitchen, includes a range of health-conscious smoothies and menu options. With walls covered in flowers and greenery, the hotel features environmental touchpoints throughout — including cherry-wood keycards similar to the Fairmont Pacific Rim.

Consumers still shop by price but increasingly they’re motivated by sustainability in their choices. According to a Booking.com survey of global travellers, 76% of consumers said they want to travel more sustainably over the next 12 months; in Canada, 65% respondents said they desired more sustainable travel. Where the Booking.com Sustainability Badge program comes in particularly handy is guiding such consumers to the properties that align with their world view.

Treehouse at Parc Adventures Cap Jaseaux Quebec

Eco-tourism properties, such as this treehouse at Quebec’s Parc Adventures Cap Jaseaux, have grown more and more popular in Canada. (Photo courtesy of Parc Adventures Cap Jaseaux Quebec)

As Travel Agent Central notes, 77% of North American travellers between 18-29 surveyed want an eco-conscious choice when they search for their next trip. For businesses, particularly large corporations, it makes sense ethically and for profitability to build experiences that meet the demand of the demographic that in many ways represents the future of travel.

Staycations, eco-lodges, and activities and settings where cars are not required will continue to grow in prominence. Those businesses that are leading the way right now are the most likely to prosper. Measuring the success of these individual properties adds context to their initiatives and gives peer-evaluated options to consumers, which is why a program such as the Booking.com undertaking is worth looking into.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.