Around the world, a new trend is becoming mainstream: sustainable tourism. No longer limited to niche “granola” travelers, eco-friendly travel is opening up to vacationers of all backgrounds, so much so that the United Nations designated last year as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism.” Today, in fact, a whopping 82 percent of travelers report preferring sustainable travel over traditional travel.
With more than 1.3 billion people traveling internationally each year, more than double the amount 15 years ago, sustainable tourism and travel offer huge, still untapped opportunities for governments, tour operators, airlines, and resorts around the world.
One group leading the pack is Azura Retreats, founded in 2007 with the vision of creating high-end travelers to intimate luxury stays at pristine, undiscovered places of natural beauty in Southern Africa, while also protecting the environment and supporting the local community.
Today, Azura offers three award-winning, luxury hideaways. The first property, Azura Benguerra, is located on an untouched island located within a Marine National Park in Mozambique and was the first eco-friendly resort in the country. Azura Quilalea Private Island fittingly bills itself as the ultimate in island luxury and is located on an uninhabited island in the exquisite Quirimbas Archipelago marine sanctuary in Mozambique. And for those who love adventure done in style, Azura Selous Game Reserve, provides a high-end escape to Africa’s oldest and biggest Game Reserve in Tanzania, with luxury safaris and custom-made excursions.
Each retreat is undoubtedly high-end: accommodations are limited to just a handful of guests at any time, and visitors have access to amenities such as personal butler-hosts, private pools, and rare wines. Yet, it is Azura’s commitment to conservation and community that makes it truly stand out.
Azura Retreats has incorporated sustainability into every aspect and stage of their business. Properties were built by hand by local islanders, who were trained in building skills and then able to find employment in the hotel afterward. Every material other than sand was transported by local workers on fleets of shows, and sustainable building materials were used whenever possible, with doors, window frames, supporting beams, and roofing materials sourced from local female craftspeople. Furnishings were also handmade by the local community.
Azura properties are designed to have low or no environmental impact. An environmental and community specialist was consulted in the early stages of planning, and as a result, properties are environmentally friendly, with solar power, rainwater harvesting systems, state-of-the-art sewage treatment plants, and recycling all standard features.
Community engagement and investment are key, as well. Guests at Benguerra are encouraged to experience the local community and culture and can tour the local school, built by Azura’s Rainbow Fund charity in 2008. Guests can also take part in a local church service, or catch a local soccer match between teams made up of the lodge staff and locals. Local ownership is key: in Mozambique, Azura is one of only a handful of resorts where the local communities are major contributors and stakeholders.
“For us, community, luxury, and authenticity are not merely a part of our brand; they are our animating values, which drive everything we do, every day,” explained Founders Christopher and Stella Bettany. “We fell in love with this region — with its endless deserted beaches, pristine reefs, sparkling turquoise seas, and warm and welcoming people — and we wanted to share that with the world, while also making sure that these special places could remain authentic and untouched for generations to come.”