UK-based travel authority has spent over 20 years exploring all corners of the world and curating hotel and resort experiences for those with impeccable taste and a desire to make a positive impact. As the former founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith, she is now a boutique hotel expert acting as a creative consultant for sustainable hotels through her social enterprise Bouteco. Dedicated to showcasing eco-friendly hotels around the world, Bouteco amplifies the unique sustainability story of each hotel, making it easier for guests to find hotels with a positive impact, no matter where their travels take them.
Having spent much of her career focused on providing travel tips and reviewing high-end hotels, Kinsman knows quality when she sees it. During her visit to Gal Oya Lodge, a Regenerative Resort in Sri Lanka, she was struck by the lodge’s eco-chic approach to travel that allows for intimate encounters with wildlife while embracing style and comfort. We asked Kinsman to give us her take on boutique sustainability, and what makes Gal Oya Lodge a can’t-miss experience.
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland
Why did you decide to focus on sustainable design and hotels in your career?
I’ve always loved the idea of businesses that are considerate and try and help their immediate communities, such as their staff being from underprivileged communities and being trained while they work there. Taking a tour of the biogas and sewage treatment and rainwater harvesting system at Marari Beach Resort in Kerala was as fascinating to me as their nature and butterfly walks and probably what first got me thinking about talking about what goes on back of house as much as the guest experience. Then when I went to Fogo Island I discovered a whole new model thanks to Zita Cobb’s ingenious approach to using design, architecture and hospitality to regenerate the economy of a far-flung community.
After many years navigating people to the most stylish and seductive bedrooms and gushing about the threadcount of sheets and fancy amenities as founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith, I wanted to talk louder about the stays I loved most — the ones with the biggest hearts and spirit of sustainability. There was no one specifically steering discerning travelers to the best-design eco-minded escapes — and definitely no one making those honest, independent recommendations without getting a backhander for their tips.
What does Bouteco look for in the hotels it features?
Positive impact and great design. Or a unique hospitality experience that empowers locals. In Morocco, Kasbah du Toubkal was set up by brothers Chris and Mike McHugo to be run entirely by the local Berber people. As well as only employing staff from nearby villages, the hotel supports education and medical care in this remote Atlas Mountains region. Being connected to the community cultivates a more compelling atmosphere all round, and knowing that your room rate supports initiatives in a long-term way makes time away all the more life-affirming.
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
In your time as a traveler and journalist, have you noticed any trends in sustainable business practices worldwide? Are there any hallmarks in sustainability that speak to you as a traveler?
When it comes to what sustainable practices mean, most people still think it’s about having solar energy. Or low-flow water systems. Yes, that’s a big part of it — but there are so many different issues all over the world. It’s thinking about the bigger picture, your supply chain and how you can have a positive social, environmental and economic impact. We’re all thinking more creatively about how to do this now too.
How is your work through Bouteco changing the way hotels approach sustainability?
Bouteco was set up to champion hotels that go the extra mile to make a difference, we also work as consultants to those that want to. Our job is to tell the stories of sustainability and CSR that make ears prick up, not eyes glaze over. Like, say, the incredible commitment to art at Bankside in London, or the community-driven ethos of Salt of Palmar in Mauritius. Recently, we’ve been working with the Stratford in East London – where we have helped them explore fresh ways of being sustainable and how to communicate this to their guests and team.
Gal Oya Lodge, Sri Lanka
You visited Gal Oya Lodge, a Regenerative Resort in Sri Lanka, what makes the property so special?
The word authentic is used so often but this is when it really means something – a world away from corporate luxury. You’re not actually off-grid, as the lodge’s opening in 2014 coincided with this part of the country, two hours east of Kandy, being linked up with hydroelectricity – but it feels back to basics in a life-affirming way. In the heart of this teardrop-shaped island you forget about from the outside world (it’s away from any phone or internet networks) and the rhythm of your day is simple and soothing — with hikes up Monkey Mountain and boat safaris in the reservoir to keep you exhilarated without any use of technology. Breakfast, lunch and supper in the open-air two-level gathering hub give you a sense of place through taste – all meals are utterly delicious and made entirely from ingredients grown within grasp. Gal Oya also hosted us on a walk with the chief of the last Vedda tribes, the indigenous people who of Sri Lanka. Ten thatched cabins set in acres of jungle wilderness near the seldom-visited Gal Oya National Park will insist on reconnecting you with nature.
Check out Regenerative Travel to keep up with the latest trends in sustainable hospitality.