“My family has a true passion and love for travel; we don’t see this business as a job, and we look at our global team as an extension of our family,” explains Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO of the family-owned Preferred Hotel Group, Inc.
Though she admits it can be difficult to stay off work-mode during family gatherings, it is the shared values, trust, and culture for accountability that she believes has helped build the successful Preferred brand, which includes Preferred Hotels and Resorts, Historic Hotels Worldwide, Historic Hotels of America, PHG Consulting, Beyond Green Travel, and the newly launched sustainable hotel brand Beyond Green.
It was whilst living in Kenya and working on a Harvard wildlife research project in 1979 that Costas Christ founded sustainable tourism company Beyond Green Travel, acquired by the Preferred Hotel Group in 2020. He first started thinking about a way for the tourism sector to elevate local communities and contribute to protecting the environment. Years later, he worked with the United Nations Foundation to create the framework for what we now know as sustainable tourism.
“I started getting a lot of requests from companies and organisations to help develop sustainability programmes and Beyond Green Travel grew from there,” explained Costas. “The name was strategic – we wanted hotels and tour companies to understand our more holistic approach to sustainability that includes communities, culture, and nature.”
Whilst there is no doubt that the pandemic has severely impacted the hospitality industry, it has also changed the way we want to travel. Travelling with a purpose is now more important than ever with people favouring longer stays in places that they want to discover in a holistic manner. “I believe there will be a bigger focus on the importance of that proverbial saying, ‘Take time to stop and smell the roses’,” explained Costas.
“In addition to that, there is a growing understanding that we cannot have personal health and wellbeing without planetary health and wellbeing. There is no question in my mind that the principles that are the foundation of sustainable tourism, caring for people and protecting our planet, will also become increasingly important in how people make their travel decisions.”
LLM – Luxury Lifestyle Magazine travel writer Ina Yulo Stuve caught up with Lindsey and Costas about the launch of their new venture and what they think the next era of travel will look like.
What was the criteria for selecting your 24 founding members of the Beyond Green brand?
Costas: Beyond Green represents hotels, resorts, and lodges that combine true travel inspiration with authentic and innovative design, unsurpassed guest service, and an array of experiences that inspire personal renewal. These include wellness, learning, and adventure in some of the most unique and fascinating urban, rural, and remote places on our planet, all wrapped together with a deep commitment to sustainability leadership in action.
All of this came into play in selecting our founding members based on the three key pillars of sustainable tourism including: environmentally friendly practices that go beyond the basics; support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage; and direct and tangible social and economic benefits to local communities.
Do you think that the challenging past year will impact how people look at sustainable tourism?
Lindsey: Absolutely. I think the past year’s events have made people take stock of their health, community, and environment, which they are now seeing in a whole new light. This forced time at home has made everyone reflect on what truly matters to them and have an appreciation for the little things. Freedom and the freedom to travel is at the top of everyone’s list, and at the same time, a new sense of responsibility for taking care of ourselves, our communities, and our planet have taken centre stage.
Are there any common misconceptions about sustainable tourism that you would like to clarify?
Costas: Two things come to mind: The first is the misconception that you have to give something up to have a sustainable holiday, when really it is about gaining something more. What can be better than having a great vacation filled with learning and fun, while knowing that you are contributing in positive ways to protecting nature, supporting cultural diversity, and benefitting local communities?
The second is a growing alphabet soup of terminology that can confuse well-meaning travellers – think geotourism, conscious travel, meaningful travel and now the latest regenerative travel. All trying to market themselves as the newest trend, but in reality, a lot of this is just repackaging of sustainable tourism principles and practices that are well-established. I wish there was a bigger effort to get to tangible solutions based on the three pillars of sustainable tourism that I mentioned earlier than there is for coming up with new names for the same thing.
Lindsey: A major misconception is that sustainable tourism means that the luxury experience will be diminished, and many people think it is only about removing plastic straws or not having your towels washed every day. They don’t recognise that it goes beyond the four walls of a hotel or resort to encompass destination, community, and heritage.
How important is it that your founding members provide guests with the chance to connect and learn more about the culture and people of the places they are visiting?
Costas: It is one of the core values we stand for: nature, culture, and community. All of our founding members are engaged in helping guests to connect with local people and to learn about the culture in the places they visit. Having an opportunity to learn about a destination’s traditions and way of life is one of the great joys and privileges of travel.
Lindsey: As Costas mentions, this is one of the core pillars of the Beyond Green brand and sustainable leadership. Helping guests connect with the culture and people of the places they are visiting helps educate and enrich the lives of the guest and the locals. This is one of the best and most memorable parts of travel.
Have you leaned on each other’s expertise in forging this partnership?
Costas: Absolutely! In fact, it was that sense of synergy that brought us together after we were introduced by a mutual friend. Preferred is a world class company that understands what it takes to succeed in the hospitality industry and the independent hotel space. Beyond Green is a globally recognised expert in sustainable tourism and what it takes to become a sustainability leader in the world today. We have been able to build on each other’s strengths and that has led to the birth of Beyond Green, something we are both proud and passionate about.
Lindsey: I believe meeting Costas a year and a half ago through a mutual friend was fate. We immediately recognised our shared passion for travel and had a shared set of values and desire to do good for the world while celebrating the power and gift of travel.
Costas and his wife Sally, their years of expertise in sustainable tourism and their relationships within the travel community, in conjunction with Preferred’s legacy and history of delivering global sales, marketing, distribution, and brand support to independent hotels, seemed like the perfect marriage. The partnership has allowed us to bring a new set of resources, knowledge, and services to our member hotels and other hotels under the Beyond Green brand that will not only enhance the guest experience, but also leave the world a better place.
Many of your founding members are family-run businesses. What role do you see Beyond Green playing in educating the next generation on the importance of caring for our planet?
Costas: One of the key aspects of sustainable tourism best practice is helping to educate today’s travellers on the importance of how each of our travel choices can make a big difference. When travel is done the right way – the sustainable way – then local people and visitors alike benefit from the power and promise of travel to alleviate poverty, protect nature, and safeguard cultural heritage for future generations. This is at the heart of Beyond Green.
Lindsey: Education is at the core of the Beyond Green brand and its guiding principles. The properties that are part of the brand are invested in educating their guests, staff, and partners on the importance of protecting our planet, community, and the destination they are in. I think the younger generation – our future travellers – already embrace this ethos and will carry the torch and further the cause.
Luxury hospitality can often be seen as just that, a luxury. From your experience, has there been a change in the profile of travellers seeking a sustainable luxury holiday?
Costas: It is not so much a change in the profile of the travellers seeking a sustainable luxury holiday, rather, there is a difference in what travellers are increasingly defining as true luxury. There is less emphasis on fancy touches and more emphasis on luxury being redefined as embracing authenticity, connecting with local people, finding inspiration within unspoiled nature, and having meaningful experiences that enrich and inspire our lives.
Lindsey: I don’t think the profile of the traveller seeing this experience has changed, but I do think that those that are well travelled are seeking a deeper connection and experience when they do travel, and realise that you can still travel well and have a luxury experience while supporting sustainable practices.
The lockdowns have been discouraging for travel lovers. What are some of the things you have been doing to get through these periods and get yourselves excited about travelling again?
Costas: I live on an organic farm in Maine, so in between Zoom calls I turn my attention to farm life and explore the wild and windswept coast nearby. After years of planning, I finally had time to build a wooden sauna, sometimes when I lay down inside and feel the warmth, I close my eyes and imagine I am on a beautiful beach with the tropical sun shining on me. I think about past trips I have taken to the Seychelles, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and it is almost like I am there again. I guess it is what they call positive visualisation. It feels great!
Lindsey: Luckily, I live in California, Corona Del Mar, where the beautiful weather allows me the luxury of being able to be outside, see the ocean, and explore the local landscapes. I have also been able to do some domestic travel, so this keeps me energised and excited about my next international trip, when the time is right. I keep my passport in my kitchen where I see it every day, and when I talk with friends, we spend time planning fun trips to make up for the many lost celebrations.
Once we are able to do so, where is the first place you are heading to for your next holiday?
Costas: Belize, Colombia, Italy, and Greece are at the top of my list. Can’t wait!
Lindsey: Too hard to pick just one so at the top of the list are Italy, Norway, Brazil, and Mongolia!
Preferred Hotel Group, Inc.