In the heart of Istanbul, an anomaly spreads its wings. Vegan leather headboards have pride of place in a bedroom. A swimming pool is tiled with glass bottles. The lounge chairs are made from recycled wood.
Welcome to The Stay, Türkiye’s first independent and locally owned carbon neutral hotel chain. Founded in 2017, it has just opened its fifth hotel in the tourist capital of Turkey.
The small, sustainable hotel chain stands in stark contrast to the all-inclusive resorts that have been a founding mainstay of Turkeythe growth of tourism over the past 50 years.
But it could be a sign of things to come, as the government of Türkiye is making a big push for sustainable tourism.
Inside Türkiye’s First Carbon Neutral Hotel Chain
“From the start, sustainability was at the heart of our hospitality and we have moved forward with this in all aspects of our business,” says Ali Ispahani, Managing Partner of The Stay Hotels.
The hotel group became certified carbon neutral last March.
Its designation was awarded by the French Bureau Veritas, which audited its operations and then evaluated them in accordance with the international ISO 14064-1 standard for greenhouse gas verification.
As part of its commitment to operating sustainably, the company invests in green energy projects, reviews its suppliers to ensure they also operate sustainably, and uses recycled materials whenever possible.
The next goal of The Stay is to become a zero waste operation in all its hotels by the end of 2022.
Ispahani says he hopes The Stay’s commitment to sustainability will inspire other hotels in Türkiye to follow their example.
A new dawn for sustainable tourism in Turkey?
A broader shift is underway in Turkey, a country that was visited by more than 42 million tourists in 2019.
Last year, the country’s tourism promotion and development agency became a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).
Turkey’s tourism strategy for 2023 will focus on how to diversify tourism activities and make them more sustainable, says GSTC.
As part of this goal, the country has recently introduced a cycle-friendly accommodation certification scheme, to encourage cycle tourism.
Why all-inclusive hotels are not compatible with sustainable tourism
A move away from megaresorts would be good news for advocates of sustainable tourism.
“Turkey’s legacy is one of expansion at all costs, especially around large all-inclusive resorts and coastal overdevelopment,” says Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel.
“So any intention to build a more sustainable model is very welcome.”
Although Responsible Travel sells holidays to Türkiye, it specifically avoids areas such as Marmaris and Kusadesi, which it describes as “seaside concrete bunkers devoid of any great Turkish character”.
Areas like this have long been problematic tourist destinations. For one thing, they died outside of the high summer tourist season. It is therefore difficult for local people to earn a sustainable income all year round.
“Tourism in Turkey is far too concentrated. So it has to expand, both geographically and seasonally,” says Francis.
These areas also rely on all-inclusive resorts, some of which encourage tourists to spend their money inside their resorts rather than the local economy.
“Research suggests that tourists to these locations spend less than 10% of their money outside of resort at permanent outlets (shops or restaurants),” says Responsible Travel.
“One of his biggest challenges is just that the reliance on cheap mass tourism. But if he is serious about diversification and investing in an alternative approach, he will reap the benefits in the long run,” adds Francis.
And he says there have been positive steps in the right direction recently. This includes an increased focus on using small local producers and progress on businesses using renewable energy.
Is Turkey doing enough to support sustainable tourism?
Ispahani adds that local businesses would need more government support to upgrade them.
“The private sector could benefit from government subsidies or other forms of incentives regarding investments and/or operating expenses related to sustainable development,” he told Euronews.
He also believes that local sustainable tour operators need marketing support to connect them with more sustainability-conscious travellers.
This spring, Türkiye released new guidelines for tourists with advice on how they can leave a smaller footprint while vacationing there.
It included suggested destinations, activities and transportation options to help travelers make more sustainable choices while in Turkey and preserve the country’s natural assets.
Francis is hopeful that Turkey is now on the right track for a more sustainable future, but also a little skeptical.
“As always, the devil is in the details. Right now, it’s pretty hard to find a lot of practical policies, as opposed to marketing ads,” he says.
“And while it is good to advise tourists to minimize their footprint, this clearly needs to be supported by the right infrastructure, strong industry regulation and transparency.”