February 15, 2023
In Ladakh, a successful model of a culturally and ecologically sustainable luxury Resort
It is only recently that people have begun to grow alarmed at the state of the planet. New research and data show the extent of the damage that humans have already caused to the delicate ecosystem of our home planet and the work that needs to be done.
In the Global Travel Industry, Businesses and individuals are now on the hunt for resorts and companies that can create ecologically and culturally sustainable solutions. But what does this mean? What is the model of a culturally sustainable establishment and how does it operate?
One of the best resorts in Ladakh is paving the way and leading by example. In faraway Nubra Valley, the Lchang Nang Retreat – The House of Trees has built a robust and well-managed luxury resort that is the very model of how the tourism sector can act responsibly.
While there are very few fixed, one-size-fits-all solutions that lead to sustainable luxury, there are some important guidelines unearthed by experience that seem to work well:
Who owns the hotel or resort, makes the ultimate decisions, and lays down strategy makes all the difference. If local money is not invested in the resort, sooner or later, things begin to go wonky and long-term objectives and impacts are barely sidelined.
Perhaps what makes The Lchang Nang Retreat – The House of Trees in Ladakh different is that it is owned by one of the oldest families in Nubra Valley. The owners and stakeholders are deeply tied to the land where the resort is located and seem to intrinsically understand the local conditions and challenges.
The land now called Ladakh has a rich and peaceful history replete with traces of Buddhism and a mix of Indian, Tibetan, Mongolian and Greek cultures. Only the people who live here can understand the unique landscape of this magical land and the ancient that culture has evolved to complement it.
All this can be hard to explain to outsiders. Even when the issue is highlighted, it is almost impossible for outsiders to chalk out a path forward that is wise and workable, not just for this quarter but also for the infinite future. Thus, local ownership can be instrumental in creating the right policies.
Many resorts in far-flung beautiful places are indeed locally owned, in whole or in part, but are still guilty of some catastrophic choices that ruin the very ecosystems that make the resort famous and desirable in the first place.
This is usually because the local entity is a “silent partner” who lets out the land or building to a professional hospitality company, which may not be aware of the issues and conditions on the ground. To ensure that the wisdom of the locals passes into the operation of the hotel, they must play a part in managing its affairs.
In the case of the Lchang Nang Retreat – The House of Trees, the owners are very active in running the resort on a day-to-day basis and employ mainly local staff. This ensures that they collectively partake in all the smaller but cumulatively powerful decisions that together define how the business will function and its impact on others.
Built to sustain
The trend nowadays is to convert already functioning properties and make them sustainable, or more so, by enforcing a tough set of new policies, demands, and metrics that are hard to implement and may do more damage than good.
Instead of changing the functioning of a resort’s live ecosystem, it is much better to start with the right concepts in mind from the beginning. Facilities that are based on sustainable practices and constructed with that in mind will have a much easier time than those attempting to enforce it suddenly from the outside.
In the case of the Lchang Nang Retreat, the resort was built from scratch using only technologies, means, and materials from the area. The entire architecture of the resort is designed as per the local systems and traditions that have been in place here for eons and survived for centuries like the Buddhist Gompas or Monasteries in the area.
The resorts that seem to do well in sustainability scores are usually the ones that are not afraid to share their experiences and principles. They do not shy away from their sustainable values but wear them on their sleeve and educate those around them, including guests, on the merits and ways of sustainable living.
Teaching Sustainability can take on many forms and starts with leading by example. They can leak into activities, classes, and tours conducted by the resort or extend into programs and schemes that guests can participate in long after leaving.
At the Lchang Nang Retreat – The House of Trees, guests are encouraged to engage in educational activities and experiences such as sustainable farming and cultural cooking classes. Guests can also take tours of Buddhist monasteries and the Nubra and Shyok Rivers that are immersive and explain how the forces of nature are affected by us.
Besides being ecologically and culturally sustainable, hotels and resorts also have to be economically sustainable to survive, thrive and uplift their employees, stakeholders, vendors, and partners. If the model is not economically sustainable, it is only a matter of time before the efforts break down.
The underlying truth about sustainability is that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. If done right, it is more of a mindset that guides us on how to do things rather than dictates what we do. If the model is profitable, it is more likely to be effective and less likely to adversely affect the environment.
The experience offered by the Lchang Nang Retreat, for example, seems to be exactly what guests are looking for. Instead of a fall in the ticket price, the resort has gained steadily from its staunchly sustainable model and both its brand and its business have steadily gained market share and respect in the industry.
Over time, sustainable industry not only limits or reduces its impact and carbon footprint on the environment, but it can also actually reverse the trend and begin to protect and then benefit the delicate ecosystem that is under threat.
A successful and sustainable operation can employ many people in the area and can also benefit independent contractors and vendors, leading to a marked improvement in the economy of the region. This can be its reward as it will lead to further protection and reinvestment.
Furthermore, profits can be reinvested in the business to expand its scope. If this can be done without any negative impacts on the myriad of other factors that determine sustainability, it is tantamount to having your cake and eating it too.
Thus, we see that sustainability is not some great mystery that requires scientific research or secret know-how. It is a relatively simple set of principles that are based on the basic human concept of care. The Lchang Nang Retreat is living proof.