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Tourism: Economic Friend Or Environmental Foe?

Cape Town, 8 May 2019- Whilst it boosts the economy, encourages growth and development, by nature, tourism takes its toll on the planet. On the doorstep of Cape Town International, Hotel Verde finds ways to turn the potential curse into a blessing.

In 2017, Iceland received over two million tourists contributing over 8% of their GDP. But in a country with a population of fewer than 340,000, tourists undoubtedly put pressure on infrastructure and resources. It’s estimated that across the globe there are around 1 billion tourist arrivals annually and, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the industry ‘generates prosperity across the world’.

WTTC also claims that tourism is responsible for 10.4% of the global GDP and the creation of around 313 million jobs. At the same time, earlier this year Maya Beach in Thailand, made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach in 2000, was closed indefinitely as a result of the ecological damage caused by the 6,000 tourists that visited daily. 

“The minute a traveller gets into a vehicle or a plane, their carbon emissions start to clock up. Tourism moves people from one area to another effectively placing strain on the destination,” says Dawie Meiring, Group Systems and Sustainability Manager at Verde Hotels. “We also want guests to feel at home and pampered, but all those amenities, facilities, services come at a cost and carbon emission penalty. Plus when a guest is paying to eat, stay and wash somewhere else, chances are they are not going to hold back on resources like water and energy or worry about waste.”

But add sustainable planning into the mix and tourism can be a well-balanced and beneficial act. As the ‘greenest hotel in Africa’ Verde has set an example. Five years ago its visionary owner, Italian-born Mario Delicio had the 145 room building constructed with double glazing, an array of solar panels, super-efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and a grey-water system that saves thousands of litres of water daily. The investment was high, but the groundwork was laid, and the green dividends are lasting.

Considering that tourism businesses hinge on people, an equal investment has been made in staff. Every Verde staff member is inducted, informed and updated on a regular basis, on why and how the hotel practices planet protection in the smallest detail. “We also have a Green Guardian campaign incentivising everyone to further do his or her bit,” explains Meiring. “A bonus is that at the end of the day, the staff take these green practices home.”

Procurement is also an awareness raising opportunity, “We try to source everything within a 160km radius, not exceeding 800km and every item from a coffee sachet upwards is scrutinised for its recyclability. The result is that suppliers are having to think greener too,” says Meiring.

Incentivising and education are not confined to staff and suppliers. Guests can earn ‘Verdinos’ – redeemable tokens worth R5 – in exchange for using stairs instead of the lift, reusing towels, foregoing aircon etc.  There are fun initiatives like low-lit Earth Hour at Nuovo the restaurant, a work-out in the gym on a treadmill that produces energy, and a jogging track around the wetland garden and landscaped eco-pool. And corporates can score carbon credits for their sustainability reports by using green conference facilities in one of the eight venues available. 

beautiful pond near hotel

A guest can read them or leave them, but there are strategically placed notices on the hotels green strategies. In the lobby, a monitor gives the big picture on water, waste and energy and there’s a chalkboard showing the hotels monthly water savings which makes everyone in the water-scarce Cape feel good. So not only is the hotel itself doing its bit to preserve and protect natural resources, but it is also spreading the word – amongst locals and internationals as well as the broader hospitality community.

It’s not for no reason that Hotel Verde has been double Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified for both design and operation by the US Green Building Council and 6-star rated by the GBCSA, Green Building Council of South Africa.  But with the belief that green practice should be shared not guarded, guided tours around the hotel and its systems can be arranged for anyone wanting to take a green leaf out of the Verde book. Whilst the three spinning wind turbines at the entrance produce only limited power, they speak volumes about the green passion and energy invested here.

Tours of Hotel Verde’s green features can be arranged by appointment. Hotel Verde Cape Town is ideally located at the Cape Town International Airport and just 22 km from the city centre. A second branch is in Zanzibar. For more information, visit

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