In the heart of Istanbul, an anomaly is spreading its wings. Vegan leather headboards take pride of place in a bedroom. A pool is tiled with glass bottles. Sun loungers are fashioned out of 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 Türkiye’s tourist capital.
The small, sustainable hotel chain is a stark contrast to the coastal all-inclusive resorts that have been a founding pillar of Türkiye’s tourism boom over the past 50 years.
But it could be a sign of things to come, as Türkiye’s government makes a big push for sustainable tourism.
Inside Türkiye’s first carbon-neutral hotel chain
“From the very beginning, sustainability was at the heart of our hospitality and we moved forward with this in mind in every aspect of our business,” says Ali Ispahani, managing partner at The Stay Hotels.
The hotel group became certified as carbon neutral this March.
Its designation was awarded by the French Bureau Veritas, which audited its operations and then evaluated them in line with the ISO 14064-1 international standard for greenhouse gas verification.
As part of its commitment to operating sustainably, the company invests in green-energy projects, scrutinises its suppliers to make sure they also operate sustainably, and uses recycled materials wherever possible.
The Stay’s next goal is to become a zero-waste operation across all its hotels by the end of 2022.
Ispahani says he hopes that The Stay’s commitment to sustainability will inspire other hotels in Türkiye to follow their lead.
A new dawn for sustainable tourism in Türkiye?
Broader change is afoot in Türkiye, 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).
Türkiye’s tourism strategy for 2023 will focus on how to diversify tourism activities and make them more sustainable, says GSTC.
As part of this target, the country recently introduced a certification programme for bike-friendly accommodation, to encourage bicycle tourism.
Why all-inclusive resorts aren’t compatible with sustainable tourism
A move away from megaresorts would be welcome news to advocates of sustainable tourism.
“Türkiye’s legacy is one of expansion at any cost, particularly around large all-inclusive resorts and coastal overdevelopment” explains Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel.
“So any intention to build a more sustainable model is really welcome.”
Although Responsible Travel sells holidays to Türkiye, it specifically avoids areas such as Marmaris and Kusadesi, which it describes as “seaside concrete bunkers lacking in any great Turkish character.”
Areas such as this have long been problematic tourist destinations. For one thing, they are dead outside of the peak summer tourist season. This makes it difficult for local people to earn a sustainable year-round income.
“Tourism in Türkiye has been far too concentrated. So it needs to spread out, both geographically and seasonally,” says Francis.
These areas are also reliant on all-inclusive resorts, some of which encourage tourists to spend their money inside their complexes instead of in the local economy.
“Research suggests that tourists at these places spend less than 10 per cent of their money outside the resort in permanent outlets (shops or restaurants),” says Responsible Travel.
“One of its greatest challenges is simply that reliance on cheap mass tourism. But if it’s serious about diversifying and investing in an alternative approach, it will reap the benefits long term,” Francis adds.
And he says there have been some positive steps in the right direction recently. This includes a strengthened focus on using small local producers and progress on businesses using renewables.
Is Türkiye doing enough to support sustainable tourism?
Ispahani adds that local businesses could do with more government support, to get them up to speed.
“The private sector could benefit from government subsidies or other forms of incentives regarding sustainability related investments and/or operating expenses,” he told Euronews.
He also believes that local sustainable tour operators need marketing support to connect them with travellers who are more sustainably minded.
This spring, Türkiye issued new guidance for tourists with advice on how they can leave a smaller footprint while on holiday there.
It included suggested destinations, activities and transport options to help travellers make more sustainable choices while in Türkiye and preserve the country’s natural assets.
Francis is hopeful that Türkiye is now on the right path for a more sustainable future, but also a little sceptical.
“As always, the devil’s in the detail. Right now it’s pretty difficult to find much in the way of practical policy, as opposed to marketing announcements,” he says.
“And while advising tourists on minimising their footprint is great, that clearly needs to be backed up by the right infrastructure, strong industry regulation and transparency.”