Conservation and sustainability have been at the heart of Zannier Hotels’ DNA since the hotel group’s inception in 2011. Founder Arnaud Zannier has always had the core belief that the surrounding environment, culture and people of a location should always remain protected when developing a hotel or resort.
Over the last decade, Zannier has grown to include five hotels, two residences and two private estates across four continents. Arnaud’s ethos has remained integral to the overarching themes and day-to-day running of the business. As the brand continues to expand its global offering with the recently opened Bai San Ho resort in Vietnam and an imminent launch in Mexico next year, we caught up with the man spearheading everything to discuss his driving goals, industry insights and hopes for the future of sustainable luxury travel.
I have always had a passion for architecture, interior design, good food and restaurants, so hospitality has always been close to my heart. After working in London for five years with the footwear brand, Kickers and running my own business (N.D.C made by hand, luxury handmade shoes), my father asked me to come back to the family business in fashion, however, I felt I couldn’t really make my mark. I already had in mind some ideas for a new approach to hospitality. I identified a trend – which was niche at the time – which was the view that the future of luxury is more about moments and experiences as opposed to gold taps and marble. In 2011, I had an opportunity to purchase the three-star Michelin restaurant “La Ferme de mon Père” in Megève (France) which I transformed into our first property, Zannier Hotels Le Chalet. This is where my Zannier Hotels adventure started.
Our core belief is that the surrounding environment, culture and people should remain protected, with conservation and sustainability playing a major part in Zannier Hotels’ DNA. At each of the Zannier properties, we constantly strive for sustainability in daily operations and work with passionate local teams with the utmost respect for local heritage and surrounding environment.
We strive to conserve energy, limit single plastic use, and reduce waste across our properties. At Zannier Hotels Sonop, 100% of the energy comes from solar panels installed onsite and Zanier Hotels Omaanda has its own beehive to provide guests with honey. At our properties in Vietnam and Cambodia, we grow and cultivate our own rice in partnership with local farmers, and we have our own on-site gardens to supply produce to the kitchens.
We also aim to support the local communities, with the majority of team members at each of the properties employed locally. We organise English lessons for residents of the surrounding villages in Vietnam and Cambodia, plus we are working on launching a more permanent training scheme for young people living in areas surrounding Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô so we can attract local talent and give back to community In addition, we source all our materials, food and products locally to support farmers, fishermen, artisans and craftsmen.
Our approach to sustainability is evident in the construction of the hotels. To minimise the land impact of our new properties, we carefully consider the number of units developed, even if this means a lower occupation/revenue. We strive to achieve a good balance between maintaining a location’s natural charm and designing new infrastructure and we use local materials and building techniques to ensure our properties blend seamlessly into the landscape. This is reflected in the values of minimalism and authenticity that characterises Zannier Hotels.
Our commitment to wildlife conservation is most apparent at Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê in Namibia which was created to ensure the land and wildlife remain protected. The 7,500-hectare reserve, which is financed predominantly through a percentage of revenue made from guests staying at Zannier Hotels Omaanda, celebrated two years at the beginning of the pandemic, during which time it has positively impacted the lives of 39 animals; 19 of which were critically endangered, 18 were near-threatened and two were vulnerable.
Importantly, at Zannier Hotels we are constantly evolving and improving our sustainability practices. There is always more we can do, and we strive to do more each day. Sustainability is a necessity, not a choice. To us, sustainability and luxury are synonymous. Sustainability does not equal lack of or limitations, nor does our vision of luxury equal opulence or extravagance. Our ethos is less about “things” and more about “experiences”. We prioritise careful craftsmanship, inspiring people, fascinating cultures, and untamed landscapes. These are our luxuries. We aim to offer authentic and delightful experiences to our guests within beautiful environments, alongside a genuine and flawless approach to service and lasting sustainable actions.
To think differently in an industry that is very systemized is a challenge, but this is our vision and what we strive to do. In terms of sustainability the big challenge is to design the greenest hotel possible without compromising our experience, and continuing to challenge ourselves every day. We cannot settle for what we already have, we must constantly progress.
I think the best way to help our guests to embrace sustainability is to show them what we do during their stay and highlight the impact those actions have on the environment. For example, last year the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê launched their unique Rhino Rangers volunteer programme, which was created to offer travellers the opportunity to immerse themselves into the challenging world of anti-poaching in Namibia. The programme gives guests a unique insight into the threat of poaching and educates them on the importance of conservation.
Society has woken up to the environmental issues we face, and the pressure and realisation from this is part of the answer. We have also started to wake up to the effects of mass-tourism and the damage it has done to our planet. People still want to travel but they really want to take their time when they’re there and ensure it has a positive impact on the local communities and environment. I think this has accelerated during the pandemic. The time out has made us take stock of the world around us and the damage we’re doing to our planet. People are more mindful. How a resort impacts its surrounding environment, and nearby communities will be a key factor in choosing a destination. They want to travel with a sense of purpose and are increasingly conscious about how their tourism dollars can positively or negatively affect the place they’re visiting.
This will only become more important as we see the impact of climate change on our planet – such as the recent devastating floods and fires. The IPCC Report is a stark warning, and we need urgent collective action to save the planet. I believe this is now at the forefront of the minds of most travellers and sustainability will become a necessity, rather than a choice.
The importance of sustainable tourism has been on the industry’s radar for a number of years, and the pandemic certainly highlighted this further. The effects of climate change and over-tourism confirms the vision that I had a decade ago, to create a brand focusing on a ‘human-scale’ level of tourism. Today more than ever, the hospitality industry has a duty to the environment which has been under threat for decades due to over tourism. Having seen firsthand how communities and cultures have been affected, it is obvious that we need to act together quickly to protect future generations.
Working with local communities is not just important for Zannier Hotels, it is a core element of our DNA. We operate a diverse and inclusive company culture; 98% of our team are employed locally. We believe that our genuine and warm hospitality is built from an authentic desire to share and celebrate the traditions of the country in which the hotel is located. Community development and education projects at our properties also help to create a positive future for the younger generation.
In my opinion, the key is to travel humbly with an open mind, open arms and open heart. Respect the local history and customs and be genuinely curious. It is up to us to adapt ourselves to the culture or the environment, not the other way round.
For me, respect is the most important value one can show in the luxury hospitality sector. Most hotels do not consider the place and people when expanding their brand, they would rather choose a popular tourist destination than consider authentic experiences and cultures. I hope that the industry will return to simpler pleasures that do not impact the environment or the people around them, but rather include them, and thus become a more respectful and active agent of change than it is now.
Images courtesy of the Zannier Hotels Press Kit.