In Travel

The Middle Eastern Hotel Leading The World In Sustainability

Jordan’s Feynan Ecolodge is not your average luxury hotel. For starters, there are no light switches in the rooms. Instead, there are niches for candles next to the traditional clay jugs that have replaced plastic water bottles, and every evening the property is illuminated by candlelight.

There’s a solar heating system for hot water but the entire 26-room hotel uses less electricity than a typical two-bedroom apartment in Jordan’s capital, Amman. So instead of air conditioners, centuries-old principles of desert architecture channel the wind to keep the rooms cool. With a central courtyard linked to outer patios and outcrops projecting from the building’s facade to maximise shade, the hotel building is modelled on the traditional caravanserais that lined Jordan’s trade routes for centuries.

But for EcoHotels Managing Director Nabil Tarazi, the inspiration for this sustainable model came from half a world away.

Tarazi’s humble beginnings as a backpacker

Feynan Ecolodge

Image: Feynon Ecolodge / supplied

An electrical engineer by trade, in 2007 Tarazi left the company he was running in London to spend a year backpacking. He was searching for adventure, and he found it by hiking, canyoning, caving and rock climbing though Australia and South East Asia. But he also found that adrenaline wasn’t enough – he wanted to connect with local communities.

So he spent a lot of time immersing himself in local cultures and tradition. And like many travellers before him, found that “travel is not about seeing a place but experiencing it, in all that it has to offer. It is also about spending your money in places that give back to the communities and environment”.

The difference between Tarazi and most travellers is that when his gap year was over, he decided that he could change the way other people experience the world.

Feynon Ecolodge’s sustainable principles

Feynan Ecolodge

Image: Feynon Ecolodge / supplied

After travelling extensively through the Middle East, he settled on a property that was located at the bottom of a long valley linking the arid flatlands of the Great Rift Valley with the cooler plateau that runs along Jordan’s spine. Sometimes called ‘Jordan’s Grand Canyon’, Wadi Dana sits in a Biosphere Reserve that protects a diverse range of wildlife and ruins stretching back more than 10,000 years.

At that point, Feynan was a struggling hotel owned and run by the NGO that also administers the surrounding reserve. It’s remote location presented a challenge but Tarazi felt it could be an asset and brokered a partnership. He would make the property more sustainable and bring more guests in, and part of the revenue would fund conservation projects around the country.

Tarazi acknowledges that sustainability can mean many things, but for him it has to include “minimising our environmental footprint, contributing to conservation projects and providing ongoing development opportunities and benefit to members of the local communities where we work”.

Feynan’s support of the local community

Feynan Ecolodge’s location is still one of the biggest challenges it faces – it’s in a remote part of the country and the nearest paved road is 8km away. The only way to get to or from the hotel is with a 4WD. Tarazi could have paved the access road, but he prefers to hire members of the local Bedouin community to transfer guests and supplies from the nearest town. It allows the property to feel like an escape from the modern world and also creates an extra income stream for the local community.

In addition to training and employing 22 staff directly, Feynan also helps to develop microbusinesses that provide employment and financial independence to the local community. The lodge buys as much local produce as possible and candles and leathergoods are produced in onsite workshops. In all, more than 80 per cent of food and other supplies are purchased from within a 40km radius of the lodge, which means that half of total guest expenditure stays within the local community, directly benefitting 80 families and 400 people.

Seamlessly blending luxury with sustainability

Feynan Ecolodge

Image: Feynon Ecolodge / supplied

Since taking over the management of Feynan 10 years ago, Tarazi has introduced a range of initiatives to reduce the property’s environmental footprint. He made it the first hotel in the region to eliminate single use plastic bottles. All meals are vegetarian and food waste is composted, while a new wastewater treatment system creates biogas that can be used for cooking and water for irrigation.

Each night, a presentation at Feynan Ecolodge lets guests learn more about these systems and they’re not the only ones who are curious. Tarazi has set up a consultancy to help other operators develop similarly sustainable lodges in a region that is sometimes known for ostentatious luxury. Sustainable luxury, he says, is very achievable, “as long as the definition of luxury is not restricted to opulence”.

(Lead image: Feynon Ecolodge / supplied)

Published 17 May, 2019