The Eco Aesthete: The Kindness of Strangers

Boutique hotel expert Juliet Kinsman reckons being a considerate traveller is as good for your mood as having a steamy holiday romance. Here, the founder of Bouteco highlights the heroes and shows you how to make the world a better place through your travels.

Philoxenía is the Greek word for hospitality. It translates, roughly, as showing kindness to a stranger, since "xenos" meant "guest" before the word evolved into meaning "foreigner". In Ancient Greece, philoxenía was prized as the most important of virtues: the respect and honour shown from host to guest were the geneses of hospitality. But the hotel business has changed dramatically in recent times. It's less about kindness, more about property assets, management contracts and, of course, revenue and profit margins. Chances are if you're in a renowned five-star hotel and there's a chocolate on your pillow, someone in a suit somewhere has calculated the return on that confectionary investment. It's not there because it gives them joy to surprise and delight you; more likely, a data-boffin analysed their customer base with scientific scrutiny to calculate how such gestures might make you spend more money with them in the future. Not so heart-cockle-warming when you look at it that way, is it?

Which is why it's important for hoteliers to demonstrate they genuinely care about us, and the wider world, and why us guests are becoming more adept at working out who the good guys are. Pardon my flagrant showing-off, but earlier this week I was at a reception in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex - the royal couple being keen advocates of sustainable travel. It was heartening to hear Prince Harry, patron of African Parks, showing such passion for conservation. (Yes, yes, Meghan looked utterly radiant in that long, silk sandy-toned jewel-trimmed Dior dress; I know that's what you were really wondering.)

Harry and Meghan's visit to North Africa was included honouring an incredible initiative in the Atlas Mountains, Education for All, for an MBE investiture for its founder, Michael McHugo. Declared "one of the most remarkable projects I've seen," by British Ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Reilly, who feels Education for All is truly changing people's lives. The boarding houses for girls aged 12 to 18, allow girls from remote rural settlements to get a secondary education - and often they are the first in their village. By providing comfortable dorms, meals and study support all overseen by kind, kind housemothers, sometimes this is the first girl from a whole village to pursue her studies. Despite the Moroccan Government's support of education policy and women's rights, half of the country is not literate and, in rural areas, up to 83% of women are illiterate.

So at a time when our Instagram feeds are teeming with plastic-entangled turtles and motivational quotes reminding us to kick our planet-bashing habits, it was encouraging that the sixth in line to the throne is so remarkably tuned in to pushing purpose higher up the agenda. Prince Harry recognises that the travel industry has become much too much about profit and that we all need to be talking more loudly about sustainability. In our fleeting exchange, I managed to throw in my "philoxenia" reference and chime that I concur there needs to be a stronger emphasis in hospitality on being more human and kinder - I was delighted it resonated.

Education for All built its first boarding house from donations made through bookings at their luxury eco-lodge, Kasbah du Toubkal - exemplifying how the kindness of hoteliers, and guests who have chosen to stay there - can be such a force for good. Kindness is what sustainability is all about. Being kind and considerate to each other, to the planet, and to future generations by leaving things not merely as we found them but, where we can, better. If my humble bragging wasn't enough to have you roll your eyes, forgive me for going one step further and drop a well-oiled Native American proverb down as my final sentiment…

"We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."

*Kickstarter Project: Changing Worlds in the Atlas Mountains

Juliet Kinsman is an independent journalist and although her column contains affiliate links, this in no way influences editorial.
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