Passion Points: Green/Eco
Saving the environment while vacationing in high style? Impossible! Not according to Hitesh Mehta. A pioneering landscape architect, the forty-seven-year-old Mehta—who directs the ecotourism sector at EDSA, a leading environmental planning firm in Florida—has worked on “luxury ecoresorts” from Mexico to Indonesia. No internationally accepted definition of that seemingly oxymoronic term exists as yet, but in Mehta’s classification it denotes resorts with more than 75 rooms that incorporate environmentally sensitive elements but also provide comforts such as flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning and Wi-Fi access.
Raised in Kenya in an Indian family with a generations-long tradition of vegetarianism and Jainism—a religion stressing a deep respect for all living beings—Mehta now focuses on designing ecolodges, which he describes as “low-impact, nature-based accommodations of five to seventy-five rooms that protect the surrounding environment; benefit the local community; and are designed, constructed and operated in an environmentally and socially sensitive manner.” Until recently, ecolodges were rustic cousins (think no-flush toilets) of the more glamorous ecoresorts. Now many have upgraded their comfort quotient while maintaining their commitment to serious environmentalism.
For his own vacations, Mehta patronizes ecolodges that embody the forces of change he wants to see in the hospitality industry. Among his favorites are Chaa Creek, in Belize; India’s Coconut Lagoon; Campi ya Kanzi and Shompole, in Kenya; and Costa Rica’s Lapa Rios. All provide excellent service, superior comfort and delicious meals in remarkable settings while embracing his strict environmental tenets.
Other ecolodges that Mehta admires are Kenya’s locally owned Il Ngwesi Lodge, which attracts an international crowd despite lacking doors and windows, and Tiamo Resorts, on South Andros Island in the Bahamas, whose eleven beachfront bungalows derive 100 percent of their energy from solar power. Although not as sumptuous as his personal picks, these are trailblazers in the ecolodge movement.
Mehta’s own projects include China’s Crosswaters Ecolodge and Spa, which is scheduled to open (the date has not yet been set) in the Nankun Mountain Reserve, two and a half hours northeast of Hong Kong, and the Lodge at Chaa Creek, in Belize, for which he was a consultant. At Crosswaters, low-wattage lights manufactured in China illuminate walkways reminiscent of those at Bejing’s Summer Palace, and collected rainwater irrigates the garden of native plants, each of which is marked with its name, origin and role in the local culture. Mehta encourages the abundant use of bamboo in the forty-nine villas and suites, which are both sustainable and elegant. Guest activities are similarly environmentally conscious: kayaking on nearby lakes, bird-watching and mountain hiking.
Mehta is also working on a book about authentic ecolodges around the globe. (In his spare time he’s a passionate photographer, so expect lush images.) “My focus in life is to save some of the most fragile parts of the world,” he says, “so that future generations can enjoy the same experiences we do.”
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