The Ecolodges of the Future

When I became editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine 15 years ago, the word “ecolodge” suggested places that were so pared down and dutiful that many travelers were regarding them as the domain of the backpacker — all basic furnishings and uninspired food. Therefore it is astonishing to see how much the lodging industry has changed in little more than a decade.

I never much liked the prefix “eco” because innovative hotels and lodges are so much more than green-conscious places in which to stay. They source their food, products, and workers locally. They proudly preserve an authentic sense of place. They celebrate and cherish the local culture. They fight to conserve indigenous landscapes and species. And they donate revenue to support nearby communities. All this while also employing Earth-friendly technologies and practices.

Many of the lodges featured in a special section of the magazine this summer are small and offer hand-tooled creature comforts — and almost all are one-of-a-kind discoveries. But they can hardly be reduced to the simplistic label of “ecolodge.” They are a sign of what will prove increasingly commonplace — a move away from homogenized, big-box lodging experiences.

Even major chains now are backing away from a one-size-fits-all approach in favor of the bespoke. This shift in the industry is a gift to travelers who have grown weary of lobbies and food and decor that seem divorced from local cultures. I heartily welcome the changes — and look forward to the day when we finally retire the word “ecolodge.”

Until that day, as Traveler editor at large Costas Christ, who curated the list of environmentally conscious resorts, notes, “these 25 hand-picked retreats set themselves apart by delivering authenticity and sustainability in nature’s most spectacular settings.”

Keith Bellows is editor in chief at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow his story on Twitter @KeithBellowNG.



  1. Megan Epler Wood
    Burlington Vt
    September 13, 2013, 5:07 am

    Keith, as the founder of The International Ecotourism Society which convened the first forum on ecolodges in 1995,
    I can say that ecolodges were very frequently designed for all range of comforts from the beginning. At the forum in 1995 and in 1996 we had representatives working in Costa Rica, South Africa, panama, Ecuador, Fiji and more and most of the designs even then were based on creating ecologically and socially respectful spaces, that were designed with taste and innovation, and were comfortable for travelers not backpackers.

    See the Ecolodge Sourcebook from TIES for documentation of these examples. We published that in 1996. It is wonderful I agree to see that this type of design has gone more mainstream.