From Smart Cities to Tropical Treasures: Booking.com Reveals 10 Destinations for a More Sustainable Stay in 2023
From smart cities in the making to jungles that are a blueprint for sustainable nature and wildlife tourism, there are many destinations around the world that aim to safeguard our precious planet. Booking.com’s annual Sustainable Travel Report 2023 reveals that sustainable travel is still high on the agenda and important to four in five (80%)* travelers, with over three quarters (76%) wanting to convert intent into action and make a conscious effort to travel more sustainably over the next 12 months. With a mission to make it easier for everyone to experience the world, including in a more sustainable way, Booking.com is revealing a list of inspiring destinations with higher proportions of Travel Sustainable stays** to fuel travelers’ wanderlust this year.
The northernmost region of South Tyrol, features the alpine town of Merano tucked into a valley amongst the nourishing Italian Dolomites. With long held therapeutic traditions, travelers can spa sustainably at one of the many resorts that bolster the organics movement, with regional herbs used as an important component in the healing treatments offered. Aside from diving into the thermal baths, leafy boulevards and medieval hilltop castles, Merano offers recuperative hiking and biking opportunities, with easy access to the stunning Vigiljoch mountain pass and Gruppo Di Tessa Natural Park, South Tyrol’s largest nature park. Travelers can head to the neighboring town of Bolzano for an Advanced Cycling Tour through the Dolomites and challenge themselves to the ascent of the UNESCO-listed Sella Massif for views of this poignantly pretty region. With a focus on sustainable farming, there’s a wealth of street food stalls serving ethically and locally sourced food from Alpine cheese to apple strudel. The town uses many forms of renewable energy from biogas to geothermal energy, and there’s a great transport system in place with buses, trains and cable cars as well as charging stations for electric cars.
Where to stay: The Relais & Chateaux Hotel Castel Fragsburg, a castle perched high above the valley, goes beyond a traditional five-star spa with its accent on sustainability. The restored building features solar panels and a wood pellet heating system fueled entirely by local resources, and guests can soak up the surrounding mountains, apple trees, wildflowers and vineyards on one of the verandas blanketed in greenery. For local delicacies that leave a good taste in the mouth, its fine-dining restaurant, Prezioso, headed by a Michelin-starred chef, cultivates its own organic vegetable and herb garden and strives for zero waste.
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
Situated on the tri-border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, Foz do Iguaçu is an ideal destination for wildlife lovers seeking some of Mother Nature’s greatest treasures. The city is home to one of the world’s largest waterfalls, the incredible Iguaçu Falls, made up of 275 awe-inspiring waterfalls up to 262 ft (80 m). Known as one of the natural wonders of the world, this mesmerizing site is something to behold, and surrounded by a vast subtropical rainforest with over 2,000 species of vascular plants. For a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, travelers can book a Full-day Guided Tour to Iguazú National Park, including a boat ride to experience the waterfalls from a close distance. Visitors will pass hundreds of cascades and take in the ever-changing landscapes of this wild and vast national park. Just across from the falls, is the Parque das Aves which is any bird watcher’s paradise. This ecological sanctuary educates visitors on conservation efforts to reverse habitat loss and will open their eyes to some magnificent feathered creatures from fabulous flamingos to long-beaked scarlet red ibis.
Where to stay: The Hotel das Cataratas, A Belmond Hotel, Iguassu Falls faces the Iguaçu National Park and is steeped in charming elegance with rooms decorated colorfully to welcome guests. Investing a percentage of revenue back into the community, the hotel plays an important active role in the protection of the surrounding natural beauty. Its restaurant Ipê Grill has views of the spectacular falls and guests can enjoy a delicious meal of free-range grilled chicken and flavorsome flatbreads to enjoy some local Brazilian cuisine.
From ancient temples and lantern-lit alleyways to rice paddy fields and lagoons, the oldest city of Taiwan celebrates a rich past. Yet this coastal city is investing in the future with a commitment to building sustainable industries and implementing solar energy solutions – and is on the smart city map with its impressive solar farm that creates enough energy to power more than a million homes. While forward looking, traditional culture there continues to thrive, with a deep-rooted local food and drink scene: travelers can immerse in old-world wooden tea houses sipping aromatic oolong tea, or experience the celebrated night markets and Guohua Street where Taiwanese delicacies are found amongst local favorites such as Danzai beef noodle soup and shrimp rolls. Urban Tainan has such a tight weave of attractions from the Blueprint Culture and Creative Park to Shennong Street that walking is the best way to take in the sights. Further afield, visiting Taijiang National Park and the coast is easy with a great bus network and an expanding public bicycle rental system – ideal for the 61% of travelers who want to use more environmentally friendly modes of transport on vacation.
Where to stay: With 47% of travelers wanting to travel more sustainably on a budget,* the well-priced U.I.J Hotel & Hostel makes considerable investments towards sustainability and comes recommended by Booking.com travelers. From locally sourced delights in its restaurant to tours by local guides, this hip hostel comes with a games room, communal kitchen and library. What’s more, it’s situated on a secluded street just a stone’s throw away from Tainan’s transit station, making it easy for guests to explore in a more sustainable, cost-effective way.
Santa Marta, Colombia
The lesser-known beach city of Santa Marta in northern Colombia is one of the oldest cities in the Americas and situated amongst the highest coastal mountain range in the world. Home to the Tayrona National Park, a protected area along the Caribbean coast, travelers can explore via the forest trails to encounter wildlife from howler monkeys to pumas and deers. The city also houses the colorful Santa Marta Market with over 500 vendors selling quality goods from fresh fruit and lobsters to beautiful artisan clothes and textiles. Visitors can purchase gifts to take home to support the local economy – perfect for the 69% who want the money they spend when traveling to go back to the local community.* Some years ago, Santa Marta experienced an environmental crisis as coal dust covered the city from shipments leaving the port, which has since propelled sustainability into the spotlight. The Environmental Protection Association introduced a surveillance process for carbon pollution and established regulations to protect the region such as community beach clean up projects and banning plastic bags in shops. Travelers can make an effort to support the city’s ecosystem by exploring on foot or electric bicycle and avoiding single-use plastics.
Where to stay: La Casita del Bosque is an idyllic country house immersed in nature just a short walk from the vibrant Playa de Mendihuaca beach. Nestled amidst luscious emerald forest, the stay features rustic, wooden interiors and an outdoor shower for guests to experience a tropical paradise. With ocean views that offer every shade of blue, visitors can kick back in a hammock and absorb the softly breaking waves, and enjoy fresh fruit straight from the accommodation’s garden for a nourishing breakfast.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Set at the foot of the Stellenbosch Mountain is this thriving university town with oak-lined streets, famed for its rich soil that produces the finest farmed produce and wine. There’s plenty for travelers to discover in this historical ‘town of oaks’ from the Stellenbosch Museum to a slew of superb vineyards scattered around the outskirts to uncover its world-class wine scene. A perfect way for travelers to explore and enjoy the incredible wines of the region is by following the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, a network of more than 200 grape producers dedicated to producing biodynamic wines using eco-friendly methods. As a member of Porto Protocol, a global sustainable initiative to combat climate change, the producers are committed to fostering environmental practices that protect and conserve the land including making their own compost. Elsewhere, for the 66% of travelers who want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived,* the town has various initiatives to help local communities. The Living Soils Community Learning Farm, for example, is a regenerative project that educates young farmers in food farming and travelers can lend a hand by volunteering on this youth program.
Where to stay: Unwind around the firepit or take in starry skies in the heart of a vineyard at the family-run Deux Frères Luxury Villas. Beautifully decorated with bespoke antique furniture and punctuated with greenery, there’s a pretty pool for guests to dip into amidst the endless vines. The villa refrains from using single-use plastics and features water efficient amenities, one of the topmost implemented practices by properties that participate in the Booking.com Travel Sustainable program. Not only does the Deux Frères produce quality wines for guests to savor, it also takes an eco-friendly approach to production for a true grain-to-glass experience.
Charlotte, United States
Charlotte is a cosmopolitan metropolis whose southern hospitality and charm extend to its sustainability efforts. The largest city in North Carolina, and one of the fastest-growing in the US, its ambition is to balance economic growth with preserving its natural resources. With a focus on green urban planning, the booming ‘Queen City’ is home to many magnificent parks peppered with trees, rustic bridges and streams for those seeking leafy beauty amid the futuristic skyscrapers. In Freedom Park, travelers can explore the Discovery Place Nature museum – a world-class education center that invites visitors to connect with native plants and wildlife. From botanical gardens to a thriving local art scene and hip neighborhoods rich with organic offerings, Charlotte is a never-ending source of inspiration. Book a Private Historical City Tour to take in the city’s oldest sights, or head to the Asbury, a restaurant that spotlights the finest Carolina cuisine created with heirloom ingredients native to the area. From rich braised short ribs to a peppery warm kale salad, the restaurant champions produce grown by small family farms. With 75% of travelers wanting to have authentic experiences representative of the local culture, a farm-to-plate experience is a fantastic and sustainable way to do this.
Where to stay: The JW Marriott Charlotte in the laid-back Uptown neighborhood is a luxe hotel featuring sleek and modern interiors. Rooms feature magnificently big windows giving a great perspective on the city and flooding the space with natural light. Home to three restaurants that all serve delicious local dishes and make a concerted effort to reduce food waste, the hotel also houses a leafy rooftop garden for unrivaled sunset views.
Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
This small resort town in the Canterbury region of the South Island with its dramatic landscapes and natural hot springs has long punched above its size as a hero of green tourism. Nestled in towering forests, Hanmer Springs offers an alpine respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, and its Thermal Pools have been awarded for their sustainable tourism practices from harnessing geothermal energy to supporting the environment with initiatives such as its water-efficient pools. Hot springs are known to have therapeutic benefits for health and wellness, from deep relaxation to improved sleep, and travelers can experience these first-hand with a Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa Admission, soaking in the mineral rock and soothing sulfur pools heated by Mother Nature. Outside of the springs, travelers can dive into a spirited whirl of activities to immerse in the wild natural beauty of Hanmer, including forest hiking, mountain biking, horse trekking and even bungee jumping for the brave.
Where to stay: Offering great value for money, the 8 on Oregon Boutique Lodge is a short walk from the thermal pools with incredible views overlooking the town. Perched atop Conical Hill, the lodge has three generous sized rooms with balconies overlooking Heritage Forest. Dedicated to providing guests with a more sustainable stay, this property offers eco-friendly products and has a ban on single-use plastics. Guests have the option to opt-out of daily room cleaning, and can tour the hilly surroundings on complimentary mountain bikes.
Located on the banks of the River Isar in the heart of the Bavaria state, Munich is known for its stunning medieval architecture, tasty beer and strong commitment to sustainability. The city has heavily invested in clean energy projects over the years and now generates approximately 43% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. There are a breadth of urban green spaces to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors from the English Garden to the Nymphenburg Palace Park, which features beautifully designed energy-efficient fountains run on hydraulic pump systems. The best way to take in the sights is either on foot or by bike. Travelers can book a Walking Tour of Munich’s Old Town to explore the historic center, including the famous Glockenspiel which consists of 43 bells and displays important scenes from Munich’s history. Or check out Hofbräuhaus, Munich’s famous 16th century tavern, a brewery that operates in a sustainable manner, with its aim to reduce carbon emissions, residual waste and recycle materials.
Where to stay: The modern aparthotel, DD Suites Serviced Apartments, is an oasis of calm in the center of this lively city. Inspired by sleek Scandinavian design, this property uses 100% renewable electricity throughout and offers bicycle parking for those who rent a bike to get around. Guests have access to a balcony and rooftop garden where they can relax with a local beer in hand, as well as excellent access to public transport for those who decide to purchase the Unlimited Public Transportation in Munich.
Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Spellbinding white sandy beaches are Nusa Penida’s most famous attribute, with Diamond Beach the most Instagram-worthy. But there’s plenty more to relish in this off-the-beaten-track topical paradise, a short ferry ride from mainland Bali, with sacred temples, waterfalls and natural infinity pools. At its center, there are windmills that generate enough power for the whole of the island, and it offers a less-is-more approach to hosting visitors by carefully regulating tourism to protect its beaches and marine ecosystem. As a result of the local community working with tourism operators to reduce the negative impact of tourism, travelers will be treated to incredible pristine waters and relatively untouched beaches. Declared a marine protected area in 2010, the island is committed to preserving the natural wonders that lay beneath its shores. Book a Day Tour with Snorkelling and Kayaking for a fun, low-carbon way to explore the island and discover the abundance of rainbow-colored underwater life from manta rays to parrotfish. For those looking to take advantage of the slower pace of life, a Nusa Penida Island Evening Yoga Class will help visitors unwind and rejuvenate in a scenic setting.
Where to stay: Bask in the beauty of nature at Autentik Penida "Glamping”. Boasting ample green space, this adults-only accommodation offers a peaceful escape. The property features a balcony with panoramic views of the jungle and plush bean bags for the ultimate relaxation. An outdoor swimming pool, daily continental breakfast and information on the local ecosystems, heritage and culture of the island is also on offer. For those guests who want to explore beyond their tent, friendly staff are on hand with tours and activities provided by local guides, or enjoy a sunset dinner at the nearby Amok sunset restaurant.
Austria has made considerable efforts to become an environmentally friendly country, with ambitious goals to use more renewable energy and be carbon neutral by 2040. The city of Salzburg is a shining example of its efforts, as its renewable energy use makes up 70% of the country’s total consumption, making it one the greenest cities in the country. Located on the banks of the River Salzach, this city is notable for its art, music and breathtaking medieval and baroque buildings. The historic center of the city has also been awarded a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its rich art and architecture dating back to the Middle Ages. It has superb public transport, as the city has invested in making its transport more environmentally friendly, with electrically powered buses and trolleys and well-developed bike lanes. Travelers can also explore the city on foot and join a Walking Tour with a Local Guide, where they will hear about insightful facts and stories as they trek through the cobbled streets.
Where to stay: With 65% of travelers stating they would feel better about staying in a particular accommodation if they knew it had a sustainable certification, the Salzburg Loft is a light and airy holiday home with fabulous views of the mountains. This property has taken several steps to offer its guests a more sustainable stay, including the use of 100% renewable electricity, and making recycling bins and bicycle parking available to guests. The pantry comes stocked with organic delights and, for those who wish to taste Austria’s thriving farm-to-table gastronomy, the welcoming host gives great local insight into the best restaurants.
*Research commissioned by Booking.com and independently conducted among a sample of 33,228 respondents across 35 countries and territories (1,019 from USA, 1,002 from Canada, 1,007 from Mexico, 1,005 from Colombia, 1,008 from Brazil, 1,015 from Argentina, 1,008 from Australia, 504 from New Zealand, 1,008 from Spain, 1,002 from Italy, 1,008 from France, 502 from Switzerland, 1,008 from the UK, 1,000 from Ireland, 1,008 from Germany, 1,006 from the Netherlands, 1,006 from Belgium, 1,004 from Denmark, 1,007 from Sweden, 1,016 from Croatia, 1,012 from Israel, 504 from UAE, 1,012 from India, 1,001 from China, 1,000 from Hong Kong, 1,000 from Thailand, 1,020 from Singapore, 1,001 from Taiwan, 1,000 from Vietnam, 1,002 from Indonesia, 1,007 from Philippines, 1,002 from South Korea, 1,009 from Japan, 1,005 from South Africa and 510 from Kenya ). In order to participate in this survey, respondents had to be 18 years of age or older, had to have traveled at least once in the past 12 months and must be planning to travel in 2023, and be either the primary decision maker or involved in the decision making of their travel. The survey was taken online and took place in February 2023.
**Destinations are selected from the top 500 destinations selected based on volume of properties with a Travel Sustainable badge and sorted by highest share of overall properties that have the badge. The destinations were slightly curated to ensure geographic distribution.