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Eco Resorts And The Conscious Traveller – Episode #049

eco resorts

Eco-resort development encourages everyone to think bigger in terms of sustainability and business. So what is best practice when it comes to setting up eco-resorts and how can hosts, who have hundreds of ideas when it comes to setting up their business, how can they sense check their eco-resort ideas?

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Eco-Resort Network

In this episode, I speak with Steph Curtis-Raleigh who is the Publisher of International Glamping Business Magazine and co-organiser of The Eco-Resort Network who shares what an eco-resort is and how it shares its DNA with glamping.

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Today’s episode is brought to you by The Start-Up And Grow Club, which offers an accelerator program and support group for those who want to set up their unique holiday rental, eco-resort or glamping businesses quickly.

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Sarah Riley: I have just returned from the most amazing mind-altering event, encouraging everyone to think bigger in terms of sustainability and business. Mind-altering because that’s what people who were there told me. So what is best practice when it comes to eco-resorts and how can hosts who have hundreds of ideas when it comes to crafting low-impact experiences, how can they sense check their ideas Welcome to episode 49, glamping and unique holiday rentals are surging in popularity with the growing desire of customers to book holidays that deliver an experience. They are also the new business of choice for those wanting to improve their work-life balance. How do you build a strong business like this that gives you the life you need and a great investment? I’m Sarah Riley and I want to share what I’ve discovered after being immersed in this industry for over 20 years, to inspire you to find out more about what’s going on. Welcome. This is the business of glamping and unique holiday rentals.

Sarah Riley: I have just returned from the eco-resort network in Slovenia next to the beautiful lake bled. This is an event that’s organised by J Mendez, Maja Dimnik and Steph Curtis Raleigh, who are three very unique individuals. Who’s been involved in the world of glamping, eco-resorts and everything amazing in the world of hospitality and unique accommodation for many years. So Steph, who is the publisher of the international glamping business magazine joins me today to talk about everything, to do with the network and some of the most amazing experiences we had some of the most memorable experiences, but also about how she aims for their event to challenge us to push more when it comes to providing low impact travel options for the conscious traveller. So I shall head over to the interview now, Steph, so fantastic to have you on the podcast and really excited to talk to you about the eco-resorts network, because we’ve just literally come back. I feel that I’ve only just touched down from it. It was a fantastic network. And we’ll talk about that in a minute, but for anyone who doesn’t really understand the sense of what an eco-resort is, can you explain a little bit more about that and kind of your definition and how you see it, how, your partner kind of organises co-organisers see it as well.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Yeah, absolutely. I see an eco-resort as being something that shares its DNA with glamping, but isn’t necessarily, an alternative structure such as the tent or the cabin or the tree house. I think it can be any type of hospitality offering that has a sustainable ethos and has a sort of experiential aspect to it. So, I think people know if they are an eco-resort in a way, and it doesn’t really matter what the accommodation is constructed from.

Sarah Riley: So does that have to be, a kind of a direct line from the accommodation and the experience to nature Is that something as well That is incorporated

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Yes, I think so. So, I think agri-tourism, that we see in places like Italy and Spain, Portugal, for example, then they’re the precursors to all of this. they are hotels that are, homegrown or home-cultivated, products. they are very much steeped in the traditions of their surroundings, part of their communities, they’re, they’re really, places that have got a very strong sense of place.

Sarah Riley: And in the whole experience, do you think it’s important that there is an element of, sustainability and environmental awareness and protection in everything that the accommodation provider is offering to the guests Is that something that’s really important with eco results

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Yes, I think it is. I think it’s, it’s really the writing that runs through the rock really of what they do. So, it’s in everything. I think it’s, it’s a way of thinking about future generations as well as honouring traditions. So it’s, about looking at, sustainability, not just as, what you do with your recycling or the practical aspects, because some of the things such as solar or, you know, water treatment or whatever, it could be financially beyond the realm for some operators, it’s, it’s more about honouring, the right way of doing things, not, not, taking a fast way or the disposable way, but looking long term, and being authentic really, in the way you do business. and, looking after the people that live around you, the people that work for you, and of course looking after the guests as well, that’s all part of it just, it’s a more conscious way of doing business. Really. It’s not just about, the price per night, or filling rooms, it’s about, being more aware of your responsibilities as a business owner, and hospitality provider,

Sarah Riley: And it links very much more towards the conscious traveler who is looking for a stay where they feel comfortable, that not only are they enjoying comfort and luxury and wonderful experiences, but they also aren’t damaging their environment as much as may be another type of stay. So people are making these conscious decisions. And I think I’m very much in line with regenerative travel. Isn’t it So, can you explain that term because I know a lot of people haven’t really heard that either.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: it’s, it’s a really great term because it means more than just sustaining, which is to keep something going to regenerate is to renew and to, you know, refresh in a way. So, it’s often used in the same way as sustainable travel, but it’s a little bit more ambitious because it looks to make things better than the way you left them. So if you take, an eco-resort or, a hotel and nature hotel, and if you’re looking after the land around it, and you’re also employing people from the local community, you’re bringing business to the area, then you’re regenerating. You’re not just sustaining what you have.

Sarah Riley: and I love that as well as that you’re, you’re taking something, but you’re giving back more, therefore, you know, we’re in a positive kind of credit situation rather than a negative situation. So network, having now attended, I’ve attended a lot of your online events, which have been brilliant and, even presented at a few of them. And, but having attended the one in Slovenia, I would have to say, because I always love to really chat to everyone. Who’s there, ask them why they came, what they’ve got from it and all that kind of thing. So I think it’s really important to kind of keep your finger on the pulse of what people are experiencing and what they’re learning and how they’re growing and developing and everything else. And one of the people who attended one of the businesses who attended said something really interesting, which I thought was really kind of highlighted to me that it was a mind-altering event.

Sarah Riley: And the reason that I say this is because that person came to the event and they said, you know what I actually thought I was a big fish and I had all these big ideas and I’ve come here and I’ve realised that actually, I was thinking so much smaller than I should have been thinking, and I can think so much bigger and I can become so much more. And they left the event feeling really motivated, really inspired. And literally, their mind had rewired, their brain had rewired itself. They could see things beyond what they had been seeing things before they attended. And I would have to agree, I think very much so. And, and I, and it wasn’t just one person, there were numerous people who talked in those terms. And so was that kind of the aim for you the event was that what you were hoping for

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Well, when you meet, when you talk to a bunch of really inspiring people, then you think, oh, I, you know if only that person knew that person or I could introduce that person, or I could share what great, exciting thoughts or philosophies that person’s got more widely. So I think that when you say think bigger, I know exactly what you mean, but it doesn’t necessarily mean what people might, who are listening might think. Yes, of course, there were some people there that had, quite, amazing resorts in amazing locations, you know, apply a diva in Mexico going to lodge in Butan, for example. I mean, but not everybody’s in that position, to operate sites like that. I think that the way of thinking bigger is, is, is sort of thinking differently about what, how, why you’re doing things and how you’re doing them.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: So, when we run our businesses, we tend to get, mired in the detail and the small, but necessary tasks that we have to carry on out, whether they’re that returns or God knows what, you know, I’m changing the printer cartridge, or, but it’s not often that we get a chance to really sit down and talk to other people, doing something similar to us and say, why are we doing this And how can we make a difference to people and the world in whilst we’re doing something that we already enjoy. So, and I think that that’s really a great luxury. And I think that when we talk about, excuse me when we talk about luxury, I think that that has also is crucial, that has changed as well. we’re not talking about, fast cars and flashy places and marble and gold.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: And we’re talking about luxury these days as being a chance to experience something that we don’t get the opportunity to do every day. And that’s what these, hospitality providers are doing very successfully. They’re giving people an experience they wouldn’t normally get, but all said, that’s partly what the event did because it gave us all the luxury of, talking about things we’re really interested in with a bunch of like-minded people and not boring our partners and friends about it, but actually just having the luxury of, of talking about everything, whether it be well to treat with, or, you know, how we can treat our stuff better or recruit people or whatever it was, it was two days of amazing, fabulous people.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely. And, and seeing fabulous things as well. And then this for me, was, really amazing to be taken out of my normal environment, going somewhere completely different that I hadn’t really didn’t have on my radar as somewhere I wanted to visit in the next few years. You know, maybe something I would do when I’m a bit older. but I’m late bled in Slovenia is just stunning. Can’t quite believe how stunning it is and why didn’t I want to go there sooner. It’s amazing. I recommend wholeheartedly anybody go to Slovenia Lake Bled, amazing. but it was that opportunity to see things and to be let into doors that you wouldn’t normally be let in. So to actually go into garden village bloods, the glamping resort there near Lake Bled, and to have the opportunity to experience and understand everything that it takes to run a resort like that.

Sarah Riley: And to, you know, that whole world, swimming in the natural pool. If anyone wants to have a look at that, the pictures of what we’re talking about, go to my Instagram account, which is, @ inspired-camping. And you can see the pictures of this amazing natural pool. I’ve had so many comments on that from people saying this is astounding, that it’s a natural pool. It looks so beautiful. But then to have a tour of the place, to see the kitchen garden, to experience the restaurant with the water running through it and the grass top tables and the different variety of structures. And one of the things that really stood out to me and a few others, I think it might even have been used stuff you highlighted. It was about the sound of the water going through past the tents to help to give a white noise or background noise so that people couldn’t hear each other in each other’s tends to give a bit more of a level of privacy, but we would not have experienced that had we not come to your event. So is this something you wanted to do to kind of create these unique experiences

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Completely I mean, I do realise that there is slight hypocrisy and getting people to maybe fly in from different parts of the world when we’re talking about sustainability, but we are in the travel business. And so I think we can be forgiven a little bit, on that front. we wanted to keep the event small under 50 people because of the fact that I think these days, everybody wants to just network in smaller groups and, and be in smaller groups. and that way also meant we were easier able to get around and go to places. We couldn’t have obviously descended on a grand paying site in the height of the season with 300 people, for example. but we were able to wander around God and village, which was a real privilege. And to see me, the moment was, I think I was walking with you when the family with, several young children emerge from their tent and went and actually did go swimming and pool.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: but the excitement and to see them sitting around and everything. And it just, it couldn’t, it was like an advert for the, for the glamping site, just to see these kids having such a great time, and how relaxed it all was. but I think it, yes, we wanted to tablet the event to glamping, or eco-resort so that people could have a little look under the covers and see how other people do it because perhaps people don’t often get the chance to do that, themselves, cause they’re very busy with their own businesses. So that was lovely. really lovely. And that’s, something that we aim to continue with future events because it’s, I think it, it really makes it stand out. and there was somebody on the trip. Who’s actually, I think one of your people, Sarah, who said that the way that they learn is not, you know, they’re not very good at sort of book learning and therefore has found it difficult to retain information and, and, and this sort of thing. So I feel a practical element to this. I mean, the conversation was, was great, but also to be able to go and look at something and think, oh, that’s an idea that I’ll take back with me. I think that’s, that’s really positive.

Sarah Riley: Yeah, absolutely. And as humans, we learn so much more when all of our senses are engaged, you know, touch, see scent, smell all of those things. And so to actually go to a site to actually touch the fabric, to see how they are doing a certain thing, how that overcoming a problem, and then to talk about it with others and really discuss how it may be applied to our own situation when we go home. so that for me very much was a great learning experience. And I think as well, because we had, Maja Dimnik there, who is your co-organiser, who works with you, on the eco-resort network. And she very much was involved in the setup stage of garden village bled. And, she had a long conversation at the event with everyone and answer lots of questions about the details and what was involved in setting up what worked well and what didn’t work quite so well. And that in itself was just incredible to be allowed, to look behind the curtain and to understand what it really takes, to set up something like that.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Yes, yes. I mean, she set up several will help to launch several sites in Slovenia and Slovenia to such small country has more than its fair share of really top-level glamping sites and the, which is, I think as a result, there’s just a lot of talent. The ground guys wore at the event, they had designed many of these, and there are taps designed many of these sites. So if any lesson is interesting, that, that the first one we’ve mentioned is Garden Village. but there’s also Chateau Du Shack.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely. And talking about another talented person who also helped you organise the event with J, who I think he likened himself at the time, it was kind of the resident DJ, because he was sitting there juggling a million things and doing so many different sides of the tech side, the event,

Steph Curtis Raleigh: it is a wonderful partner in crime who come, he’s a digital nomad. You know, he, he literally, Hey, he lives what he’s or he believes then he, he came by train by bus, by every method possible, from Spain where he’s currently living with his partner. and, yeah, he did all the tech and he, it was rather an ambitious undertaking because we ran a hybrid event at the same time. So we ran an online digital event at the same time involving, some live streaming of what was going on, during the two days, we had some technical, hiccups, but I mean, considering that Jane managed that all on his own filming and, and making sure that their live event, that, that things were happening at the right time and people could hear it was, the massive and he stayed so calm. He, you know, he called himself the DJ, J Mendez.

Sarah Riley: Oh, I’d have to say, I don’t think I could be as calm as he was. He was just incredibly calm. It was infectious and yeah, it’s amazing.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Somebody like that, you don’t want somebody who’s going to panic.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely. So what was the best thing from your perspective about the event?

Steph Curtis Raleigh: I think that the most exciting thing Nate was the first night when everybody was arriving. it was a little bit like, well, what should I say It’s a bit like reality TV or something like big brother house, or we didn’t know who was going to walk into the door next. And there were a couple of people who I wasn’t even sure that they were coming or not, they’d expressed an interest. And they said, yes, yes. And I thought, I’m not sure they’re going to turn up. And they did. but also, you know, having only just dealt with people by email, I have that profile pictures, sometimes profile pictures. Don’t tell the whole story, about what people are really like in the flash. So I think, that is the difference. Isn’t it That’s the big difference. I mean, I’d never even met J before in real life.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: We’d done two years’ worth of events together, but because of the pandemic we’d never actually met in person before. And he’s, you know, he was quite different from how I was expecting, even though I’ve seen him on screen a million times. So I think there is a sort of, another aspect of meeting people when you meet them and lash, that was really apparent to me. And that first night and the sunshine, it hadn’t been great weather, the sunshine, onto the lake. And we, we had some drinks that, people arrived and they met each other. And at that point not many people knew one another. So we were really, really necessary to make those introductions and to get people talking. But by the end of the event and the last morning when everybody was leaving, they don’t bombed it to such an extent they live and like bear helps and swapping telephone numbers, and I’m going to come and stay on your site. I’m going to bring my mates, my family, my, this, that I kind of almost felt we’d done. Didn’t tell us that he had done exactly what we hope they don’t bond it together. They formed from friendships. They had shared, Hangover’s

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Inspired by one another. And since then, all I’ve been doing is passing on contact details or, you know, to different people. and just, you know, we’ve had such lovely feedback. So my, the best thing was just seeing people in the flash,

Sarah Riley: Especially after the years that we’ve had. And I would absolutely agree with you that, you know, that whole bonding experience it by the end of the event was it was a different room of people than at the beginning of the event. And that’s why having, I suppose, that smallest style of event allows everyone to speak to everybody. You know, that’s the thing, wasn’t it, we, I think we were able to, you know, speak to everyone about their projects, individual projects. We knew each other by name. Everybody knew everybody by the end of it. And that’s, you know, obviously

Steph Curtis Raleigh: I thought I felt that the atmosphere became more and more supportive of people of one another. So that last afternoon we had two new businesses pitching their I, their business plan, so to speak, Astro and Rachel and, you know, it was obviously it was a big deal for both of them and quite nerve-wracking. but I thought everyone was sort of like, yeah, go for it, you know, really supporting them and, and, kind of, the Goodwill in the room with Ms was brilliant, at that point. So yes, it was, it was lovely to see everybody get to know each other and then get on so well,

Sarah Riley: it’s a great, great, organised event. You know you create curated, a sequence of experiences that allowed that to happen. I think, and, and that’s what I think was such a success

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Take credit for the harmonica playing, host We went to a traditional restaurant and, and at the end of the evening, our, our host there who’d shared us how to make gingerbread then then started to give us a musical rendition didn’t pay Sarah.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely. That’s she you’ve reminded me of. That’s one thing I have not shared on my Instagram. I’m going to now for sure. Anyone listening @inspired-camping go and check it out and you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. It was amazing, especially when he started singing Elvis at one point didn’t he.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: That’s true. So I think for everybody, there is obviously an element in it in an event like this, that it’s got to be good fun, and we’ve got to be somewhere where people are interested to go and visit. you know, there is a little bit of that there, you, you want to tempt people in by saying, oh, I’d love to go there. I’d love to do that. But that was that wasn’t elements of it. Wasn’t completely the whole thing that we, we, we gave everybody a good sense of where they were and some lovely evenings out, but on a scarf, we did do some work in between.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely. But my experience as someone who attended it, and yes, I did a session there as well, but as someone who attended it, I know that most of the benefit comes from the time in the corridors, the time by the coffee machine, the time having breakfast, the time in the pub in the evening or in the restaurant, you know, that’s when you have those really deep conversations and make those business connections that you wouldn’t otherwise have. so yes, I think that there is an importance of having some fun, but there’s also that importance of having that downtime when everyone’s actually getting together and really finding out about each other’s businesses and how we can all work together. I think for me, that’s the most, beneficial time.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Yeah, I totally agree. And, that’s the major aspect of an event like this. Definitely.

Sarah Riley: So in terms of, looking at what someone is doing and making it as low impact as possible, and certainly their experiences as low impact. So you have so many contacts with lots of different businesses because of your role as a publisher of the international glamping business magazine. And I know that you see all kinds of amazing ideas, things that people are doing, for their own glamping businesses, their eco-resorts and whatever else, way they’d like to describe their business. So if a host has an idea, when it comes to crafting a low impact experience, how can they sense check their ideas with others How can they come together with an, you know, in a, in a kind of a network environment when there aren’t events happening like yours, but, you know, how can people kind of sense check, check their ideas in a network situation

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Well, I think there’s no wrong when it comes to trying to be more sustainable. there’s no, you know, as I said before, some of the ways in which you can be more sustainable with your power in which is something that will be, obviously, we’re all very aware of at the moment they’re expensive to implement and they’re beyond a lot of people’s means. so I think that it’s about doing what you can, when you can and as sense checking, well, we probably going to get some feedback anyway, from your guests and your staff. You know, if you’re making people do things that they think that unnecessary, they’ll probably let you know that at some point or that, I mean, I once went to stay on a site that was full of sort of little passive-aggressive notes telling guests they should do this and they should do that and they should do the other to be more environmentally friendly.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Now that’s a bit of a turnoff for me. I don’t want to be lectured when I’m on holiday. And also I then discovered in, class, the questioning that, that the highly segregated recycling was actually all just thrown together at the end of the day because the council couldn’t collect it all as separate items. So in a sense, and it was justified as well, you know, it’s, they should be doing this, the guests. And I think that this is where people maybe go wrong with it. in the same way as those notes that we see in, in, hotel setting, you know, leave your towel here or leave your towel there, or, you know, if you want it changing or not changing, and then, then they, they ignore it anyway and do what they want to do. It’s like B I think come up with some ideas that, you know, work for you, and that you can implement and your staff can implement.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: And that, that, that your guests will like, and then stick with them and be consistent about it. That’s probably the best advice. So start with something like, what you buy in, you know, where you buy things like toilet roll, what kind of cleaning, sort of, liquids and things that you use around the site. So it might be a few shopping choices, for example, that you make, Martha Fosbury who writes stores, you write brilliantly for us. She did a wonderful green cleaning products, Roundup, which you can catch on our, on our back issues. for example, so that’s something we can all do. I mean, you know, shopping is something we can do. and so things like that, and then work your way up to other, bigger ticket items that might make a difference. and tell your, if they want to hear about it, tell them, but don’t Ram it down their throats, what they’re doing, because people are interested and they will want to know more.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: but just growing your own food, growing some, some food on-site that you can, you know, pass on or grow just great for yourself, but also show people that are staying that that’s what you’re doing now, who doesn’t like a look around a garden and see things growing. So I think there’s lots of different ways you can go up from that to, for, you know, to the ridiculous, like, I’ll give you an example of something fabulous. They are off grid. They, they can’t easily take their waste off the islands, or they pay for it to be collected by boat. So they’ve set up a glass factory where, or a factory, a glass blowing studio on the island where they take all their empty bottles that the guests use, and they, recreate them into wonderful artworks and glasses and bottles and things for people to take away as souvenirs. So, you know, there’s one end of the spectrum on the other end of the spectrum, I’d say, think about where you buy your loo rolls from. You know what I mean There’s all sorts of things you can do, just remove your single-use plastics or just whatever. It’s fine. There’s no right or wrong.

Sarah Riley: I love that. And I think as you said, it’s more about inspiring people rather than lecturing people. And for sure people always rebel against a lecture, but if they’re inspired, then they’ll do even more. so what’s for your next event, obviously it’s a long way off, but you must be starting to plan it already.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: You have to. I mean, almost immediately we knew that this one looked like it was going to be a success, then the pressure is on because there are people that can’t make the dates for this one that say, oh, but I’d love to come along next year. And then you’re sort of like, right, but you start thinking about next year. So we’ve not gone too far away geographically from where we were this year. and we are basing ourselves in Croatia, next year. so a bit more, a bit more see rather than lakes next year. and we will be, we pretty certain we’ll be around the Dubrovnik area. we would say that we have an opportunity to nip across the border into Montenegro where one of our delegates from this year’s event is in the middle of building, a very large resort ramping, experiential, hospitality resort with zip was, and restaurants, and God knows what there, so it won’t be completed by the time we go, which is even better, even more exciting because we will be able to go and rattle around and see, you know, the construction in progress and see what’s being done and how it’s being done.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: So that’s the plan for next year. So yes, Croatia and Montenegro.

Sarah Riley: Oh, fantastic. Well, I know that you’ll come back on the podcast near the time and you’ll share with everybody your plans and what you’re going to do. And I’m definitely looking forward to that. so what’s, what’s in your kind of radar, your vision for the next couple of weeks, bring it into a kind of bit closer timeframe.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: We’re of course we’re working towards the glamping show in September, so that’s, that’s the next thing followed play sleep by the glamping, show us, in, that will be in early October, just outside of Denver, Colorado, which has grown massively as well. So we’re looking forward to that as well. God just sounds as though I’d get about all over the place, but yeah, we’ve got lots of exciting projects and lots of deadlines for the magazines as well. So look out for the next, working on the July issue. So,

Sarah Riley: Oh, well, thank you so much for giving us your time to taste that because I know you’re obviously really busy. but I know if I would be really grateful to hear about everything that happened and, and everything about the network. And I look forward to hearing more for the next event.

Steph Curtis Raleigh: Thank you so much. And just to say that everybody as well permits, it’s not just an event for big fancy resorts. This is for everybody.

Sarah Riley: Great. Thanks Steph, and take care.

Sarah Riley: So if you want to get involved in the next eco-resort network event, all you need to do is hop on over to You’ll find out everything you need to know there. And if you want to see a little bit of the behind-the-scenes and what happens at networks like this without actually attending, then go over to my Instagram account. I have a little look at stories, wheels, and the posts that I share there, and that will give you everything you need to know to make you feel like you’re taking part in some small way. The Instagram handle is of course @inspired_camping Thank you so much for joining me today. Look forward to you joining me again very, very soon. Take care.

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