Sip Cocktails While Saving the Beach at This Paradise Resort

From Colombia to Greece, Regenerative Hotels are ensuring your gorgeous vacation remains gorgeous.

Published on 4/11/2023 at 10:00 AM

Blue Apple Beach | Photo by Victoria Holguín for Thrillist

Becoming an eco-hotel and non-profit wasn’t originally part of the plan for Blue Apple Beach founder, Portia Hart, who candidly begins our conversation by explaining how she wanted a place to drink rosé on the beach, and so she created one—but things evolved rapidly.

After opening the 10-room boutique hotel and beach club on Tierra Bomba island off Cartagena, Colombia in 2016, Hart quickly realized the disconcerting impact hotels often have on local communities. For example, the garbage from guests was ending up in a neighbor’s lawn.

“That was a very sobering moment,” says Hart, who had thought she was paying someone for trash removal, but then realized that waste was going into a nearby hole. Hart explains how, like many of us, “I never thought twice about where something goes when I put it in the trash.” It was then that she realized the underserved island didn’t have a lot of municipal services—and so her priorities suddenly pivoted.

This realization would eventually lead her to join a group of hotels trying to improve their surroundings—hotels that are often difficult for people to find—but first she had some work to do. She started by figuring out what she could contribute to the local community and the environment. She focused on working with local suppliers, sourcing ethical meat, using solar energy, reusing greywater for irrigation, and paying above-average wages.

“Blue Apple has become my reaction to the world around me,” says Hart. “It became part of my DNA to have a business that’s producing good opportunities for local people and plays a role in the community.”

Portia Hart, founder of Blue Apple Beach | Photo by Victoria Holguín for Thrillist

“It became part of my DNA to have a business that’s producing good opportunities for local people and plays a role in the community.”

And Hart didn’t stop there. She didn’t want to just neutralize the impact from the hotel, she also wanted to offer some service that hadn’t been there before. So in 2018, she sat down and created the Green Apple Foundation. This non-profit, which is a separate entity from the hotel, cleans garbage in the community and provides jobs at the same time. The organization hires and trains locals in waste management, and to date, the foundation has diverted 250 tons (that’s about 500,000 pounds) of waste from landfills. It’s this foundation that has created the most profound change and opportunity—not just in Cartagena, but throughout the country.

Green Apple opened and runs the first glass recycling operation on the coast of Colombia, which sells and donates hundreds of tons of glass sand for local construction. It has also educated over 600 people across 25 businesses in how to reduce their waste, and is currently working with five other island businesses to replicate the model of self-sufficient waste management. And the non-profit has trained 10 people in a glass art course, six of whom now run their female-owned artisanal glass business, offering workshops at the Blue Apple hotel. In addition to all that, it only makes sense, then, that Blue Apple is between 75 to 80 percent waste free.

“Hospitality is about creating temporary communities, but you create those by tapping into communities that already exist,” says Hart. She explains how the hospitality industry in the area is working to become a network, so that customers can easily hop from one business to the other. “Instead of being competitors, we’re collaborating with one another.”

“Hospitality is about creating temporary communities, but you create those by tapping into communities that already exist.”

Now, in addition to Blue Apple Beach being the hotspot for “guilt-free fun,” where locals and guests alike can sip quality rosé on a lounger during the week or dance poolside to a resident DJ on weekends, it’s also a leading example of responsible travel in Colombia. The hotel even holds B-Corp certification.

But it also joined a bigger movement when it became a member of Regenerative Hotels.

Hart’s sustainable vision caught the attention of Regenerative Travel in September 2019. The parent company began Regenerative Hotels as a program to help connect travelers to sustainable, independent hotels that can be challenging to find because they’re often not listed on mainstream booking sites. The collection seeks properties that are mission-driven with independent spirit, honor a sense of place, and offer an ethos of service.

“Regeneration is something you don’t finish, it’s continual evolution,” says Amanda Ho, cofounder of Regenerative Travel. This consortium of independent boutiques are rooted in community to enable people, nature, and culture to thrive. Other properties around the world include Andronis Concept Wellness Resort in Greece, Jade Mountain in the Caribbean, Eaton DC in the USA, The Datai Langkawi in Malaysia, Emboo River in Kenya, and many others. And the best part? Regenerative Hotels is actively accepting members.

Just this month, the company welcomed its newest members. Kasbah du Toubkal in Morocco only employs local Berber guides and supports Berber women in selling foods like homemade bread. And at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba, not only were single-use plastics banned 20 years ago, water canteens and coolers were also installed to discourage guests purchasing plastic bottles; 290,000 water bottles are saved per year.

“Hopefully, they then go to their next hotel, restaurant, or bar on their next holiday, and they’re like ‘Oh, no I don’t want a straw.’”

“We really believe that there should be a Regenerative Hotel in every destination, in every city,” Ho adds. “Not just hotels in remote destinations but also in urban environments.” Other new members include Woods at Sassan in India and Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn.

While Regenerative Travel caters to those looking to vacation more responsibly, Hart shares that she still receives travelers outside the Regenerative network who may not actively seek out the hotel for their eco-initiatives, but are pleasantly surprised to discover them upon check-in. After all, some people are just seeking a luxury vacation, not necessarily trying to save the world. Here, they can have both without trying.

So yes, you can drink your pina colada and lounge by the private pool next to your thatched-roof hut at Blue Apple. You can go horseback riding from beach to beach, kayak mangroves, snorkel coral reefs, join a dance class, or enjoy a massage, outdoor movie, and dinner on the beach. But Hart also hopes guests sort of accidentally pick up ideas about reducing negative impacts while traveling. “Hopefully, they then go to their next hotel, restaurant, or bar on their next holiday,” she says, “and they’re like ‘Oh, no I don’t want a straw,’ or they might even ask the waiter, ‘Do you get paid a salary?’”

It’s all about raising awareness and “finding a way to tell stories about what you do so that the consumer never feels judged,” as Hart says. “Instead, they feel like they got what they wanted and more.”

Jillian Dara is a contributor for Thrillist.

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