Although the number of hotels and inns claiming to be sustainable keeps increasing, in reality how many of them are good examples of sustainable hospitality? The Black Sheep Inn in the Ecuadorian highlands is surely one of them. Recognized by various sustainability agencies, ‘La Posada de la Oveja Negra’, as it is called in Spanish, continues to attract travelers from around the world who seek profoundly sustainable lodging. The TripAdvisor’s Ecolíders Platino (2016), the Certificate of Excellence (2013), the SKÅL International Ecotourism Award (2006), and the First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards (2005) are only a few of the numerous international accolades the Black Sheep Inn has received during its 25 years of existence.
The sustainable hotel framework
In general terms, there are various challenges that need to be met when a hotel pursues sustainable endeavors. The most visible characteristic of a so-called sustainable hotel, as perceived by the guests, is certainly the environmental perspective.
Environmental sustainability efforts, such as no plastic policy, selective waste practices, locally grown products and commitment to the circular economy, are easy for hotel guests to see. Nevertheless, if one digs deeper into the details of these ‘practices’, the truth becomes murkier. Indeed, it is not rare that the social and the economic pillars of the Triple BottomLine framework are ignored, which means that the complexity of the sustainability framework is not respected.
Tangible examples of sustainability practices
Without a doubt, what the Black Sheep Inn does is far from greenwashing. It is a tangible example of real sustainability practices with solid philosophical and practical engagements by all internal stakeholders, as Señor Edmundo Vega, the manager of the Black Sheep Inn, concurs. The Inn is located at 3,200m altitude in the Ecuadorian highlands, just a few kilometers from one of Ecuador’s major tourist attractions: the famous Quilotoa crater, perched at an altitude of 4,000m.
The Black Sheep Inn is firmly committed to real environmental efforts such as organic and exclusively vegetarian food, waste recycling, natural spring water for domestic purposes, no plastic policy, dry toilets, local and sustainable building materials. These are non-negotiable for Señor Vega and form the foundation of a sustainable mentality that is shared by all stakeholders who are interested in the place. To illustrate how serious the manager’s commitment to sustainability is, the Inn has a dry-toilet system where a camera-controlled filtering system produces organic fertilizer for local farmers, which he gives away free of charge.
Other arrangements related to the economic and social pillars of the sustainability scheme of the Posada de la Oveja Negra include working exclusively with locals both within and outside of the Inn. In addition to having a fully local hotel staff, whenever guests request other services such as transportation, guiding, massages, horseback riding, etc., the Black Sheep connects guests with local services without taking a commission. Concerning Señor Vega, this is part of the community development that the Inn has been practicing for years. Additionally, the Inn’s management contributes to local empowerment through training and consultancy where the main goal is to advance the surrounding communities towards long-term sustainable tourism practices.
Facing local challenges
Although the Black Sheep Inn does not work toward any specific Sustainable Development Goals on its website, the current practices already fulfil the majority of those objectives.
Nevertheless, the aforementioned sustainability efforts are hampered by a range of challenges, including the country’s economic and social situation. Although Ecuador has various tourism destinations that are considered sustainable, such as the Galapagos Islands and some Amazonian regions, the local infrastructure does not always support sustainable innovations. In hospitality, one of the principal challenges for Señor Vega is that - in spite of the sustainability efforts of the Black Sheep Inn - the region does not have a recycling plant where the sorted waste can be brought. Hence, the manager has to carry it two hours away to the capital, Quito, so it can be recycled.
The second major challenge for the manager of the Inn is related to the mentality of the local culture, which perceives tourism as an effortless industry with immediate and substantial economic benefits. Hence, Señor Vega’s struggles to develop a long-term and sustainable local mentality that supports the emerging tourism activities in the region. Having more tourism initiatives where local stakeholders are committed to sustainability would generate both varied benefits and also more visibility for the region in the international tourism market.
Of course, COVID-19 hit the Black Sheep Inn hard in 2020 with months going by on little if any revenue trickling in. Still, Señor Vega is optimistic about the future and confident about the kind of sustainability-driven tourism that has been expanding quickly in the last decade, particularly in Europe.