| Holy City Refuge |
Early one smog-enshrouded morning in Varanasi, India, my pollution-spewing tuk-tuk 3-wheel taxi zooms across the cow-and-car congested city streets and delivers me to the sparkling 5-star Radisson.
To say the least, this is one of Varanasi’s top hotels. The accommodations are flawless–from immaculately clean, tasteful rooms and reliable WiFi, to excellent fitness, spa and dining facilities. My own reaction is a combination of relief and unease, for this is my first visit to India and I am still shocked by her vast disparities—such as the juxtaposition between the numberless alms-seekers holding out creased palms on the ghats overlooking the Ganges River and the liveried waitstaff at the hotel’s Sunflower Café who insist on unfolding my napkin when I am seated before the sumptuous morning buffet.
I am certainly not the first to note that India is a study in contrasts, and that Varanasi–3 thousand years old and among the world’s most ancient continuously inhabited cities–is perhaps all the more so. Best known for the timeless and holy Hindu ritual of cremation on the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi is also beset with high poverty levels, poor water and air quality.
I become impressed with the Radisson’s approach to these challenges.
What Radisson does
“On a regular basis, we support local orphanage houses with clothing, impoverished villages with food, and local parks with employee-volunteers,” Rajiv Kuman Rai, director of sales, tells me. “About 70% of the hotel’s 250 employees regularly participate—planting greenery and cleaning up public areas. We’ve also had success leveraging the experience and resources of our sister hotels and corporate parent in helping us assist in these programs.”
Radisson Varanasi’s social and environmental programs exemplify the responsible business mandate of that parent, Carlson. It’s among the more than 240 hotels that have obtained some form of responsible business certification out of the company’s nearly 1,100 hotels globally. The Radisson Hotel Varnasi has received the EarthCheck Bronze certification, a significant accomplishment.
The hotel’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint include a water treatment facility that provides irrigation for the gardens and cleans the water before it eventually flows back to the Ganges across town. Energy consumption is being reduced by motion sensors that shut off lights automatically in unoccupied areas. Kitchen compost makes its way into pig feed with local farmers, though Radisson is in the initial planning stages to convert kitchen waste to biogas.—Michael Straus, Contributing Editor
Michael Straus is a veteran environmental writer who reviews regularly for Green Traveler Guides.