Where luxury and sustainability meet – this alumna’s hotel collection proves that premium doesn’t have to cost the earth

Class of 2011 alumna Maria Olazabal is on a mission to unite the worlds of sustainability and luxury – and it’s going well! Her business, Eco Hotels & Resorts has 26 properties on its books, with 30 more on the waiting list. But there have been challenges, not least Maria starting her first entrepreneurial venture just a few months before a worldwide lockdown. We caught up with her to find out more…

After graduating from Les Roches Switzerland in 2011, Maria headed back home to start her hospitality career, first in luxury concierge, then sales. “I came back to Mexico because I believe if you have the opportunity to study abroad and acquire a lot of expertise, then you should come back to your country and give back to your community.”

Maria took a role at luxury lifestyle group Quintessentially as an Account Manager, before heading into hotels with luxury boutique chain Grupo Habita. It was there that she began to consider sustainability in the luxury segment. “I started thinking a lot about sustainability – what is the industry doing for the environment and the local communities? The industry has a huge impact, if one out of ten jobs in the world is involved to the tourism industry, we have the possibility to help one out of ten communities in the world.”

“I wanted to show the world that you can travel sustainably in luxury travel.”

I researched and realized that there were many hotels working for the environment and their communities. I thought how can I help these hotels gain more exposure and brand recognition? I wanted to show the world that you can travel sustainably in luxury travel. And that’s how the company started.”

Building a trusted collection of hotels

With the challenge accepted, Maria set about finding and partnering with luxury hotels that were genuinely investing in sustainable practices. “There’s a lot of green washing out there, so we wanted to curate a collection of luxury hotels that you can trust are sustainable. It’s a huge necessity right now.”

Then the world, and travel, came to a standstill.

“We started operations in November 2019 and a few months later Covid hit. We had hotels saying, ‘we cannot commit, we want to go in again later, but right now we’re going to close’. We were thinking, what are we going to do? If we lose the hotels, we don’t have a company. It was difficult, but we made it through and I’m super excited about where we are today and where we’re headed.”

We currently have 26 properties, with a presence in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa – including popular destinations such as The Maldives and Fiji. And we have more than 30 hotels wanting to join the collection, all of which will have to meet our strict sustainability standards.”

Taking the entrepreneurial path

Like many Les Roches alumni, Maria chose to start her own venture and become an entrepreneur. All alumni have their individual reasons for taking the path less traveled, and for Maria it was about reconnecting an old passion with a new one. “As you get older, you start changing and I felt a part of my life that I loved was missing, so I thought how can I find it again? How can I give back to communities while also doing what I love? So I quit my job and started a business!”

“It has definitely been very challenging, but at the same time so gratifying. It’s still crazy, but it’s fun, I love that I’m excited every day about what’s going to happen. I have a lot of visions and a lot of things I want to do and where we want to take the company. Ultimately, we want to be a worldwide collection and work to make sustainable travel the norm, not the exception.”

“You have to trust your path. Trust your instincts. Trust yourself.”

Even though Maria admits that taking the leap from employee to founder was a scary move, she knew it was the right decision, and she endorses the entrepreneurial career path wholeheartedly. “It’s been a crazy adventure and I totally recommend it. There’s nothing better in the world than waking up every morning and being happy about what you’re going to do with your day. You must trust your path. Trust your instincts. Trust yourself. Listen to yourself, have fun, and give it all you have. I think it’s the best life you can have.”

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