Nina Boys: Inspiring Change and Driving Sustainability in the Tourism Industry

Published 05/06/2023
Nina Boys interview

Nina Boys interview

Discover the remarkable journey of Nina Boys, a trailblazing entrepreneur at the forefront of sustainable tourism. With a wealth of experience in managing Eco-resorts, conducting inspections for National Geographic Travel, and running a globally respected sustainable tourism company, Nina has dedicated herself to promoting sustainability and responsible practices in the industry. In this changemaker interview, she shares her insights, challenges, and inspiring lessons learned along the way.

Join us as we delve into Nina’s experiences and discover how she is shaping the future of sustainable tourism.

Nina, as a young sustainable tourism entrepreneur, what challenges have you faced in promoting sustainability and responsible tourism practices in the industry? How have you overcome these challenges and what lessons have you learned along the way?

I have been fortunate to wear many hats throughout my career to date – ranging from managing luxury eco-resorts to conducting lodge and hotel inspections for National Geographic Travel to my current role running a sustainable tourism consulting company. While every experience is unique, one challenge that remains consistent is changing the perception of what sustainable tourism means and demonstrating why it is essential to us all.

For many years sustainability in travel has been considered a niche market, business afterthought, or merely a superficial box that needs to be ‘checked’ – rather than being embraced as the future of the industry, which it is. Still today there is a common misconception that businesses must ‘give something up’ to be more sustainable, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

I like to emphasize that investing in best practices and community initiatives is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the key to building competitive tourism businesses and destinations – especially as increasingly savvy travelers demand more transparency and meaningful experiences. This is why the companies that invest in sustainability today will be leaders in the future tourism economy for generations to come.

On the flip side, many businesses want to do better but don’t know where to start. It’s important to break down the false narrative that sustainability is ‘black and white’ or ‘all or nothing’, which is why we like to say that sustainability is a journey rather than a final destination – because every step we take in the right direction counts.

In order to avoid operating in silos, I also believe that as an industry we need to incentivize and embrace collaboration in order to find better solutions, share knowledge, and scale our collective impact.

Being a young professional, and especially as a woman, it can be intimidating to speak up against the status quo and to push back against business as usual. That said, I have consistently grown and learned the most by putting myself in challenging situations; and I find that trusting your own voice and advocating for what you believe in is an important muscle that becomes stronger the more you exercise it.

It is also essential to cultivate a spectrum of diverse perspectives in any room where decisions are being made as it will take all of us working together to create the real changes we need to see. Ultimately, younger generations will soon be leading the charge and dealing with the impacts of decisions made long before their time, and they are paying attention to our actions today.

As Vice President of Sustainability for Beyond Green Travel and PTG Consulting – what do you do in terms of hotel sustainability audits, sustainable tourism development, and destination stewardship projects?

I have the great privilege of running Beyond Green Travel (BGT), which was launched by sustainable tourism pioneer Costas Christ more than two decades ago and was acquired by Preferred Travel Group (PTG) in 2020. BGT’s mission is to transform the travel industry by proving that properly planned and managed tourism can be a powerful force for good in the world. We do this by helping destinations, hotels and travel companies evolve on their journeys by embracing the three key pillars of sustainable tourism – Nature, Culture and Community.

What this looks like in practice can range from conducting sustainability inspections of ecolodges in Mongolia, developing cultural and community-based guest experiences in Costa Brava, collaborating with climate action initiatives in French Polynesia, or developing Destination Stewardship Plans – as we did for Big Sur, California.

BGT is currently working in Alabama as part of a project to expand sustainable tourism and generate social and economic benefits for local communities, including those that have not traditionally benefited from visitation to the state.

BGT is also in the process of spearheading a corporate climate action plan for PTG in partnership with The Travel Foundation, after PTG signed the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism. The goal is to lead by example and maximize impact across the industry, which is another project I am excited about.

How does the Beyond Green hotel portfolio promote sustainability in the tourism industry?

Beyond Green is a global hotel portfolio representing properties around the world that are ‘walking the walk’ of sustainability leadership across the three key pillars of Nature, Culture and Community.

When launching this brand we recognized that despite more travelers seeking out sustainable hotels and travel experiences, it is challenging to navigate what is still a noisy landscape of industry greenwashing and confusing certifications. Beyond Green helps cut through this noise by vetting properties through onsite inspections using third-party auditors to ensure that each member hotel meets our sustainability standards and criteria, which are based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and industry best practices. This allows travelers to find unique accommodation and meaningful experiences that also support the destinations and communities they are visiting, which we consider a true win-win.

Right now we are in the process of developing a 2023 Beyond Green Global Impact Report that will use data and storytelling to illustrate the collective positive contributions and leadership initiatives of our member properties around the world.

Can you share some specific strategies or initiatives you’ve implemented as a General Manager and F&B Director for luxury properties in Latin America to incorporate sustainable tourism practices into the guest experience?

My role as an F&B Director was particularly rewarding, as it tied together three of my great life passions – travel, food and sustainability – not to mention Mexican culture! I worked at two iconic boutique properties where we had the great advantage of producing the vast majority of our own food, and we sought to share the stories behind our local products while showcasing the natural and cultural heritage of the regions through unique culinary events. Nothing connects people like food, and for us this was a vehicle through which we could share our larger commitment to sustainability.

All of our produce was organic and our all-star staff created world-class products that allowed us to curate a dream F&B program and unique culinary experiences that were a cornerstone of our guest experience. Interested guests learned about biodynamic agriculture from our expert farmers before harvesting vegetables for lunch or enjoying a glass of mango grappa using fruits plucked from the trees above. They got hands-on with organic coffee production at our onsite roastery, they met our beekeepers and learned about natural conservation efforts before taking a horseback ride through our spectacular ranch led by caballeros that ended in an al fresco picnic featuring a local mariachi band – and the list goes on.

The most rewarding feedback we received was from guests who were inspired to go home and integrate more sustainable practices into their daily lives.

As a GM, fostering a work environment where employees were invested in leading sustainability initiatives was a priority, so we created opportunities for them to take ownership within their own departments and held ongoing training and workshops – including one led by the country’s foremost biodynamic agriculture expert. We also held an employee ‘property swap’ between our two sister hotels so that our teams could experience guest activities firsthand and learn about the interconnected sustainability work happening at both

Your work as a travel writer and photographer is fascinating! How do you incorporate sustainability and responsible tourism principles into your travel writing and photography, especially in publications like National Geographic, Virtuoso Traveler, and The Huffington Post?

My most memorable travel experiences all boil down to the people I meet and stories I learn along the way. Sharing these stories allows us to understand different ways of life, which is key to cultivating empathy and to expanding our own perceptions of the world. This is why writing and photography are such powerful mediums.

The best stories come from passionate people making changes in the best way they can, often against great odds, so I like to spotlight lesser-heard perspectives where possible; and given that Nature, Culture and Community are at the root of why we travel to begin with, I try to connect those dots in my storytelling – whether I am writing a ‘sustainability piece’ or not.

Sharing examples of what people are doing around the world to protect the planet, celebrate culture, and empower communities is often the best way to plant seeds of awareness about what is possible, and this is a significant source of where I draw my own inspiration from.

I am encouraged to see more mainstream travel publications embracing sustainability as a central theme in their issues, and also to see a greater diversity of writers having the opportunity to share their stories in major outlets. Representation in media matters, and the more unique voices and perspectives we have access to, the better for us all.

How do you see the future of sustainable tourism evolving, and what role do you think young entrepreneurs can play in driving positive change in the industry?

I believe that in the coming years sustainable tourism will become the rule in the industry rather than the exception.

We are at a critical inflection point in our planet’s history, and young travel entrepreneurs need to be brave and bold in asking hard questions, demanding change, leading by example, and centering environmental and social justice in their decision-making.

If you don’t see tourism products or businesses that align with your values, commit to creating them. Push the envelope within your organization in any way you can. Approach the path to positive change as a collaborative effort and seek to elevate the efforts of those who do not enjoy the same privileges that you do.

Additionally, as travel consumers, it is important to align our purchases with our priorities. Demand shapes markets so we must continue to demand better practices, support companies that are doing the right thing, and put pressure on those that aren’t.

And while there are no doubt challenges with living in such an ‘online’ world, young entrepreneurs have unprecedented access to information and communication unlike any generation before us. Use that to your advantage and don’t forget that all of our actions today have ripple effects, most of which you’ll never see, so act accordingly.

As someone wise recently told me, “You never know how many trees can grow from a single apple, so keep planting seeds wherever you go”.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the state of the world and the incredible amount of work that lies ahead in transforming the travel industry. While working to create a brighter future, I would also encourage young entrepreneurs to seek balance by prioritizing your personal wellbeing, establish boundaries, embrace both play and rest, and seek out experiences and human connections that bring you inspiration and joy. Celebrate your accomplishments both big and small. Don’t forget to follow your curiosities and create a life full of the beauty you wish to see in the world.

Thank you, Nina.

Connect with Nina on LinkedIn.

Our key takeaways from the conversation with Nina:

  • Embrace sustainability as the future of the tourism industry: Investing in sustainable practices is not just altruistic but essential for building competitive tourism businesses and destinations.
  • Sustainability is a journey, not a destination: Every step taken in the right direction counts, and collaboration is crucial for finding better solutions and scaling collective impact.
  • Young entrepreneurs can drive positive change: By asking hard questions, demanding change, and leading by example, they can shape the industry, center environmental and social justice, and create products and businesses that align with their values.

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