With hundreds of eco certifications all aiming to guide us to more meaningful, sustainable travel experiences. Behind the Green takes it back to basics. Back to storytelling and human connection. Meet the visionaries behind the world’s best sustainable and regenerative stays.

Written by Rebecca Woolford

Meet Rasika and his lovely wife Dulangi, founders of Ravana Garden in Sri Lanka. Rasika has been a tea taster and recipe creator for the last 25 years. Passionate about sustainabilty since he was young and inspired from regularly visiting the biggest forest in Sri Lanka, his eco-friendly hotel is a dream come true.

Learn more about Ravana Garden here>

Can you tell us the story of how Ravana Garden started?

“For as long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about sustainablity and have always felt compelled to contribute in a positive way. I thought long and hard for years about the problems for our planet. There was so much talk at the time and no action. In 2009 after the war ended tourism grew, pollution was a very big issue in Sri Lanka. After looking at the hotels, the sustainable certifications and standards out there I was disappointed, I knew this was going to be the contribution I was going to make. I wanted to create a hotel which would set the benchmark for sustainability practices not only in Sri Lanka, but for the rest of the world. One of the key initiatives on this project is to introduce the sustainable luxury concept. The key is sustainable luxury is good for your health, relieves stress and enhances familial bonds.’

Which eco initiatives are you most proud of to date?

‘We didn’t cut a single tree in the construction of the hotel, we didn’t use any heavy machinery. You can see from some of the pictures that the rooftop bar has a tree coming right through it. Sunela Jawardene was key in making this design possible. The original business plan proposed 15 bedrooms, but this would have resulted in cutting many of the native trees on the plot. So, after much consideration we reduced the bedrooms to just 9, which meant commercially it was less interesting to investors, but we had to ensure we preserved the natural habitat as there was plenty of wildlife on the shoreline in the trees and shubbery.’

What do guests find most memorable about Ravana?

‘It’s the people here without a doubt. The service our staff provide is most memorable. Our staff go out of their way to make the guests feel happy. They are all very friendly and warm which portrays the true Sri Lankan culture. I believe that the work life balance that we strive to give our staff, the facilities they enjoy, our team culture… all these things go a long way to making them feel happy and this naturally shows to the guests.

There is one other thing and that’s our food. Most of the dishes we serve including deserts are unique to us, we have brought life into some of the ancient/traditional Sri Lankan recipes and customised them to our guest’s pallets. What you eat at Ravana Garden, seldom you’ll find in other hotel’

Not a tree was felled in construction, how did you overcome this?

‘As mentioned before we had to drop the plan of 20 bedrooms for the hotel to just 9 to save every tree. This reduction of rooms was at a huge financial loss. It was more realistic to compromise at 15 bedrooms, as this is the main revenue generator of a hotel. This is proof that we will always try.’

The restaurant doesn’t offer unsustainable foods can you tell me more about what inspired this?

‘It was a tough call. But we knew if we were to go down the sustainable path to the very end and stay true to the sustainable luxury concept, we would need to avoid elements of conflict. So, we decided to remove the top most unsustainable foods from our menu, including things like beef, pork, smoked salmon and lamb.

We provide seafood for guests predominately from the ‘Madal fishing’ which takes place within close proximity to the hotel. It is a common, low impact fishing practice which most of our guests have the opportunity to take part in. Guests that take part can take a portion of the fish back and it will be prepared by our staff.

We didn’t want to force people into a niche so we decided to keep chicken, we didn’t want to alienate people whilst on holiday. The vegetables are so tasty and fresh here, guests that eat meat at home often say they find themselves not missing meat at all.’

What has been the biggest challenge to date as an eco-friendly hotel?

‘In most countries the luxury status of a hotel is often very conflicting with the eco-friendly ethos and values it incompasses. Things like room size and air conditioning are considered conventional. At some points in our journey so far we felt like we were swimming against the tide. So, I would say the biggest challenege is establishing the ‘sustainable luxury standard’. Convincing people to look at their holiday experience in a new way, especially for those who look at luxury stays in a more traditional way.’

What are the best eco activties guests can enjoy at Ravana Garden?

‘There are 3 worth mentioning which are low impact. The first is the private picnic which guests can enjoy on the top of a small mountain by the beach.

The second is our guests will be served a breakfast on the top of a rock surrounded by water, they can enjoy this whilst watching the sunrise. The third is the ‘Madal fishing’ which takes place within close proximity to the hotel. Guests that take part can take a portion of the fish for the staff to prepare and cook for them at the hotel.’

What’s next for Ravana Garden?

‘The vision I have for Ravana Garden is still taking shape. I like to think of it as a rough diamond, there is more polishing to be done for it to reach its true potential. We have an objective to become single-use plastic free, but this is very challenging. We are working on reaching the mission of Sustainable Luxury. Ravana Garden will hopefully become the benchmark and standard in sustainable tourism for every hotel in the world, not just for Sri Lanka. However, to get there we want to become carbon neutral and reduce our footprint even more.’

Learn more about Ravana Garden and do your own green checks here>

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