Origin Story Interview W/ Patricia Plesner, EcoHotels.com

Origin Story Interview W/ Patricia Plesner, EcoHotels.com

Brighter Future

 / 

Jun 15, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #TravelWithPurpose #SustainableTourism #FairTrade #GreenHospitality #ResponsibleTravel #FutureOfTravel

Brighter Future

We’re thrilled to be joined by Patricia Plesner, the CEO of EcoHotels.com, a hotel booking site focused on true sustainability, fair principles, and low commissions.

Hi, Patricia! Thank you so much for speaking to us today. We’re excited to learn more about you and EcoHotels. Let’s start with the basics. Where are you from?

I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. Myself and my sister were sustainably raised from the day we could crawl. My parents focused a lot on giving us only the best produce with minimal chemicals, teaching us to prioritize buying organic and Fairtrade products and produce, minimising plastic, second-hand shopping, and so on. From an early age, I learned that sustainability didn’t just mean a focus on the environment; it also meant a focus on society and economics. For me, personally, I found the societal aspect of sustainability to be the area that made me think the most, especially in terms of equal opportunities, education, and a fair living standard. I have always travelled widely and lived in different places around the world, which has only enhanced my commitment to sustainable living.

Wow! It’s pretty rare to meet someone who was raised with a focus on sustainable living from a young age. We love the idea of EcoHotels.com! What exactly led you to the idea for the business?

EcoHotels.com was founded in April of 2020, just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. We are a booking site solely dedicated to eco-certified, sustainable hotels, as I believe this is the future for us as travellers. As the pandemic hit the hospitality and leisure sector, millions of jobs were lost—jobs primarily held by women, young people, and low-education employees. In particular, developing countries that depended on tourism were set back many years, and the effect this has had on the world has not even been measured yet. We hope that through EcoHotels.com, we can provide small, sustainable, eco-friendly businesses with the exposure and support they need to get back on their feet post-pandemic.

That’s a really impressive ambition, especially at such a tough time for travel. You mentioned that sustainability was a big part of your childhood. What drives you now, as an adult, to keep going with EcoHotels.com?

I believe that we have an opportunity to make an impact on the hospitality industry and on the world. We allow eco-certified hotels to join our site for free. We also put in some promotional effort on our side to help them get established on the site, and they only pay 10% in commission in comparison to the sometimes 30% hotels are used to paying. Hopefully, this will prompt more hotels to take a sustainable approach to business while also allowing for more profit to be made. With a better bottom line, these hotels can hire more people, pay better salaries, support other local businesses, and so on. That’s what motivates me to keep going with the business. We can see a real difference in the hotels we work with, the people they hire, and the communities they support.

That’s a truly inspiring approach. So often, we focus on the big global issues that feel insurmountable and overlook the everyday improvements that result from mission-focused businesses. Let’s get back to EcoHotel.com. Who exactly is this booking site aimed at?

The hotel booking business is extremely difficult to figure out. Many of the big booking sites undermine the hotels they work with and are continuously fined for misleading advertising, aggressive sales tactics, and putting psychological pressure on travellers. So, our business is two-sided. With EcoHotels.com, it’s my hope that we can support small boutique hotels. But I also hope that we can give travellers (as 50% of people would like to travel more sustainably in the future) a platform where transparency, fair principles, and sustainability are key.

We love that! There’s no reason why travelling the world and exploring new places can’t also align with a person’s values in terms of sustainability. How did you know that you had a viable idea with EcoHotels.com?

At the time that the pandemic hit, I was supposed to attend Columbia University for my master’s degree. That didn’t happen. The option to travel the world was put on hold, but I never doubted that it would come back. I didn’t, however, have any idea that it would take this long. For many of us, our mental wellness depends on the ability to take breaks away from the stresses of daily life or to experience different cultures or places for perspective. And it doesn’t have to be abroad or some far-flung destination. The anticipation and “looking forward to” part of a break away, near or far, is something that always brings us a little joy. When that was taken away by the pandemic and we felt its absence in our lives, I knew that there was space in the market for EcoHotels.com.

That’s so true! We don’t realise how important something is—even just the option of having it—until it’s gone. What fundamental beliefs or life experiences informed your start-up journey with EcoHotels.com?

I believe every experience in life can make you wiser, including the good and the bad. Sometimes struggles are necessary, as they show us how to move towards better things. Learning from our mistakes is part of everyday life. Even today, I am still making mistakes and continuously learning, and it’s something that will probably continue for the rest of my life. The greater level of education and awareness around environmental issues and climate change will, I believe, continue to grow. With EcoHotels, we also bring in the societal and economic side of the issue, which will hopefully shape the future of travelling. Those are the things that underpin my startup journey: a willingness to fail and learn, and an optimism about the future.

We know that starting a business takes more than just passion and a great idea. There are inevitably things that don’t go to plan. Can you think of a time when you failed or when things didn’t quite turn out how you expected? What did you learn from this?

Personally, my biggest failure was focusing primarily on the environmental factors associated with the hotels and less on the societal factors. I am motivated by making it possible for hotels to increase diversity, pay fair salaries, offer better educational options, and so on.  I’m not as driven by water savings or better light-saving bulbs. Both of these are necessary and important, so they need to be given equal weight. We can see that environmental issues are a huge deciding factor in eco-friendly hotel bookings, but I also needed to focus on the societal issues in order to stay motivated and feel fulfilled. It’s not just about the number of bookings.

That’s a great lesson! As entrepreneurs, we have to identify what drives us most and harness that passion to stay in it for the long run and have the greatest impact. It’s not always easy to do. On a more positive note, many entrepreneurs report experiencing an “aha!” moment—a split second where things fall into place or suddenly make sense. Did you ever have a moment like that during your journey with EcoHotels?

My most memorable “aha” moments have occurred while travelling with my family and friends. I love to travel as authentically as possible and visit somewhere different to my everyday life. I can sometimes get stuck in a certain routine or get caught up in my goals and my successes, but when I’m visiting somewhere completely different, it gives me perspective. Those are my “aha!” moments.    

Running a business can be an all-consuming endeavour, so we know exactly what you mean. It’s good to get out of your familiar surroundings to open and refresh your mind. It’s often said that building a successful business takes hard work and sacrifice. Did you have to make any sacrifices to get to where you are now?

A serious sacrifice might have been time—something none of us can ever get back. I have spent a lot of time both in school and working, so my personal life and working life have blended together, and time with friends, sleeping, watching TV, etc. is minimal.

Speaking of sacrifices, as a society, we know we have to make some changes to ensure a better future for the next generation. We’re curious to hear a little about how you envision the future.

Generally speaking, I feel positive about the years to come. The future of travelling will, without any doubt, be shaped by a growing demand for sustainable travel options. This is certain. I am also very excited to see how technical advances will shape the future of travelling. Most people already use technology when travelling, such as booking flights on their smartphones or having AI-assisted experiences with things like boarding passes. These actions alone offer endless possibilities, yet there will also be new challenges that arise, such as responding quickly enough to new customer demands, hiring the best tech-leads, and prioritising resources for R&D.

We agree! While there’s a lot of work to be done, there’s also a lot of interesting and exciting developments to look forward to. When future generations look back on your life and what you have achieved, what do you hope they’ll take away from your story?

I have thought about this question a lot. I hope to be remembered as a kind, compassionate, and helpful person, and I hope that shines through in both my personal journey and my professional one with EcoHotels.com. Having said that, being able to have a huge impact on this industry is, of course, a huge dream—and hopefully one I will be remembered for!

That’s amazing! You’ve achieved so much with EcoHotels.com in a short amount of time. There are many up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young and old, who are just starting out on their journey. What advice do you have for them?  

Ask a lot of questions, believe in both yourself and others, do thorough market research, and just try it out! It’s sometimes necessary to fail to succeed.  

Excellent advice, Patricia! Unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of this really insightful conversation. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak to you today. To wrap it up, we’ve got one last question for you: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

Book with EcoHotels.com! (haha)  

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A huge thank you to our inspiring guest Patricia Plesner from EcoHotels.com! If you would like to find out more about Patricia and EcoHotels—or maybe book an eco-friendly break away for yourself—you can find her at: www.ecohotels.com.

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with amazing entrepreneurs like Patricia, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

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