Ecolodge Owner's Guide
White Line

Eco Lodge Guide for Owner - Everything you need to know in 2023

Table of Contents

Owning and Operating an Ecolodge 

So you want to built or operate you own ecolodge? You are not alone! 

There are many great reasons for opening and operating an ecolodge. Some owners are nature lovers, some are looking for a better work-life balance, others want to find a way to help the environment and others see it as a good economic investment.

Ecolodge owner's Guide: Salkantay Sky Camp ecolodge in Cusco, Peru
Salkantay Sky Camp ecolodge in Cusco

Time then to look at some data. According to the World Tourism Organization, 20% of all international tourism comes from different forms of nature tourism. The ecotourism market is growing faster than the rest of the industry, making building, owning and operating an ecolodge a potentially very good investment, not only for the investor but also for the workers and the local economy. 

Ecolodge Principles and Definitions

By definition, an ecolodge or eco hotel is a type of accommodation that is designed to have minimal impact on the natural environment. The principles governing ecolodging have been put in place to support conservation efforts of exotic, unique, and potentially threatened environments and habitats.

Photo feynan jordan ecolodge
Feynan ecolodge concept and design is inspired by the ancient camel caravanserai making the long journey from China to Europe. Feynan ecolodge has minimal impact to the stunning natural beauty and surroundings

Furthermore, eco lodges are designed to offer educational and participatory experiences to the visitors and guests helping them learn how to make more environmentally conscious decisions in their everyday lives. 

So keep reading to learn more about how you can built, own and operate an ecolodge.

We have also created a list of the Best Ecolodges in the World for you get inspired. Additionally, you can also read our detailed guide on what an ecolodge is

Ecolodge: A Growing Market

Should I invest in ecotourism? Is an ecolodge a good investment?

Well we have some answers for you. Firstly, it really depends on your risk tolerance as an investor. The value of the ecotourism market was at $181.1 billion in 2019, and ecolodges are a very big part of this market. Both experts and operators of the space are confident that the ecotourism industry will continue to grow around the world faster than the rest of the tourism industry.

Experts suggest that the ecotourism market will grow in the next few decades at an average of 10% per year, as nature lovers and hotel guests are increasingly looking for vacations that combine clean air, stunning views, and the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature and the local culture and everyday life of habitat they visit.

balcony mai chau ecolodge
Mai Chau Ecolodge, Vietnam

Therefore, investing or owning an ecolodge or eco hotel makes both business and environmental sense as guests increasingly search for adventures and tours through sustainable initiatives.

How Eco lodges Work?

An ecolodge focuses on running the property in an ethical and sustainable way. This includes using renewable energy, recycling bins, sustainable initiatives, and energy efficiency methods in the lodge’s everyday operations. Ecolodges operate like typical hotels for their guests but they put sustainability at the forefront of their aims and aspirations.

What To Look For in an Ecolodge?

The are many types of ec0 lodges and each ecolodge is different, depending on the environmental goals management sets, the location, and the methods of environmental protection.

Here are some things to look for in an ecolodge as a potential owner or investor:

  • It should be located in a natural area of unique beauty
  • It should not be impacted by noise or air pollution
  • Ideally it should be a small establishment (usually less than 30 rooms)
  • It should have access to local nature guides who can offer their expertise
  • You should look into availability of local workers to work on the construction and running of the ecolodge 
  • You should be able to offer an educational experience to the guests that helps create a bond with surroundings and locals (tours, cooking class, etc.)
  • You should utilize renewable energy
  • You should aim to create zero waste facility


Choosing the Right Location and  Environment

There can be no eco lodge if the location is not a near perfect immersion to the surrounding nature. Ecolodges are defined by their natural locations and their surrounding biodiversity.

Ecoldoge Owner's Guide: Ecocamp Patagonia Ecolodge
Ecocamp Patagonia Ecolodge, Argentina

According to an Ecolodge Footprint and Justification for Biodiversity Conservation study by the World Bank, Indonesia had the largest concentration of ecolodges (758), followed by Costa Rica (590), Thailand (468), Peru (356), Ecuador (345), Guatemala (322), Mexico (304), Sri Lanka (277) and Tanzania (259).

Choosing the right location for your accommodation requires taking into account a myriad of different factors.  For example:

  • Is the country or region receiving a steady yearly flow of tourists?
  • How much do these tourists spend on average during their stay?
  • Can you offer amenities like a restaurant, pool, garden and spa for your guests?
  • Is the country and region politically stable. Will it be safe for you, other investors, local workers and the guests?
  • Is the natural area you found easily accessible?
  • What are the local and country rules and regulations for starting a hotel business?

We know…it sounds like a lot. But then again starting any business is. Trust us when we say that it is also one of the best and most rewarding financial and ethical investments you will ever make.

How much does it cost to build an ecolodge?

Some ecolodges investors start out at less than $500,000. But realistically, you are looking at an investment of a minimum of $1.5 million.

What makes a good ecolodge?

Typical characteristics of the eco lodge include energy-efficiency lighting and environmentally friendly clean-up equipment. In addition, some Lodges incorporate additional benefits like solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, and insulation.

Marketing Your Eco-lodge

Marketing plays a very big and important part in the tourism industry, perhaps even more so in ecotourism. This is for two very distinct and equally important reasons.

One is that many guests assume that ecolodges are expensive to stay at, and therefore if marketing isn’t done correctly and these assumptions are not challenged, you will be loosing a lot of potential customers. Secondly, ecolodges are usually located in remote destinations and are tacked away from tourist hotspots, so they need more thoughtful promotion.

It is not just building the ecolodge and running it that needs to be sustainable; marketing needs to be undertaken in an ecological, ethical and effective way as well. Marketing a green product means the green ethos starts with your brand and company. Your marketing should be all online, paperless, and without unnecessary transportation movements.

Permits and Paperwork: Setting Up Your Ecolodge

Having the correct permits and paperwork is critically important for the construction and running of an ecolodge. This is not only for the obvious legal reasons, but also to show guests that your lodge is a legitimate ecolodge and fulfills the requirements of a the sustainable ecotourism establishments. Of course, each country has its own property development rules and regulations and therefore, the paperwork and permits required will change from country to country and even among the very regions of τηε σαμε country. Further permits and paperwork might be required if you are inside or near a protected area.

In most cases, you will need a tax identification number and an operating permit. In addition, you may require tourism permits and licenses for food or spa services. Hiring an accountant and lawyer from the local community is a very good idea as is starting to learn some basic phrases of the local language.

Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica
Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica

One of the main considerations in this whole process is ensuring that your eco lodge is of a high environmental standard (i.e., a low carbon footprint) and is locally sustainable and authentic. Furthermore, because of the potentially impactful nature of the construction of the lodge to the local community, it is always best practice to consult with the locals and authorities on their priorities and requirements for a new ecolodge. Not only does this make the initial stages of development less harmful, but it also creates a better relationship and and sets the foundation of a future cooperation with the local community.  

What are the different types of Ecolodges?

Ecolodges aren’t a one size fits all alternative to mainstream tourism accommodation. Each is unique in their own amazing way from the aesthetics to the ecolodge’s environmental approach, location, activities and souroundings. There are a variety of models that different business owners adopt to suit their own ecolodge model and serve and respect the surrounding natural environment.

1)Nature Lodges and Camps

These are small lodges, camps, and cabins with limited environmental impact and simplicity. These nature lodges are frequently found in Europe, especially in the Alps.

2) Ecoresorts

You might be asking yourself, what are eco resorts, and what is the difference between ecolodges and eco resorts? An eco odge usually has a more intimate atmosphere with the nature around it, while an eco resort follows a slightly different model. Eco resorts are often located near the ocean and usually provide an array of recreational activities. Eco resorts can also provide health, spa, and yoga experiences. Though eco-resorts embrace nature they aren’t fully focused on environmental activities and the local community.

3) Agritourism, Retreats, Rural and Village Based Ecolodges

Usually, rural ecolodges and agritourism will operate as a fully functioning ranch or farm that also offers lodging services. These accommodation options are privately owned, but are usually near areas of unique natural beauty or close to nature parks. These types of lodges are popular in places in like Italy and specifically the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

4) Community Based Ecolodges

Community-based ecolodges are not so widely popular or known, but they offer a community approach to sustainable tourism. The community essentially comes together to build the eco lodge facilities. This approach helps create ecolodges that create a highly rewarding visit and experience for the guests as you fully integrate and interact with the local community.

What are Green Hotels?

A Green hotel does not embody the same level of environmental protection that ecolodges do. However, a green hotel definitely offers a step in the right direction in terms of lowering the carbon footprint of the establishment. A Green hotel can be a hotel, inn, campground or lodge that makes a real and honest effort and tries to make its business greener. Usually, the way a hotel becomes greener (a green hotel) is by enrolling in green certification program.