Check into a growing crop of vegan hotels

CNN  — 

At Saorsa 1875 in Pitlochry, Scotland, animals aren’t allowed – but not in the traditional sense.

While pets are more than welcome, the boutique hotel otherwise eschews animal products through and through, from its furnishings right down to its staff uniforms. It is, after all, the UK’s first fully vegan hotel.

Veganism is taking root all across the world, and the movement shows no signs of slowing down.

According to research firm GlobalData, veganism in the US grew by a whopping 600% from 2014 to 2017, with vegans now making up 6% of the population.

In the UK, The Vegan Society, a registered charity and the oldest vegan society in the world, says the figure quadrupled between 2014 and 2018, with 42% making the switch just last year.

Saorsa 1875 opened in June 2019.

And brands are cottoning on: from plant-based burgers to cruelty-free clothing, restaurants and retailers are increasingly catering to vegan consumers – especially those whose ethics extend beyond the plate.

Now, hotels are stepping up too, with some properties rethinking their operations entirely.

“At Saorsa 1875, everything from arrival to departure is vegan,” declares founder Sandra McLaren-Stewart, who opened the hotel in June this year.

Set in a 19th-century Victorian mansion, it features 11 rooms furnished with bed linens made from organic cotton, and pillows and duvets free from animal products such as silk and down. The vegan ethos also applies to toiletries and cleaning products, while staff uniforms are ethically sourced. Electricity even comes courtesy of UK green energy company Ecotricity, which is vegan-certified.

The cost of doing business

In January this year, Hilton London Bankside unveiled a fully vegan suite in collaboration with design studio Bompas & Parr and The Vegan Society.

Contrary to popular belief, vegan furnishings don’t necessarily come with higher price tags.

“I think the notion that vegan products are more expensive is a huge misconception,” says McLaren-Stewart. “Obviously, we wanted to make sure that the things we use are ethically made, which rarely means buying the cheapest products on the market. But materials such as organic cotton and linen are almost always cheaper than animal-based ones such as leather or silk.”

Naturally, the menu at Saorsa 1875’s restaurant is 100% plant-based too.

“There were some challenges when ensuring that everything we used was as ethical and as environmentally friendly as possible. As such, we source all our food from either our own vegetable patch or from local community farms and smallholdings,” says McLaren-Stewart.

Far from dishing up the token vegan salad, chef Luca Sordi serves inventive plates such as watermelon sashimi with lime mayonnaise and tapioca crackers, and hay-infused panna cotta with chamomile meringue.

Over in the bar, Faodail, cocktails like the whisky-based Auld Pal and the gin-based Highland Tears are shaken up with seasonal and foraged produce, such as mint and verbena.

Judgment-free zone

Natural leather alternatives are used in Hilton London Bankside's vegan suite.

“I think there are still some stereotypes around veganism – it’s not the hemp-clad abstinent lifestyle that many still think it is,” says McLaren-Stewart. “We want to create a cool, comfortable place where vegans could stay without feeling like they were compromising on their ethics. Obviously, we appeal to vegans and vegetarians, but we also want to create a judgment-free space [for] anyone with an interest in ethical living.”

Major hotel chains are upping their vegan credentials too.

In January this year, Hilton London Bankside unveiled a fully vegan suite in collaboration with design studio Bompas & Parr and The Vegan Society. “Our guests told us that since we offer a great vegan menu in our OXBO restaurant, why couldn’t this be further developed?” shares general manager James B. Clarke. “In response, we decided to create a whole travel experience for those leading plant-based lifestyles.”

Vegan makeover

Saorsa 1875 is among what is still a small number of hotels making the move towards veganism -- but that looks set to change.

Vegan features in the 495-square-foot suite include a headboard, chairs and cushions made from Piñatex (a natural leather alternative made from the cellulose fibers of pineapple leaves); organic cotton carpeting and bamboo flooring; and toiletries that feature sustainable packaging.

The room service menu has also been given a vegan makeover, with dishes that include cauliflower steak and five-bean dhal.

“The most challenging part about creating the suite was ensuring that guests could get the full vegan experience throughout their stay – from the moment they step foot into the foyer to the moment they check out,” says Clarke. To that end, the hotel has even created a dedicated check-in desk using plant-based materials, complete with keycards made from Piñatex.

Like Saorsa 1875, Hilton London Bankside’s vegan suite has piqued the interest of both vegans and non-vegans alike. “The feedback we’ve received has been really positive, and we’ve even had inquiries from celebrity athletes, among others,” says Clarke. “While the suite is primarily designed for the sustainable traveler, we hope that everyone can enjoy it – not just those who enjoy a vegan lifestyle.”

Not quite trending

Of course, all of the food served at the Hilton London Bankside is vegan.

But despite the fanfare, Hilton London Bankside and Saorsa 1875 are among what is still a small number of hotels making the move towards veganism – but that looks set to change.

“People are becoming more conscious about the impact that their choices have not only on the planet, but also on animals, and I think we’re going to see veganism continue to grow exponentially,” says McLaren-Stewart, who already has plans to expand Saorsa 1875 to a second location.

“There have been huge amounts of innovation in both food and fashion, but I think the hospitality industry has been slow to adapt,” she continues. “We’re looking forward to seeing more companies adopt a plant-based ethos, and we welcome the challenge.”

Saorsa 1875, 2 East Moulin Rd, Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland PH16 5DW; +44 (0)1796 475217

Hilton London Bankside, 2-8 Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 0UG; +44 (0) 20 36675601