How free slippers became the new battleground for luxury hotels

Citing sustainability concerns, some hotels are removing complimentary slippers from the menu altogether - Getty

So we got over the towel thing. They really don’t need to be washed every day when you’re staying in a hotel. And there’s a reason we’ve never glimpsed members of housekeeping refilling those miniature toiletry bottles like they’re a giant in a doll’s house, because they get chucked in the bin after each use and go straight to landfill. So bigger, refillable bottles that stay in the room are definitely the way forward. But slippers? Surely they’re ok.

“After assessing our waste, we were disappointed to discover we were throwing away more than 2,000 pairs of single-use slippers a month,” says Jason Adams, managing director at luxury spa hotel Rockliffe Hall in County Durham. “We realised this was totally avoidable so decided to make ours a barefoot spa, removing disposable slippers altogether.”

But hang on, slippers aren’t going to be the biggest offenders in the hotel, so is this just “virtue signalling”, a chance for hotels to save some cash while vaguely looking like they care? Or is it the beginning of a greater move towards sustainability?

Hotel Castello di Reschio
Hotel Castello di Reschio is an environmentally minded high-end castle hotel in Italy

“It depends what else is happening on the property,” says Leo Ghitis, co-founder of Nayara Resorts, an award-winning collection of sustainable hotels in Central and South America, which includes Nayara Bocas del Toro in Panama, where five in-depth environmental studies were carried out to ensure the environment was being protected and nurtured rather than harmed. “If it’s part of a larger campaign at the hotel to have no single-use items – front and back of house – then it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

So will the movement alienate fans of free slippers and just make them move on to somewhere else that still offers them – or make them realise hotel slippers just aren’t that exciting?

A serial slipper swiper I know admitted she hardly ever wore them while actually in the luxury hotel – why would you, when rooms are warm and often lined with expensively soft carpets – and that they went straight into the bottom of the wardrobe when she got home. (“There are only so many pairs you can have in your life.”) Quality varies, of course – the flimsy ones really aren’t worth bothering with, but the plusher varieties can be hard to resist.

“Of course there will always be the contingent that walks around the room going ‘where’s my free stuff?’” one London hotel insider concurs. “But I think that’s diminishing. Now we’re thinking more about how we travel and want to have nice things but not at the expense of the environment.”

Meanwhile, the Cinderella-like search for the perfect slipper continues, with resorts such as Bawah Reserve, a sustainable private island in Indonesia, settling on biodegradable ones made of woven local rattan, said to be so comfortable that guests abandon the shoes they came in and wear these slippers throughout their stay. Some hotels provide guests with flip flops, which can be much more easily reused, but I’m yet to find a hotel offering slippers that can be passed on from one guest to the next.

Heckfield Place in Hampshire
Heckfield Place in Hampshire, a beautifully converted Georgian manor

“We did think about reusable slippers at Heckfield Place,” says Vivien Schaper, part of the hotel’s housekeeping team.

“However an option that could withstand repeated cleanings, while still remaining luxurious and comfortable and made from sustainable materials, didn’t exist. In the end, we managed to find one made from natural coconut fibre and cotton that is fully recyclable and biodegradable, so that’s what we went for. We also stock bedrooms with complimentary house-made seasonal cordial, bath salts and numerous other full-sized bath products we’ve produced ourselves.”

Personally, I’m happy with a help-yourself decanter of locally distilled gin or whiskey. And I’ll never forget the time we were brought complimentary shortbread biscuits with our tea at Heckfield Place. My six-year-old daughter’s face fell; she wasn’t keen on shortbread, which was clocked by the general manager who happened to be passing at that moment. “You don’t like those, do you?” she laughed. “How about chocolate chip cookies instead?” She had a fan for life. Now that’s the sort of thing one remembers.

“Most travellers just want to see the essentials being done right. Ensuring the rooms are quiet, linen is beautiful, beds are comfortable, Wi-Fi is super-fast and that it all looks nicer than home,” adds my London hotel insider.

And those special occasion guests who might not stay in hotels very often? I think they’re going to remember that the receptionist or butler knew their name and the fact it was their 30th wedding anniversary, rather than the slippers.

Five hotels offering sustainable luxury

Heckfield Place, Hampshire

In 2020, this beautifully converted Georgian manor became the first UK hotel to have its own farm certified as 100 per cent biodynamic, producing flowers for the in-house florist and much of its food, rotating arable crops and organic produce.

In addition to a host of bio credentials, Heckfield Place also produces its own natural skincare line, used in the spa
In addition to a host of bio credentials, Heckfield Place also produces its own natural skincare line, used in the spa

It also has a micro-brewery to generate milk, cream and butter for both hotel and the local community; sheep, pigs, free-range chickens and beehives and you will find the hotel’s own natural skincare line – Wildsmith Skin – in bedrooms and the spa. Heckfield is single-use plastic-free and there are bio-mass boilers and boreholes to harvest rainwater.

Doubles from £550, including breakfast (0118 932 6868)

De Durgerdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Just four miles east of the centre of Amsterdam in a coastal village is newly opened De Durgerdam, once a cosy 17th-century inn for sailors. Today, it’s a stylish small hotel with a restaurant by the duo behind the Dutch capital’s two Michelin-starred 212. Its entire concept is rooted in minimising carbon footprint and positively impacting the local community. While slippers are not provided, rooms come with yoga mats and a decanter of local sherry and you can borrow reusable flip flops on request. You can also hire an electric bike to explore your surroundings.

Doubles from £264

Reschio, Umbria, Italy

The owners of this 3,700-acre estate, Count Benedikt Bolza and his family, have spent 30 years rewilding and developing ways to eliminate waste and reduce pollution while opening and running a high-end castle hotel and a series of imaginatively restored houses and cottages. Expect everything from crop rotation and geothermal heat pumps to compostable slippers.

Count Benedikt Bolza and his family, have spent 30 years developing ways to reduce waste
Count Benedikt Bolza and his family have spent 30 years developing ways to reduce waste at their estate

Doubles from £752, with a two-night minimum stay (00 39 075 844362) 

The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia

This five-star beach resort in the rainforest is famous for combining high-end luxury with sustainable practices and is working towards achieving zero waste to landfill by increasing their recycling and upcycling initiatives, including wastewater management, in-house water bottling, banning single-use plastics, turning food waste into soil and upcycling materials such as wax, soap and glass.

A current experiment involves guest slippers being dismantled and using the stuffing to create beanbags and cushions.

Five-star luzury meets sustainable practices
Five-star luxury meets sustainable practices

Doubles from £495 (00 60 4 950 0500)

Cap Karoso, Sumba, Indonesia

The island of Sumba welcomed this sleekly luxurious, 65-room eco-resort earlier this year and its French owners are committed to sustainability and un-patronising community engagement (so don’t expect traditional dancers performing at dinner). It has an organic farm, a school of agriculture, cultural workshops and pop up ateliers by local artists.

Doubles from £245

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.