Sustainable Tourism Leadership

Over the past 15-years the travel industry recognized UXUA's innovative approach to sustainability, making it the only business nominated 3-consecutive years for Virtuoso's Sustainable Tourism Leadership Award, a shortlist of five hotels selected from among 1750 of the world's finest.

UXUA is not a hotel. It's an experiment, created to make positive impacts, elevate local craft traditions, encourage progressive working practices and education, increase social mobility and give visibility and support to our Native American neighbors, all while promoting environmental conservation.

In 2017 UXUA became the first Brazilian hotel accepted as signatory to the UN Global Compact, ten principles related to labor, human rights, the environment and anti-corruption adopted in conjunction with the United Nation's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The above concepts don't exist simply as ideals, they’re business objectives our team approach professionally with planning every day.

To keep pace with best practices and make a larger impact, UXUA's founders hold board positions on leading environmental and tourism organizations such as Conservation International Brazil and CREST, the Center for Responsible Travel based in Washington D.C., as well as the Brazilian Luxury Travel Association.

Locally UXUA is a founding member and active participant in non-profits such as Association Despertar dedicated since 2010 to sustainable tourism in Trancoso, and together with Conservation International is a founding partner of FUTURI, a regenerative tourism initiative operating across the region aiming to unite the tourism sector with southern Bahia's many established conservation units and initiatives.

By hosting our guests in the heart of a historic village we recognize we don't just have neighbors, we have partners; the magic ingredient our success is built upon remains always the gracious and welcoming attitude of those who live here. Among them are many talented collaborators in the social and environmental projects we empower.

Futuri + Aliança pelo Turismo Regenerativo

Conservation International Brazil is our partner in various projects; with UXUA co-founder Bob Shevlin working directly with the non-profit not only as a member of its Deliberative Board but also as technical advisor on the project Futuri - Aliança pelo Turismo Regenerativo (formerly know as Tourism + Sustainable) which launched virtually June 30, 2021 (see the youtube event) and projects over a 48-month period to build a sustainable tourism development model for the south of Bahia uniting individuals, companies, institutions and the public sector.

A major early accomplishment of Futuri is the publishing and free distribution of a Best Practices Guide for sustainable tourism.

CI has been operating for over 20 years in the Abrolhos region of southern Bahia, the past 6 focusing on connecting sustainable tourism and protected natural areas. CI intends to bring together all the lessons and partnerships already built in the territory to promote ways of increased, sustained incomes for tourism professionals and businesses through innovation, social impact entrepreneurship and nature-based solutions.

“UXUA is luxury with a clear conscience”
The Times of London

Feed Trancoso - Response to a pandemic

Humanity has no more essential manner of demonstrating care and decency than by assuring all can eat.

When the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly shut down travel and local economies across Brazil, with uncertainty dividing political leaders and paralyzing public services, UXUA showed decisiveness by working to unite its clients and competitors alike in a highly effective campaign to keep food on the table for everyone.

Alimente Trancoso (Feed Trancoso) began March 15th 2020 with a spontaneous attempt to gather and distribute food stocks of shuttered hotels and restaurants for delivery to isolated elderly and vulnerable families throughout the small fishing village’s poorest neighborhoods and two neighboring communities.

Over the next 7-months of the pandemic’s most severe economic impact, AT expanded its scope through generous donations and creative fundraising to eventually provide 5500 food parcels, each sustaining a small family for a month.

127 tons of food and 61,000 personal hygiene and cleaning items were distributed under the management of UXUA’s Sustainability Director, acting as project leader, supported by volunteers including UXUA staff who joined the brave anjos da rua (angels of the street), venturing out daily to document those most in need and deliver direct to their doors.

Organic Festival Trancoso

UXUA believes positive and inspiring actions are the best way to provoke change.

We co-founded the annual Organic Festival Trancoso with culinary entrepreneur Charles Piriou, envisioning the yearly event as a beautiful celebration of shared values; care for the environment, care for community wellness and care for the future we will leave to the next generations. And of course, an appreciation of the uplifting power of great food.

The festival unites local businesses and residents with talented chefs from all across Brazil, growers, harvesters, producers, NGOs such as Conservation International, musicians, craftsmen, together with volunteers all collaborating to make the healthiest lives possible for all in Trancoso.

Conservation International Brazil - sustainable fishing

Sustainable fishing is one of Conservation International Brazil's ongoing initiatives in our region.

As the video below shows, during the Organic Festival Trancoso 2019 the CI team provided sustainably sourced crab, with Brazilian top-chef Roberta Sudbrack working with local women and learning some traditional techniques of preparation. CI also hosted meetings with local fishermen to advise them on resources available and tactics for improving their livelihoods.

In 2021 UXUA continues collaborating with CI on sustainable fishing, advancing a long history of our interest in the area (in 2014 UXUA was the founding sponsor of the Trancoso Fisherman's Association).

Planning is ongoing for distribution scenarios making it viable to bring sustainably sourced, fresh catch directly to high-end restaurants of the region, potentially setting up a small processing workshop right on Trancoso's Historic Quadrado.

In Trancoso itself approximately 100 fishermen from 30 families go to sea in 10 small wooden boats and fish with line in hand instead of using fishing poles. Fishing nets are only used in April, when tarrafas (small hand nets) are dropped directly from the beach to catch mullet, a seasonal delight.

MAMA Trancoso - teaching activism to Trancoso's youth

How to empower social and environmental awareness while promoting activism in a place where the concept is new?

You start by teaching!

MAMA Trancoso - Movimento Ambientalista Mukaú Aponem (mukaú aponem means "gather in happiness" in Pataxó native language) is a collaboration between UXUA and its long-time partner in sustainable tourism development, NGO Associação Despertar.

The educational initiative provides 15 students per-year a paid internship focusing on environmental and activism basics taught by educators as varied as biologists, environmental and civil engineers, civics specialists, as well as artists, photographers and film-makers who teach social media and communications skills.

The short video below, called Mangue Eugnam, was written and produced entirely by MAMA students to raise awareness of urbanization's threat to Trancoso's important and much-loved mangrove forests.

In 2019 the MAMA Trancoso project and the Mangue Eugnam were among 3 finalists for the BLTA's (Brazilian Luxury Travel Association) Sustainable Vision Award.

UXUA joins CREST - the Center for Responsible Travel

In 2021 UXUA co-founder Bob Shevlin was invited to join the Washington D.C.-based Center for Responsible Travel's diverse and committed board of directors, 16 international industry experts chosen to push forward the non-profit institution's mission of research and promotion of sustainable travel solutions for the world.

A distinguishing characteristic of CREST is its Academic Afiliates program, begun in 2015, by which 33 professors at universities around the world partner in providing solid research and data to confirm the societal and environmental benefits of sustainable tourism.

CREST also publishes influential books referenced frequently in the travel industry, such as 2021's title Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future (Island Press).

Documenting Trancoso Culture

UXUA didn't happen in Trancoso because we like this place, it happened because we love it.

And for more than ten years we have been inviting talented artists to help us share Trancoso with the world, both its unique sense-of-place shown clearly on thirty UXUA Artist Canvases and also scenes of daily life as well as iconic cultural events captured on a series of documentaries and short films.

Among our favorites is a contribution by Brazilian cinematographer Cisma from the year 2011.

We invited Cisma to film the annual Saint Blaze Festival, full of color and music and unique local traditions, some believe to be passed on from colonial times.

The festival held special meaning to us that year as UXUA creator Wilbert Das was chosen as the event's festeiro (honorary host) together with friend Cabocla Barreto and another neighbor family, who collectively had responsibility for organizing - and paying for! - the 24-hour party.

The Saint Blaze celebration begins always the evening of February 2nd with acoustic samba music on the town square, the Quadrado, just meters from the UXUA Quadrado restaurant.

Oddly to most outsiders, the Catholic celebration practically overlaps a parallel celebration held in honor of Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea and a central deity in the African-rooted Candomblé religion, followed by many in Bahia.

Cisma has beautifully shared both events on film, presenting them almost as a unified celebration of life itself for the people of Trancoso.

The director was fortunately able to capture a few precious stories told to him by elder Trancoso natives who are no longer with us today, a circumstance lending the film added significance for the community.

Despertar Success stories - Gena the flower man

Gena comes from an impoverished background in a small, rural community in the south of Bahia. Many years ago he moved to Trancoso seeking a better life and began to grow flowers. His first client was UXUA for whom he is still the flower-supplier today.

Over the years Gena kept his children enrolled in studies at the educational non-profit Associação Despertar Trancoso, and through a lot of hard work three of them have gone on and graduated from university, one working now in UXUA's administration department and acting as a volunteer board member at the association.

Despertar (which means 'awakening') is a non-profit focused on improving education among local youth and developing their skills so they can one day take advantage of quality career opportunities in sustainable tourism.

The innovative project teaches practical subjects such as languages, hospitality services, administration, as well as broader offerings meant to deepen connections with client families such as horticulture, arts, dance, sports and theater.

UXUA is a founding partner and close collaborator of Despertar, providing its teaching facilities and community gardens rent-free among other contributions such as underwriting its social media and publishing activities. In addition 5% of gross rental income of UXUA Alma private villas is donated to the NGO.

The association has been supported by many local hospitality businesses since opening in 2010 and remains a wonderful example of companies caring to invest not only in their own bottom-line but in the health of their community, and the success of families like Gena's are proof that circular economics work.

Capoeira For All

One thing which makes Trancoso unique is the passion with which local youth embrace their cultural heritage. They play traditional instruments and sing old songs, they enjoy the regional dance forms, and they love to play capoeira.

Born in Bahia of enslaved African natives (4-million of whom were brought to work in Brazil), capoeira is a martial-arts like style of dance performed in groups with musical accompaniment. Its basis is not competition, but instead a collaborative expression of joy, unity and strength.

Trancoso’s branch of the famed academy Capoeira Sul da Bahia is led by a caring, committed professor named Diney Lima. Since 2006 sponsorship by UXUA has helped Diney guarantee that local children could study regardless of ability to pay tuition.

Hundreds of youth participate, and the school's roda (public exhibitions) held on Trancoso's Historic Quadrado and the beach are legendary. UXUA's relationship with Capoeira Sul Da Bahia has few boundaries; its professors visit the hotel to teach guests (100% of lesson fee is donated to the school), guests join in public class sessions together with local youth, and UXUA hosts professors from all over the world every 2-years during Capoeira Sul da Bahia's international congress.

UXUA has long invested in growing international awareness of capoeira, and actively campaigned for its recognition by UNESCO which came on November 26, 2014 with the sport granted special protected status as an "intangible cultural heritage of humanity".

In the video below Diney and the UXUA family collaborated to revive a performance of the traditional puxada de rede (pulling of the nets), not performed in Trancoso in decades. Video two features the 7th international congress of Capoeira Sul da Bahia, one of the most important gatherings of capoeira masters ever held.

Return of Craft

One of designer Wilbert Das's goals with the UXUA experiment was returning traditional craft production (as well as agriculture) to the historic heart of Trancoso.

With the momentum of the actual construction of the hotel itself, built largely by hand using reclaimed materials with teams of craftsmen practically living in the hotel grounds for two years, Wilbert inserted into the master plan the opening of a permanent atelier where weaving, painting, ceramics and other crafts could be executed in front of hotel guests.

The idea has been successful and spectacularly popular with UXUA clients, who often interact with the craftsmen and give input into products they'd like to have made for them such as the very in-demand kaftans and kimono's woven by Evandro.

Wilbert discovered Evandro working as a waiter in a nearby restaurant many years ago. Upon finding out that Evandro had learned traditional weaving from his grandmother as a child, Wilbert offered him a job on-the-spot and now instead of serving food he's continuing his family trade of many generations, and doing it from the comfort of a five star hotel's tropical gardens - no wonder he's smiling.

Supporting our Pataxó neighbors

In 2008 a young Pataxó leader named Hayo, son of a chief, was working on Native American artisanal craft together with designer Wilbert Das who was decorating his new hotel project in Trancoso.

When passing through the property's gardens among hundreds of orchids growing Hayo spotted a species he'd never seen, a tremendous surprise to him as his people prides themselves in knowing all plants. Hayo stared at the flower for some time and repeated the word 'uxua', which Wilbert learned means wonderful in Pataxó. And thus it was that our hotel found a name in the most spontaneous and organic way imaginable.

The Pataxó live in coastal areas immediately to the north and south of Trancoso, and the UXUA project has in many ways been inspired by their creativity and culture, not only in countless design details but also in the natural ingredients we source and treatments offered at our Vida Spa.

Similar to all indigenous people of Brazil, the Pataxó have endured centuries of tragedy which continues today. The federal government in 2021 continues to work to cut their autonomy, education, and protections for their land. However they resist complete colonial assimilation and growing threats to their home by loggers, miners, and ranchers.

Each year in April the Pataxó unite for a celebration of music, dance, sport and traditional food. The ceremonial building used for the event and featured in this film by UXUA Artist in Casa Damian Calvo is located in nearby Barra Velha. The structure was burnt down by arsonists in an act of violence on November 13, 2019. The Pataxó dreams of rebuilding it and we continue supporting that effort.

Huni Kuin artistic collaboration

In May 2018 the Huni Kuin people in Acre graciously hosted UXUA designer Nossica Al-Koubaisy and shared with her their secrets of traditional weaving. Months later two Huni Kuin artists travelled across Brazil to join Nossica and UXUA creator Wilbert Das in Trancoso for a 1-month Artist in Casa residency.

Isaka and Neshani were exposed to the culture of the Pataxó people in the village of Barra Velha, and were introduced to new artistic expressions during visits to the workshops of painter Damião C. Vieira and ceramicist Zé da Cerâmica.

Local students and teachers at environmental project MAMA Trancoso got to spend time with Isaka and Neshani and learn about life in the Amazon rainforest, exchanging ideas about preservation over the course of a full-day workshop.

The entire experience in Trancoso inspired artworks by Isaka and Neshani displayed at UXUA Quadrado restaurant in an exhibition which also included works from 3 other Brazilian native people, the Kayapó, Xingú, and Waiwai.

Promoting luxury with sustainability - the BLTA

The Brazilian Luxury Travel Association is a non-profit organization committed to fostering collaboration in the high-end Brazilian travel market, with the goal being to promote responsible travel and high sustainability standards for the industry.

The vision: five-star hotels and five-star communities.

UXUA co-founder Bob Shevlin has served on the BLTA executive board as Communications Director, contributing to the group its current website and institutional slogan:

Authenticity is the World's Greatest Luxury

This expression was obviously inspired by years of living in Trancoso, anyone can guess.

In 2019 Bob together with the other board members introduced BLTA's inaugural Sustainable Vision Award, and have travelled to Brazilian embassies and trade events worldwide to promote it and the work of all BLTA members.