Can Jail Hotels fit the Sustainable Travel bill?

prison-cellSome consider sustainable travel to have a broad stroke. That is, a number of unexpected items and ideas can be considered as sustainable travel. While it is generally easy to identify sustainable travel elements in the physical, it is not as easy to identify these elements in ideals. One difficult call is the notion of jail hotels. Lodging accommodations in once not so accommodating quarters are a growing trend amongst travelers looking for the most cutting- edge travel experience. Popularity aside, are jail hotels ethically moral? Does its morality collide with societal sustainability?

Consider a comfy night’s stay at the Wilkommen of Lucerne, a welcoming jail house morphed into a hotel. Feeling a bit oxymoronic? You should. These jail house hotels advertise their amenities just as conventional hotels do. Conveniently located to the train station and other walking- distance tourist attractions, this Swedish wonder also comes with surprisingly normal amenities like a continental breakfast and a nice club to mingle amongst the locals. All elements of a normal, uncompromising vacation, right? Well, a closer look at the club will reveal that it is fondly called the Alcatraz Club, paying homage to one of the most notorious prisons in history.

The hotel rooms are sparse and small to purposefully mimic that of a 19th century jail cell. Former jail cells of criminals have been transformed into lodging for willing travelers. Decorated with a Spartan aesthetic, the Wilkommen seeks to deliver as authentic a prison experience as possible. Guests cultivate an atmosphere revolving around tales of former prisoners’ ghosts. In fact, what used to be the prisoner visitor’s room is now a coveted suite that is rumored to have the fewest ghosts roaming about. The Barabas suite is also a tourist favorite since it displays artwork from a former inmate. This inmate spent a lot of time wondering about life “on the outside” and created a vibrant painting based on his daydreams. And like the polar opposite NU Hotel, Wilkommen also offers twin- sized bed options for the sustainable traveler.

The Wilkommen capitalizes on every element of a scary travel experience, but its ethics are questionable. Prison time is a serious and unfortunate aspect of someone’s life. And as prison rates soar to astronomical levels in our present day, the idea of glamorizing this incredibly hard life is a lot to stomach. About 3.2% of adults make up the account for the prison population, making 754 adults per 100,000 adults incarcerated. One might argue that since the US has the highest prison rates in the world, other countries should feel free to glamorize as desired. While the statistics on American prisons are daunting, so are the crime statistics in Sweden. There are only 79 adults per 100,000, but even that number is on the rise. It is the inherent responsibility of sustainable travel to raise awareness about both our physical and social environments, and satirizing a prison experience is outside the realms of social responsibility.

Photo Credit: Ken_Myer

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