When the pandemic hit, the earth breathed, they said. As people stayed inside their homes, usually shy species of birds came to roost freely on the trees and majestic sunsets colored the sky with fiery hues. In a quiet Bohol resort, pissed off owners tended to raise hatchling turtles along the shore, the first such occurrence in 20 years.
As people scramble to resume their lifestyles stopped at the start of 2020, the world, in the backdrop, has changed. It was an accidental benefit of the crisis, but it was nonetheless a challenge for hoteliers and business owners around the world to keep pace.
It’s called sustainability, which for Greenview CEO Eric Ricaurte “is finding a way to do business better in different ways” because “we can’t thrive as a planet”. “So we need to find a better way of doing things differently to grow our economies and our businesses.”
It’s a mouthful, but it was already a recurring theme even before the pandemic, more so during the fifth Phuket Hotels for Islands Sustaining Tourism (PHIST) held on September 26 in Phuket, Thailand, where stakeholders such as Greenview came together for the first time. after two years of holding the event online.
Greenview designs sustainability programs for businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry.
Perhaps a joke, Ricaurte and the other PHIST officials led by Phuket Hotel Association President Bjorn Courage faced off on stage, not behind a desk covered in a white tablecloth, but on a muay thai arena wearing Thai boxing gear and debating how corporations could “fight” climate change. It was a kind of show and pageantry that Thais are famous for when hosting events, but the theme, after all, is something you shouldn’t hold your hands on.
Courage says sustainability should be a ‘language’ and more than the ‘towel reuse’ token [for more than a few times]during a hotel stay. Plastic straws are a thing of the past, and shampoo and lotion are now kept in dispensers instead of disposable packaging.
But sustainability should be more than a marketing ploy, he adds. “A lot of people say they do certain things and then in hindsight they don’t. I think people are getting smarter and smarter [seeing] through that, [and] this durability [now] becomes more second nature [to them].”
Consumers are also learning to decipher authentic sustainability performance, according to Invest Islands CEO Kevin Deisser. He says he recognizes that young people “would not return to a hotel if they were disappointed with the level of sustainability practices they can see…This shows a massive sign of behavioral change in tourism.”
Maggie Lee, World Wildlife Fund’s Asia-Pacific regional lead for global seafood traceability, told the Inquirer: “Today, tourism without sustainability is no longer acceptable. What type of product/service are we selling to our customers or guests, if we knowingly risk harming the very environment on which we rely? Sustainability is not just a selling point, but a necessity and prerequisite for enjoying our beautiful planet, with or without the pandemic.
But how would a consumer distinguish marketing tactics from a legitimate concern for the environment? “Sustainability without traceability is just a promise. Traceability provides certainty that what was promised gets delivered,” she says.
She cites, for example, the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability, a framework that allows consumers to know how and where the seafood they eat comes from on their plates in a restaurant or in a box of canned.
But going “green” can be tough for hotels and restaurants, hospitality industry players admit.
Ricaurte says production costs (for example, more rooftop solar panels and motion sensors) can be expensive, but notes that the benefits can still be significant.
“Are production costs higher for sustainability? The general answer will be yes. However, in the same way, there is a possibility of high cost and low cost for almost everything you buy in a hotel. And it’s a matter of watching what’s the value, what’s the difference [in terms of] profitability, customer satisfaction, etc. “, he adds.
The same could be said for consumers who are willing to pay more for durability, adds Lee.
“Certainly it’s much more important for the hospitality industry, especially the high-priced establishments, to embody and provide seafood traceability to their customers,” she says, for example.
She adds that Asian hotels still have room for growth when it comes to sustainability, but notes that the Philippines is “setting a good example to the world.” She cites Boracay closing for six months in 2018 to allow its idyllic beaches to recover from overdevelopment.
Six hundred kilometers from Metro Manila, sea turtles have transformed a resort’s waterfront into a birthplace as resort owners search for ways to help their non-human guests.
“We closed for a few months [during the pandemic] as well, and it was the first time in two decades that turtles [hatched their eggs] on our beachfront… We had no idea how the turtles do their breeding process,” recalls Hope Uy, General Manager of South Palms Resort in Panglao.
It’s the unexpectedness of the situation that also shows the importance of investing in sustainability, she says.
“Islands such as Panglao and Phuket feel environmental and social problems even more acutely than other destinations. Freshwater, waste disposal, coral bleaching; they are not just concepts, they impact our daily lives and operations,” she says.
South Palm and its sister development, Panglao Shores, also boast of their dedication to sustainability through their strong community ties. In addition to protecting local coral reefs through a project called Project Sirena, the resort sources food from a nearby farm that produces organic fruits, vegetables, honey, and dairy. They also do rainwater harvesting.
The station is not yet autonomous, but the goal is to obtain 90% of the ingredients from the farm.
The investments are starting to bear fruit, according to Uy. With sustainability wrapped up, savings from these various measures are used to motivate station workers.
Defining sustainability, according to Lee, is therefore “thinking with the big picture, so that every decision we make is a small change to help the environment”.
“That said, for commercial establishments, sustainability is also a promise to customers.”
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