Eco Tourism

Tourists are no longer just carefree and whimsical sightseers; they are savvy consumers. Instead of just grabbing a Lonely Planet guide and heading out, these days tourists log on, read Website travelogues, discuss issues on forums and research potential sites like a corporate raider getting ready for a company takeover.

In the climate change age, travellers seek to use their quota of carbon credits on environmentally sound destinations. They don’t want a journey spoiled by unsightly resorts where pipes spew sewage into beachfront waters or plastic bottles, drinks cans and wet waste smoulders in a slow burn under a coconut tree.

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“Resort operators have to stop thinking they can fool their customers,” professes Yessy Hidajat of Alila Ubud Resort in Bali. “Tourists are very intelligent and they shop around on the Web, so nobody will believe if you just claim yourself as green, people have to see it.”

Tourists have ample choices on where to spend their holiday dollars. And the tourism industry is starting to get the message. More and more families and groups choose faraway vacation spots based on a mental checklist that includes preventing pollution, using recycled products, protecting nature and giving back to surrounding communities.

Throughout Asia, resorts and ecotourism ventures are learning the lessons of going green. They understand that making the effort to be responsible is a winning proposition. So, why make the effort?

eco2 Photo : COURTESY OF Malaysian Nature Society.

Responsible tourism is not a trend – Good operators understand the issues and incorporate responsible tourism practices as part of their business strategies, not just as empty slogans. Mass tourism is a poor model – Overwhelming communities and the environment with irresponsible operators depletes both natural and cultural resources that cannot sustain the deluge. Tourism in Asia is almost entirely about natural heritage, cultural diversity and people. Travellers do not want to make a negative impact – Travellers are now more aware of their impact on local economies and communities and make choices that reflect these values.

In 2006, Wild Asia introduced the Responsible Tourism Awards to acknowledge operators who are making a difference in the region. As leaders in the tourism industry, they serve as examples on how to address the concerns of consumers while maintaining a profitable business.

Responsible tourism is holistic. It pertains to economic, social and environmental principles that reflect the following:

* A commitment to local employment and sourcing
* Respect for local cultures and support for local development
* Protection of natural resources
* Efficient use of resources
* Responsible waste management
* A commitment to continued improvement.

In Langkawi, Malaysia, two rows of local souvenir shops adjoin a five-star property next to a secluded beach. As part of its efforts to aid employment for islanders, Tanjung Rhu Resort gives these small businesses the opportunity, rent free, to make a living. In Bali, the Alila Manggis Resort sources nearly 80 percent of its staff from local villages. “They want to stay longer in the village and they enjoy the job,” explains I B Kumara, the executive assistant manager. “So the turnover is almost zero percent.”

Respecting local cultures is paramount to maintain good relations with the community. As the resident naturalist at Tanjung Rhu, Zoher Mustan takes guests on bicycle rides in the nearby villages. Local guides walk tourists to weather worn jetties, leaving their two-wheelers parked outside, where fishermen weave nets and ice the day’s catch. Stopping at fruit and food stalls, foreigners sample durians or join villagers for a small snack. “We want our guests to see the local way of life.”

Following a green path can save money too. Resource consumption is a financial drain on any operation. So taking measures to utilize electricity and water more efficiently and reduce waste turn problems into profits. And even little things add up to positive results. “We can already see the difference financially by just changing all the bulbs on our property to energy saving bulbs, “ says Yessy Hidajatin Bali. “What’s amazing is that in 2006 the electricity costs were raised twice, but despite this our payments are actually going down.”

At the Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa, owner Anthony Wong is a passionate disciple for sustainable practices. Old planks from his renovation efforts find new life as parts for recycled furniture such as bar stools and decorative steps. A picturesque pond opposite the beachfront serves as a treatment facility by using plants to soak up waste from flush and gardening use. This saves up to 20 percent from his water bill. And all organic kitchen and landscaping waste simmer in brick bins and old bathtubs. The rich hummus is then spread onto vegetable and flower gardens, a substantial savings on fertilizer costs.

Tourism operators have a choice to make as well. The current model still supports the pre-Internet generation, when tourist information moved as slow as a lingering tropical day. Today, however, the lightening speed of global communications and a newfound sense of social responsibility urge travellers to make conscientious decisions.

“We must look at getting out of the old market,” asserts Irshad, a seasoned naturalist guide in Langkawi. “The future is responsible travel. You see it in the tourists and you see it in the younger people that come and visit the island.”

eco tourism

Info box about Wild Asia
"Wild Asia's 2008 Responsible Tourism Awards recognize and reward the efforts of tourism operators who are committed to following the principles of Responsible Tourism.
For more information check www.wildasia.net or email RT@wildasia.net.