Friday, October 22, 2010

Wild Asia's RTA 2010 Winners Revealed!

Norm and Linda van Hoff of Sarinbuana Ecolodge and Jeevaka Weerakone of Heritance Kandalama - winners of this year's Awards. Representatives from Andaman Discoveries, our winner for tour operator category regrettably could not make it for the event.

Wild Asia announces the winners for the 5th Responsible Tourism Awards 2010 from Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka at ITB Asia. After months of short-listing the finalists and making site visits to the final six properties and tour operators, Wild Asia’s judging panel has finally selected its 2010 RT Awards winners.

Operators such as Heritance Kandalama (Sri Lanka), Sarinbuana Ecolodge (Indonesia), and Andaman Discoveries (Thailand) have surpassed judges’ expectations by scoring high against the Awards checklist and are this year’s award winners for the following categories of accommodation operators respectively – large; mid-sized to small; and tour operators.

Every year the WA judging panel reviews submitted checklists (based on the UNWTO Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria) from operators throughout Asia. Two finalists for each category are shortlisted based on some of the following criteria:
  • Sense of place - whether tourists understand their destinations in terms of the cultural and ecological context better through the operators' efforts.
  • Sustainability - whether these RT efforts are long-term.
  • Involvement of guests – how much does the operators involve their guests in their RT practices?
  • Internalisation - how much is sustainability part of the day-to-day operations?
  • Reach – how far are these ideas and practices shared across the destination or even the industry?
  • Continual Improvement – how do the operators strive to improve their RT efforts?
Understanding and internalising the essence of responsible tourism, these operators are catalysts for positive change within their sphere of influence, inspiring others to embark on the green journey while at the same time, still affording customers with the memorable holiday experience the travel for in the first place.

Mr. Jeevaka Weerakone, general manager of Heritance Kandalama noted that “it is a great honour to receive the Awards and will continually raise the game in making Heritance Kandalama an example in Sri Lanka and to the world, at the same time a learning center for responsible tourism.”

Norm vant Hoff, owner of Sarinbuana Ecolodge, the winner of the small to mid-sized to small accommodation category expressed that, “winning the Awards has helped us increase our profile thereby bringing in more conscious travelers and increasing revenue streams for the local community.”

Wild Asia would like to congratulate winners and finalists for their commendable efforts and commitment in achieving high standards of environmental protection and social responsibility that form the critical pillars of their business philosophy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RTA 2010 Finalist Site Visit: Heritance Kandalama

[To perch] - The noun befits birds gently and gracefully sitting on tree branches, covered with lushes of green for shade. That’s once upon a time for the tiny village of Kandalama, 20 kilometres from Dambulla, a small town in Sri Lanka. Blessed with rich biodiversity many of which endemic to Sri Lanka, this region serves as a perfect spot for nature lovers.

An [idea] - This word calls for an intention to create, and often times, accompanied with a representative image. The idea back in 1992 was to create a seamless hotel that blends into the natural surroundings. Many surrounding villagers did not think this idea was congruent with the blessings Kandalama had, but the designers, innovators and entrepreneurs behind Heritance Kandalama, a now well recognized hotel had a plan, a plan to prove the sceptics wrong.

Since its inception in 1992 for construction, Heritance Kandalama had a very close stake to sustainability ensuring that from its development to operations, the area’s biodiversity and community must be preserved. Among many awards the hotel has won, it is also the first LEED certified hotel to be recognized outside of USA.

As though emerging out from the lush of nature, the Heritance Kandalama building was aligned to fit the profile of the craggy land. Instead of blasting stones or removing trees, they elevated the Dambulla and Sigiriya on stilts in order to eliminate any ecological impact.

Situated in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle’s heartland, Heritance Kandalama is flanked by two UNESCO world heritage sites – the 1st Century BC Dambulla Cave Temple and the 5th Century AD Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The hotel is surrounded by rocky outcrops, lush forests, and overlooks the glistening Kandalama Tank.

With its commitment to sustainability, Heritance went one step further in setting up an Eco Park as a tool for wildlife and environment education. This is where waste from the hotel is being sorted and waste water treated. The Eco Park also has a unit for making paper out of elephant dung and waste paper and a nursery to cultivate indigenous seedlings. Over the years, this facility has also evolved into an animal rehabilitation centre where wildlife is rescued, cared for and prep for the wild.

After 16 years, the hotel is not only conserving the environment, they are giving back to local communities and playing the role of a change agent in the country. Its doors are constantly open for the occasional sceptic, curious researchers, students and tasteful travellers who seek a different kind of travel experience.

This idea became a vision and turned into reality. Heritance Kandalama, not just a pride of Sri Lanka, but soon to be an example to the world.

By: Terence Ooi & Deborah Chan (Dambulla, Sri Lanka: 10 – 13 September, 2010)

Special Note: Heritance Kandalama is one of the finalists for the 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Large Accommodation). For more v-blogs on Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Awards, please visit our Wild Asia Channel.

RTA 2010 Finalist Site Visit: Sarinbuana Ecolodge

Nestled in the rainforest of Mount Batukaru, in the northwest region of Bali, Sarinbuana Ecolodge offers a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of the tourist track, and a refreshing experience that most people do not feel when visiting this island. Sarinbuana Ecolodge, which was started ten years ago, is run by Linda and Norm vant Hoff and their extended Balinese family. The eco lodge demonstrates a clear and committed practice of responsible tourism in every aspect of its operation, and is nominated this year for the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Award.

Although a small lodge, with only 4 villas, Sarinbuana Ecolodge has had an enormous positive impact on the local village. Since the arrival to the Sarinbuana village, the vant Hoff family has dedicated themselves to improving local livelihoods, establishing a good relationship with the community, and learning the local language and culture in order to truly integrate with the local community. The eco lodge has provided a surplus of extra income for many village members. All staff are local and live within ten minutes from the eco lodge, including the lodge manager. The eco lodge believes firmly that the key to a successful lodge is by providing economic opportunities to the local communities. Whether it be from generating jobs on site, or through numerous workshops offered for guests, trekking guides, soccer coaching to a local team, employing a team to manage the tree planting program, or many others, Sarinbuana Ecolodge excels at generating income for the local community, while instilling a sustainable development philosophy. The lodge also aims to unite other eco lodges in the Bali area and helps to provide consulting and courses for other developers.

In terms of best environmental practices of responsible tourism, the lodge has adopted a number of strategies ever since the formation of the business. All cleaning materials, as well as soaps are all natural and 100% biodegradable. No plastic bottles are used on premises, and all waste is segregated and recycled. Organic waste is composted on site and used as fertilizer for the extensive permaculture gardens which cover the property. All villas are constructed with local sustainable timber, including coconut and bamboo and have a very low impact design. Water is sourced from a natural spring and all waste water is carefully treated and released into leach gardens, which in turn, support the gardens and various fruit trees. The eco lodge has successfully established an 800 hectare rainforest reserve and guests are offered the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions by physically planting trees in the neighboring reserve.

At Sarinbuana Ecolodge, one can embrace the cool mountain breezes, lush tropical rainforests, rich Balinese culture, and appreciate life at its purest. The eco lodge operates in a truly holistic manner, exemplifies sustainability environmentally, economically and socially, and provides comfortable and pristine surroundings for true peace of mind.

Written by: Melissa Cornejo (Bali, Indonesia: 6 - 9 September, 2010)

Special Note: Sarinbuana Ecolodge is one of the finalists for the 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Small to Mid-size Accommodation). For more v-blogs on Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Awards, please visit the Wild Asia Channel.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

RTA 2010 Finalist Site Visit: PEPY Tours

What better way to explore a country than on two wheels with a saddlebag packed to last for 2 – 3 weeks. It’s all about local travel – taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a destination. The satisfaction of exploring the nook and cranny of a road less travelled and forging friendships with local people - that’s exactly what PEPY Tours offer to their travelers.

PEPY ("Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself") Tours was established in 2005 by Daniela Papi and her friends, who traveled to Cambodia and realized the sheer education deprivation in the country. Moved and inspired by the experience, they set out to raise funds to build the first-ever secondary school in Chanleas Dai Commune, about 45 minutes from Siem Reap. At the same time, they planned subsequent bicycle tours around Cambodia as a means of raising funds. Since then, PEPY has evolved from being a small informal group to a legal organization with over 30 Cambodian staff working in the rural parts of Cambodia to reach children and youth through education and leadership programmes.

The unique characteristic of PEPY’s tours lie not only in the authenticity of its travel but also in the educational aspect. PEPY seeks to create sustainable changes within an individual, resulting in long term effects even after the traveler leaves. They do so by engaging travelers in insightful and thought stimulating activities to help travellers learn and understand social and environmental issues surrounding tourism. Their goal is for travellers to leave Cambodia with a transformed view and attitude of how they live, travel and give.

During our 4-day visit to PEPY, we heard numerous stories of lives being empowered and changed because of the PEPY’s efforts. Youth from the rural parts of Cambodia are given the opportunity to study, fulfil their dreams and reach their highest potential. PEPY is in the business of empowering individuals in hope that they will change the hue of the future in their country. "If we can help our employees reach their full potential, then naturally the organization will inevitably reach its best," Daniela shares.

*PEPY organizes bicycle tours and education & experiential non-biking tours.

Written by: Deborah Chan (Siem Reap, Cambodia: 14 – 17 August, 2010)

Special Note: Pepy Tours is one of the finalists for the 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards(Category: Tour Operator). For more v-blogs on Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Awards, please visit the Wild Asia Channel.

Friday, August 27, 2010

RTA 2010 Finalist Site Visit: Soneva Gili

White powdery sand meets crystal blue sea all at your doorstep on one of the most beautiful islands in the Republic of Maldives. Located on Lankanfushi Island in the North Male Atoll, Soneva Gili hosts 45 luxury villas, which offer a simple yet sophisticated design and luxurious comfort, all perched on top of the crystal sea. The limited number of villas allow for exceptional service by attentive staff, at a guest to staff ratio of 1:6. The villas and other buildings are constructed and crafted from renewable and certified-sustainable sources.

Responsible tourism is engrained in all aspects of the operation, stemming from the founders Sonu and Eva who are committed to running an environmentally and socially responsible business. Throughout the years, the entire team at Soneva Gili has embraced this passion and are all stewards for improving their environment and local communities. At Soneva Gili, they realize the fragile and important ecosystem in which they operate and know that in order for their business to thrive, they must have an extremely low environmental impact along with positive social impact in local communities.

The resort has been recognized by Wild Asia as one of the finalists for the 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards because of an array of best practices in responsible tourism. One of the best practices at Soneva Gili is their strong commitment to local employment and worker’s welfare. The resort guarantees excellent staff conditions, as well as extensive training in environmental management for all employees. Soneva Gili believes that the success of its business depends, amongst other things, on its qualified, motivated and happy staff.

Another responsible tourism best practice worthy of noting at Soneva Gili is the carbon reduction and waste reduction measures. Since 2008, a 'carbon tax' of 2% has been included in Soneva Gili’s guest villa rates to offset flight-related emissions. This money is used to finance clean energy projects and community development in developing countries, such as India, through a non-profit organization called The Converging World.

The resort has also invested a great deal in innovative technologies that reduce both waste and carbon emissions. For example, a desalinization plant is used to provide all water for the operation, including drinking water (thus not importing any plastic water bottles onto the island). The implementation of heat recovery systems which capture hot exhaust from the generators, in order to heat water for the entire resort, is another example of innovative techniques used. The resort also has its own organic gardens and sources produce from local farms and fishermen as much as possible, thereby reducing air miles and non-biodegradable packaging.

In terms of social contributions, 0.5% of Soneva Gili’s annual revenue goes into their Social and Environmental Responsibility Fund (SERF), which supports national and international programmes on health, education, conservation and community development. Soneva Gili strives to empower local NGOs and promote economies. They understand the importance of being a leading role model in local environmental conservation and social empowerment, and try "to create innovative and enlightening experiences that rejuvenate guests’ love of SLOW LIFE".

Soneva Gili’s "S.L.O.W. L.I.F.E." concept – Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experience… is the real experience guests feel when staying at this resort. An extremely relaxing and pure environment, friendly staff and management, superb and healthy food, and the true feel of a Robinson Crusoe adventure while indulged in luxury is what Soneva Gili is all about and why many guests repeatedly return. The resort exemplifies a holistic approach to responsible tourism, and its passion and commitment towards the environment and local community shines.

Written by: Melissa Cornejo (Soneva Gili, Lankanfushi Island, Maldives: 11 – 14 August, 2010)

Special Note: Soneva Gili is one of the finalists for the 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Small to Mid-size Accommodation). For more v-blogs on Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Awards, please visit the Wild Asia Channel.