Wednesday, August 26, 2009

2nd Site Visit: Soneva Fushi, Maldives

Fringed by coral reefs that meet soft white sand, rings of blue hues from crystal clear waters surround the 1190 islands of the Republic of Maldives. Soneva Fushi, located idyllically on Kunfunadhoo Island of the Baa Atoll, offers all the charm one would expect of the Maldives in utter sophistication and luxurious comfort.

Tucked away in lush tropical vegetation, 65 villas stay cool from the hot and humid Maldivian weather. The limited villas allow for exceptional service by attentive hosts, predominantly male, at a guest to host ratio of 1:4. Generously spaced out for privacy and nestled in nature, the villas and other buildings are constructed and crafted from renewable and certified-sustainable sources.

Fast moving towards its ‘Zero Carbon’ goal by 2010, Soneva Fushi had a carbon footprint audit carried out and a suite of carbon emission reduction strategies are being implemented. One ambitious experiment worth highlighting would be the Deep Water Cooling of villas and other buildings using nature’s renewable resources – i.e. cold deep seawater, resulting in 70% energy saving through more efficient air-conditioning.

Other carbon reduction (and waste reduction) measures include growing the resort’s own food in the organic gardens and sourcing produce from local farms and fishermen, thereby reducing air miles and non-biodegradable packaging, not to mention rewarding the human gastronomic sense with the freshest ingredients.

0.5% of Soneva Fushi’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.

Whether you decide to go barefoot and stroll along the beach or jungle paths, star-gaze at the Observatory or dive into the depths of the sea, or even indulge in their award-winning spa treatments, one is bound to embrace Soneva Fushi’s S.L.O.W. L.I.F.E. concept – Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experience...The real experience guests repeatedly return and stay on for.

By: Shafinaz Suhaimi (Kunfunadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Republic of Maldives, 20 - 24 August 2009)

Special note: Soneva Fushi is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Mid Size). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit our YouTube Channel.

Friday, August 21, 2009

1st Site Visit: Shangri La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa

Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, may be a large sized resort renowned for its impeccable service and beautiful surroundings; however it is what happens behind the scenes that makes this hotel outstanding. The resort has been recognized by Wild Asia as one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards because of an array of best practices that have been adopted and applied.

One of the best practices of responsible tourism is "Their participation and Support of the Local Community through a range of philanthropic activities". They sponsor many schools in the area, including La Salle secondary school, Sabah College, and Seri Mengasih, a school for mentally challenged students. They have adopted 4 students this year and have helped to provide an education for these children. They have raised funds for and donated various items to the schools, such as books, magazines, play grounds, recycle bins and others. The resort has also involved students in environmental activities, such as beach clean ups and recycle buy back centers within the school.

Another responsible tourism best practice worthy of noting is "their strong commitment to local employment and worker’s welfare". Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa guarantees excellent staff conditions, as well as extensive training in environmental management for all employees. Over 90 percent of staff is from Sabah, and many of them have worked at the resort for over 20 years. It is not uncommon to find two generations of a family working at the hotel.

Finally, Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa is involved in a range of "innovative environmental activities that promote conservation". They have adopted Zero beach, a public beach located adjacent to their resort property. They have accomplished a dramatic cleaning of the beach area, and try to promote local environmental awareness through education in surrounding schools. The resort has an organized and efficient recycling separation process, as well as composting all organic waste with Bokashi, a microbe enzyme that speeds up the composting process. Recently, the hotel has taken the initiative to involve both local schools and hotel guests in making EM mud balls containing this microbe in order to release into polluted streams. The mud balls slowly dissolve and release microbes into the water stream to help improve water quality. The resort has also taken on the immense uphill battle of helping to clean up the neighboring water village, wrought with layers of rubbish.

Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa understand the importance of being a leading role model in local environmental conservation and social empowerment. They have a long uphill battle presented before them, but are committed to improving the surrounding natural and cultural heritage.

By: Melissa Cornejo (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, 11-14 August 2009)

Special Note: Shagri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Mid Size). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit our YouTube Channel.

Monday, August 10, 2009

RTA Judging - First Roundtable Meeting

Finally after months of plotting, sending emails and organizing Skype chats - the core Responsible Tourism Awards team meets to plan the way forward for the awards and the upcoming site visits.

We share some of the highlights of our day here:

Our team spent the day discussing the problems of defining Responsible Tourism, how our checklist was developed and what we have learnt are "traits" that give us confidence in a "Responsible Tourism" operator. Listen to this podcast here:

You can also download the recording here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

RTA09 Gets Another Supporter

Our awards gets a big boost through an unlikely alliance - an oil palm plantation company! Keresa Plantations and friends, have pooled their resources to give RTA09 a much needed financial support. This is great!

Why did they bother? Maybe they see value in what we do. I do know they are on their own "green journey" and are making meaningful improvements to how they do business - even for an oil palm company. We'll be keen to see what those changes are in the coming months but we already know that steps are being taken to improve their environment and better working conditions are being realised.

WA still needs financial support. Help us by supporting our annual awards. We have invested our hearts and what cash we have into this programme that has now gained International reach. We can make this event truly effective through secure financial support. Email us if you are able to mobilise support within the next month!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Green Journey with Malaysia Airlines!

Today we signed our agreement with Malaysian Airlines (MAS) for them to sponsor our flight tickets for the Responsible Tourism Awards for the next 3 years. That's really good news!

In true Wild Asia style we have also agreed to help MAS on their "Green Journey", or at least be on hand to mentor their evolving Green programme. This is an exciting new engagement for us as it gives us a chance to influence our own national carrier and tap into the transportation market.

Can MAS go green? I am feeling optimistic. It is a big job made difficult when dealing with such a large and complicated organisation. This year, we are playing a back seat role and using this time to understand MAS and their operations better. Let's see where this opportunity goes.

Friday, August 7, 2009

RT Awards 2009 Finalists Announced!

The Wild Asia RT Team has deliberated on the entries and has chosen this year’s responsible tourism finalists. Once again we saw entries from across Asia, namely from Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and India. The entries received were of high quality based on the strength of the completed WA RT Checklist (a self-assessment tool) and had posed a challenge to the judging process. Even deciding on the most appropriate category is challenging for the team.

This year, our judging team was assisted by Sarah Loftus (UK) and Sarah Baxter (Taiwan), two alumni of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism's Master Programme in the UK, who helped us vet through each entry and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. Our decisions were made impartially, in which the finalists were selected through in-depth research and guided by analysis and recommendations by qualified verifiers.

Our Finalists for 2009

Mid Size
Community-Based Tourism (CBT)

What's Next?
The RT team will be heading out on a manic schedule for ground visits of all the highlighted properties. The objective of these trips is to learn and verify on-ground practices. Our Fact-finding team includes a fact-finder to verify the completed self-assessment checklist, a communications member to report on the findings and a photo/videographer to document the fact-finding process. The team will be feeding back reports to the judging team, and we'll be sitting down together at the end to make our final decisions in search of this year’s Responsible Tourism winner.

More in October
We will be working on a mad timeline to provide the following at the very latest, by end of the year:
  1. Verifiers report on all entries for 2009 with a round up of the challenges faced by operators in Asia.
  2. RTA Blog entries for all site visits.
  3. Feature stories on all site visits.
  4. Video blog (Vlog) for all site visits.
  5. DVD for the 2009 awards (e.g what is RT?, our thoughts on the finalists and examples of good practices.)
  6. Web video promo on summing up the 2009 awards.
  7. Lots of pictures and video footage.
Want to learn more?
As part of our efforts to share our learning, all finalists will be invited to our annual RT Training Workshop which will be attended by a selected pool of media and tourism operators. This unique 2-day workshop, now in its 3rd year, provides the essential grounds to understand and learn from operators already committed to Responsible Tourism in Asia, hence titled “RT in Action!” To register (seats are limited) for the workshop, please visit our website.