Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Andaman Discoveries Selected for BBC World Challenge!

Congratulations to our finalist Andaman Discoveries for making it in the BBC World Challenge! This opportunity will provide the social enterprise with international reach and recognition.

Why is it exciting?

The World Challenge is a global competition hosted by BBC World News and Newsweek magazine, in association with Shell. 12 finalists, including Andaman Discoveries were selected from more than 900 nominations on the basis of their innovation at grassroots level in "countering socio-economic and environmental issues".

“…the BBC World Challenge is a chance for us to share with people the difference we are making. Whether it's providing income to women's handicraft groups or training the next generation of conservationists, community-based tourism allows visitors to enjoy the traditional Thai way of life, whilst helping to preserve the unique culture of our region.” Tui Chomphusri, Director of Andaman Discoveries.

Catch Andaman Discoveries’ profile on 17 October 2009 at 2.30pm (GMT) and repeats on 18 October at 2.30am, 9.30am and 5.30pm (GMT). Support Andaman Discoveries and vote for them!

Video profiles of all the finalists will be available on World Challenge during the voting period 28 September-13 November. To vote, simply visit the World Challenge website. Winners will be announced on 5 December in a ceremony held at The Hague, Netherlands.

About Andaman Discoveries

Founded in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, Andaman Discoveries has grown from providing emergency disaster relief into an internationally acclaimed community-based tour operator. Over the past five years the social enterprise has helped tsunami-affected communities achieve environmental, cultural and financial sustainability through conservation programs, vocational training and providing interactive cultural tours for responsible tourists.

Find out more about Andaman Discoveries through the eyes of Wild Asia’s RTA fact-finders.

Wild Asia wishes you the best of luck!

For more information, visit Andaman Discoveries' website

Final Site Visit: Nikoi Island, Indonesia

Responsible tourism at its best can allow us to trial a lifestyle that may counter the ecological crisis and bring us closer to nature. At Nikoi Island in Indonesia guests are separated from their air conditioning and consumer gadgets and provided instead with a low-energy beach front house without walls. The luxury here is to be able to smell the sea from your room, to be able to hear the insects as you sleep and enjoy the cooling mist of a tropical downpour from your daybed.

Nikoi has established a Foundation based on neighbouring Bintan Island that they hope will allow them to extend their ideal of profitable and ecologically sustainable development into the local community. The Foundation is modelled on the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) of Thailand.

The Foundation will be managed by a local hero employed by Nikoi especially for the job. Sam, originally from Bintan, found his fame through jumping ship in New York, buying a small yacht and sailing home single handed to Bintan. Although still in its infancy the Foundation has already established sailing classes, a children’s’ library and facilitated a teacher exchange program with neighbouring Singapore.

The heart of Nikoi Island, the thing which gives it its sense of place, is its beautifully crafted driftwood buildings. The same buildings are also the reason for its exceptional environmental performance. An important measure of a building’s sustainability is its carbon emissions; represented by its energy consumption and energy embodied in its construction. Many ‘green’ buildings sing about their energy saving gadgets but gloss over the energy that was required to produce their concrete structure. Use of recycled or waste materials such as driftwood does not drive depletion of primary resources and the energy cost and environmental destruction that goes with it.

Nikoi’s low energy policy extends to consumption too and you will find that the only electrical fittings in each house of 100m² area are 8 LED light bulbs and one fan, the latter ingeniously fitted inside a mosquito net. Few surfaces on Nikoi are painted meaning no hazardous chemicals and a purely natural environment. The driftwood is weathered by salt water; you can dig your toes into the sand floor in the dining room and smell the alang grass thatch above the bed.

The Style of Nikoi’s architecture is elegant and understated and this also applies to the owners’ philosophy. They are a little reticent about their achievements, partly because in the words of one of the owners “it just made sense to do it this way” and also because they realise that “this is and may always be a work in progress.”

In the two years that the island has been operating they have been surprised to be full most of the year. With this level of popularity and their attitude to social and environmental sustainability, Nikoi look set to become a leading light in Responsible Tourism in Asia.

By: Ian Hall

Special note:
Nikoi Island is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Mid-sized Tourism Operator). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit us on YouTube.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In Print: Reza's Interview with NST

Wild Asia is on a media roll! A profile article on Reza Azmi was published in a local newspaper, The New Straits Times. Here is a reproduction of the actual interview we would like to share.

Reza is wild about the environment
By Beatrice Thomas

KOTA KINABALU: FOR a man who has dedicated his life to changing the conservation habits of people across Southeast Asia and beyond, Reza Azmi is the first to admit that he was never much into nature.
The founder of environmental organisation Wild Asia says he spent a lot of time outdoors as a child but it was not until he entered university, and a subsequent opportunity to work for WWF Malaysia, that his attitude towards the environment changed.

"WWF basically said 'here's RM20,000 and we want you to go to Borneo'," he says of his first job with WWF Malaysia at the age of 24.

"They just said: 'We have no project there at the moment. We don't even know what we want you to do but you've got a botany degree and we know you're interested in people, so why don't you come up with something?'"

What Reza crafted was five years of research that looked at forest fragments -- or what are left after years of logging and development -- that eventually earned him a PhD.

That was in the mid-1990s.

In 1998, Reza left WWF Malaysia to start his own conservation project, which would go on to be known as Wild Asia.

With its beginnings as an online collection of stories about the places he had visited, Wild Asia has grown into a full-time project with a staff of seven people.

Reza says Wild Asia hopes to inspire businesses and communities.

"Our focus is literally on people's backyards, whether it's a community or a business with a land bank. This is because at the end of the day, these are people who are rooted to where they are."

A boarder from the age of 14 at the prestigious Aldenham School in Elstree, England, and later educated at St Andrews University in Scotland, the 38-year-old initially studied marine biology before he grew "fed up dissecting animals all the time" and switched to botany.

Born in Kuala Lumpur to a Malay father and Pakistani mother, Reza, the youngest of three sons, jokes that he is the only one in the family working outside the "corporate world". One brother is a partner in an auditing firm and the other is a chartered surveyor.

With Wild Asia, Reza concentrated first on Asia's forestry industry, which he claims is devastating the environment but since then, has steered it in a new direction -- palm oil production and the effects of tourism on the environment.

To gauge the impact of tourism on the environment, he has come up with the annual Responsible Tourism Awards, where self-assessments by tourism operators are judged by a team he put together.

He says despite palm oil being a lucrative business in Asia, the ever-growing thirst to expand the industry's footprint needs to be kept in check.

"We're at the stage where we are going into those areas where we shouldn't and developing land that people didn't want developed in the first place.

"That's where all the complications are now coming from. This isn't the 1950s, when we had a whole different scenario in terms of land and development pressures."

Sitting in a cafe near his apartment in Taman Desa, Reza has just returned from India and is suffering the effects of an upset stomach, something he shrugs off as an unfortunate side effect of the amount of time he spends in different, often remote, parts of the world.

Although easy to talk to and passionate about his work, he finds it difficult to describe Wild Asia in a few words, saying it is an ever-evolving concept and one which he is continually learning from.

"Having the confidence to do it is a big step, especially as we did not know what we were getting ourselves into.

"We have an idea of what people are saying that others should do. But it's tricky when you're looking at existing management systems. You tell them about climate change (and) they've got no idea about what's going on."

Companies are now hiring Reza's Wild Asia team to train their staff and advise them on how to improve their sustainability practices.

It's Wild Asia's biggest source of income, together with corporate grants.

Reza admits that relying on sponsorship and not donations is limiting how much he can do with Wild Asia.

But he is optimistic, saying that his work is helped by a growing realisation on the importance of staying environmentally friendly.

"You really don't have alternatives," he says. "It's not good enough now to say 'well, don't do anything' because we've passed that.

This article was published on 27 October 2009

Read all about it: 2009 RTA on NST

Wild Asia's Responsible Tourism Awards gained the attention of a local Malaysian Newspaper, The New Straits Times (NST). Below is the article which highlighted our 8 finalists.

Sabah resort in shortlist for coveted tourism award

By Beatrice Thomas

KOTA KINABALU: Shangri La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa in Kota Kinabalu has been shortlisted as a finalist for a prestigious award on responsible tourism together with several other luxury resorts and community-based tourist operations across Southeast Asia.
The only award of its kind, the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards was created in 2006 to promote environmentally sustainable destinations throughout Asia.

Now in its fourth year, the award is aligned to the United Nations' World Tourism Organisation's Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria.

After analysing a field of 315 entries from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Wild Asia founder and director Reza Azmi has revealed two finalists in each of the four categories.

- Community-based: Andaman Discoveries, Thailand; and Sundarbans Jungle Camp, Bali Island, Indonesia.

- Small: Lamai Homestay, Thailand; and Nikoi, Indonesia.

- Medium: El Nido Resorts, Philippines; and Soneva Fushi, Male, Maldives.

- Large: Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia; and ITC Mughal, Agra, India.

Reza said it was critical that tourism operators were recognised and rewarded for their contributions towards a greener environment.

"This award is not only a recognition of their efforts but it's also an award for learning and sharing."

As part of the judging process and to help tourism operators make changes, they are required to submit a self-assessment covering environmental, social and economic factors and a commitment to responsible tourism.

The assessments are then analysed by the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism team before three judges, including for the first time eco-architect Ian Hall, carry out site visits.

Reza said responsible tourism covered more than just the environment but also social and economic responsibilities to a region, such as how a business approached labour issues.

He said claims by tourism operators that they were eco-friendly operations also needed closer examination.

"One of the major criteria is whether or not they give us any confidence that they do understand what their social and environmental impacts are," he said.

"Sometimes they can talk for hours and hours about all these green things but then you get this feeling that they don't actually know what they were talking about."

Reza said many of the tour operators also wielded huge influence as politicians and top businessmen stayed there.

He said people could do their part for the environment by staying at places that carried out responsible tourism.

The winner from each category will be announced on October 29. Visit for more information.

Published 27 October 2009

Inside Knowledge: What Others are Doing

When: 29-30 October 2009

Where: Istana Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Wild Asia is organizing a 2-day Responsible Tourism Training Workshop for general managers in tourism, sustainability professionals, business owners and the media. The workshop will provide a background on sustainable principles in tourism and showcase numerous case studies from around the Asian region.

Confirmed speakers for the workshop include;

Mr Gopinath Parayil - CEO and Founder of the Blue Yonder and Nila Foundation, India on “The Blue Yonder: Responsible Tourism Initiatives for the Benefit of Local Destinations.”

ITC Mughal – “Greening Initiatives within a Large Hotel Chain.”

Ms Amanda Pummer - Environmental Consultant for GreenAsia Group, Indonesia on “Green Washing or Lifestyle Making?”

Mr Rees Jones Stuart - Managing Director of Camps International Ltd, UK on “Profits for the Planet”

Ms Sarah Baxter - Responsible Tourism Advisor, Wild Asia on “Green Marketing and Selecting Online Marketing Channels.”

The workshop is an excellent opportunity to learn and share with your peers, as well as, an opportunity to take home ideas for your own businesses. For the media, the workshop will highlight areas where travel journalism can expand.

What's in Store?
View the draft programme here.

USD120 per person. Concessions are available for members of the media.

To find out more or if you wish to attend the workshop, kindly contact us.

Awarding the Winners: 2009 RTA Cocktail Reception

When: 28 October 2009

Where: Istana Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Find out who the winners are at the cocktail reception for the Responsible Tourism Awards Finalists and Winners taking place as above from 6.00-8.30pm. There will be a presentation of this year's finalists as well as providing a networking platform and an opportunity for media to meet the finalists, winners and judges.

We are also keen to meet people from the tourism fields and make new friends! Join us for a night of mingling and learn about who are and why we are engaging the tourism industry.

Only invited guests and registered workshop participants only. For more information and attendance, kindly contact us.

Wild Asia at CSR ASIA Summit

When: 27-28 October 2009

Where: Istana Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Come over and find our booth at the CSR ASIA Annual International Summit happening right here in Malaysia! The Annual Summit is Asia-Pacific's most innovative and challenging conference on corporate social responsibility (CSR). This year's theme, "Sustainable Business as the Road to Recovery" will explore current hot issues in CSR and leadership strategies in times of crisis.

Wild Asia will be a part of this exciting event and we can't wait to introduce who this year's Responsible Tourism Awards finalists are to the general public so don't miss this chance!

For more details on the topics and registration, visit CSR ASIA.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Responsible Tourism Networking at ITB Asia

When: 22 October 2009, 6-8pm

Where: Suntec City, Singapore

Wild Asia will be present at the ITB Asia Trade Show for the Asian Travel Market on 22 October! The Trade Show, happening from 21-23 October 2009 in Singapore is a high profile event showcasing international travel exhibitors and attracts industry professionals of the MICE, Leisure and Corporate Travel sectors.

Come over and have a chat with the team! We would love to hear your say on Responsible Tourism either from a traveler's or manager's perspectives. What's more, the event provides an excellent networking ground and a platform for exhanging ideas and inspiring novel and innovative thinking!

To attend the event or if you would like to give a presentation on Responsible Tourism please contact the organizers or RSVP on Facebook.

Friday, September 18, 2009

7th Site Visit: Andaman Discoveries, Thailand

Relief is the immediate step after a natural disaster. Then what? An uncertain future lays ahead for communities whose livelihood and surroundings have been directly affected. Fisherman villages in Southern Thailand had to rebuild their lives and look for new opportunities to sustain their families after the 2004 tsunami.

Andaman Discoveries (AD) previously known as North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) stemmed from tsunami relief pioneered by Bodhi Garrett to serve communities he had lived with and respected. After the initial rebuilding of homes through community-driven tsunami relief, it soon progressed into long-term post-tsunami development programs. Participatory workshops and community meetings sparked the idea of potential tourism as a means of economic renewal. Villagers wanted to welcome tourists in a way that will not bring negative and harmful impacts like that of mass tourism.

Since then, AD works closely with interested villagers on vocational training (covering aspects of tourism, guiding, hospitality, small business management, community development, English and computers). The idea was to maximize and utilize local knowledge and local people as a means of tourism. Villagers return empowered to set up home-stays and design a holiday experience for guests.

Now, guests can choose from six villages to stay in – mostly fishermen communities. Accommodation is simple and clean often with a fan, mattress and mosquito net for a good night rest. Guests are assigned to different host families whom they will spend their time with. Often times, guests leave with great memories of relationships being made. Some even stay to volunteer.

Activities in each village are focused on preserving the culture, religion and environment within the village. Busy your day with big net fishing, batik and soap making, cashew and fruit harvesting or even teaching English to villagers. Conservation programmes such as mangrove and orchid replanting are also encouraged to educate guests on the natural surroundings.

The majority of the money of each trip goes directly to the villagers and 20% of guests’ in-village costs are donated to the community fund which funds community-led projects. AD helps provide communities with new sustainable livelihoods to replace those they lost in the tsunami.

By: Deborah Chan (Kuraburi District, Phang Nga Province, South Thailand, 12- 15 September 2009)

Special Note: Andaman Discoveries is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Community Based Tourism). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit our YouTube Channel.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

6th Site Visit: ITC Mughal, India.

10th September 2009

“Green” has become a fad amongst many hotel chains but learning about the ITC Mughal approach has been a refreshing change. Their journey began more than 10 years ago and they are now at a stage where they are innovating ways to cascade their impact not only across its workforce, but to their suppliers and vendors. Their initiative cuts across both environmental and social programmes and there is a strong management system in place that allows for engagement of staff, as well as, innovations from the “shop floor” to be adopted by the management. There is also a good deal of sharing and benchmarking within the ITC group (i.e., inter-hotels) and between ITC business units (e.g., food industry vs hotel industry).

There are a number of good environmental initiatives (e.g., energy conservation, waste management) and the team has brought them down to each unit of the hotel. Figures are tracked and units are empowered to find new innovations or work processes that can improve their targets. Such an approach has led to improvements in waste management in housekeeping (e.g., segregation at source) or seemingly complicated laundry procedures that maximize loads or the screening of all items to be washed and grading them for light to heavy washing. There are numerous other examples but the important point is that the team has reached a maturity that allows them to not only develop new methods of doing things (or where justified, new investments) and to continually improve.

One of the other features of ITC is the people and clearly they are doing the right thing in this dimension too, hence the numerous best employee awards. There is a genuine hospitality and care that comes across from all the staff and from the interviews it was clear that many of them see this more than just a job. Having an attrition rate of less than 1% annually with the average age of staff at 46, it is clear that they value working with the company.

Finally, whilst the location has complex social-political challenges which exasperate environmental concerns, the team has also been trying to find ways to work beyond their hotel. This has been in the form of engaging Government officials, training for tourism service providers (outside of their employment) or training and mentoring their many local suppliers to adopt some of their green practices (greening of their supply chain). Addressing this dimension will be a challenge and it will be interesting to see if the team begins to address them in the same zeal that has made their internal programmes a success.

Watch our video slide show or view the pictures here:

Site Report By: Reza Azmi, Leong Siok Hui and Emran.

Special note: ITC Mughal is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Large Tourism Operator). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit us on YouTube.

5th Site Visit: Sunderbans Jungle Camp, India.

4th September 2009

The Sunderbans wetlands provide a hostile living environment with its vast tidal eco-system. The villagers have adapted a way of life that allows them to earn a livelihood from the sea and use the land to sustain crops that would otherwise succumb to the saline waters (through an elaborate system of embankments and ponds). Their simple, yet precarious lives are tested by annual monsoons or cyclones. They live among swamps and gather forest products under the vigilance of tigers, snakes and crocodiles. Despite the challenging environment, the people have settled here for at least half a century. Within this context, the Sunderbans Jungle Camp was born – a lodge for tourists to experience the region and to directly support initiatives that improve the village’s quality of life.

There are two “heroes” that help make this jungle camp stand out. The first, a Sunderban local named Anil Krisha Mistry, is a reformed poacher and founder of Bali Nature and Wildlife Conservation Society (BNWCS), who decided to do something to protect the Sunderbans environment. The second is Help Tourism (HT), which provides capacity building and commercial interest to sustain local Community-Based Tourism (CBT) projects. The Sunderban Camp is one of their 29 CBT projects. BNWCS and HT have found a working relationship that is built on trust over time. One of the most impressive aspects of the camp is the consultative approach the owners took to set up the camp through dialogues, workshops and consensus.

There is little distinction between the camp and the village due to the design of the lodge and the way the camp’s facilities are open to the community. You will be amazed by the “traffic” of men, women, children who use the camp’s tube wells or the informal kindergarten set up by HT for the local kids. No doors are locked and in the seven years since the lodge was opened, no theft has been reported because the camp is very much part of the community. The camp also supports other projects like setting up a small clinic, creating mangrove plantations and providing educational outreach to local schools. The camp supports a number of self-help groups: e.g., a group of village ladies who used to harvest baby prawns in a non-sustainable way and were afflicted to skin diseases due to day-long submersion in water. Today, they are working as cleaning ladies at the camp and earning a higher income. They enjoy more time with their families and also manage to have micro-savings which are used for their children’s education. On top of giving out bonuses and incentives to the employees, HT contributes a fixed amount of annual royalties to BNWCS. Ultimately, this HT model ensures that, regardless of profits, there is a long-term commitment to improving the education, health and environment of the locality and its people.

In the words of the society’s founder, “it’s not more money that we need, we need more opportunities for people to earn a good living here in the Sunderbans. What is the point of making more money to buy land in Kolkata and forget about where we came from?”

Watch our video slide show or view the pictures here:

Site Report By: Reza Azmi, Leong Siok Hui and Emran.

Special note: Sunderbans Jungle Camp is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Community Based Tourism). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit us on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

4th Site Visit: Lamai Homestay, Thailand

A five hour drive away from busy Bangkok, Lamai Homestay offers its guests the simple yet authentic experience of living in the rice village of Kho Phet in North-eastern Thailand. Jimmy White and his wife Lamai Ormnock run the homestay. From dawn till dusk they accompany guests on tours within and outside the village – tirelessly explaining the Isan way of life, making sure guests are well fed with mouthwatering Thai cuisine and even changing bed linens to ensure a comfortable stay.

The homestay only allows 6 guests per visit usually spanning between 3-5 days to ensure personalized attention and minimize impact on the environment and daily routines of the villagers. The house was built on barren land mindful not to take up precious rice planting space. There is an eco-dwelling hut just few steps away from the main house made from mud and rice husk bricks and supported by bamboo structures. The homestay also encourages biodiversity by surrounding the land with native trees and plants to promote that habitation of various species of insects, birds, lizards, snakes, butterflies and frogs.

Energy and water conservation comes as second nature to the homestay as Jimmy and Lamai operate the homestay similar to any household who has savings in mind. Water is vital to the village as this season of drought posed critical to the paddy fields. The homestay goes the extra mile by channeling all grey water from the guest rooms into the flourishing garden.

With the inclusion of the homestay, surrounding villages have benefited economically through income generated from tourists – from buying locally hand-woven silk to contributing to the upgrading of the local school. The homestay plays a vital role in educating guests on the cultural diversity of the village folk. Guests are encouraged to participate in the daily routine of villagers to avoid disrupting their schedule. Choose to food forage with the villagers in hunt for scorpions, beetles and frogs with spades and shovels or watch the delicate process silk making from boiling silk worms, spinning, dyeing to weaving the silk – this is truly a genuine and unique Thai village experience!

By: Deborah Chan (Ban Kho Phet, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, 31 August-3 September 2009)

Special note: Lamai Homestay is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Small). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit our Youtube Channel.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

3rd Site Visit: El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Surrounded by majestic limestone cliffs dating back 250 million years, El Nido Resorts (ENR) have been operating in El Nido, northwest Palawan, Philippines, since 1981. A Protected Area, El Nido's vibrant coral reefs in pristine waters are home to over 800 fish species and thick forests are sanctuary to 100 bird species, most of which are endemic to Palawan.

As such, ENR takes environmental protection seriously. Integrated sewage treatment plants ensure that no raw sewage and greywater are discharged into sea. Final treated effluent is used for gardening and toilet flushing, while neutralised biological solids are used as fertilisers. This directly reduces consumption of water, which otherwise have to produced through energy-intensive desalination processes.

While desalinating plants were established to minimise sourcing from mainland El Nido, the company proactively protects three of El Nido watershed areas totalling 333 hectares through tree-planting, where voluntary contributions from guests go to tree nurseries and other activities for the upkeep of the watersheds.

Additional to other energy-saving strategies being implemented, solar panels were installed on three islands. In further reducing carbon emissions, while at the same time providing alternative livelihood to the communities, ENR have urged local farmers to adopt organic agriculture and responsible livestock rearing to cater to the increased percentage of local purchases by ENR, which currently stands at 56% from 20% last year.

Working with the community and local government in areas of scientific research in marine protection and rehabilitation, responsible purchasing policies, and law enforcement monitoring efforts, ENR's supervisors have gone to the ground to pride various skills training aimed at expanding the local pool of manpower for the resort, at the same time, enable participants find employment. 73% of ENR's workforce comes from El Nido and neighbouring villages within 50km of its operations. Except for one, the rest are from other regions of the Philippines.

With no hospital and only one doctor for more than 30,000 inhabitants in El Nido, ENR's full-time doctors render free medical consultation to targeted local communities twice a week, moving between villages to reach out to those who are remotely located.

By: Shafinaz Suhaimi (Palawan Philippines, 26 - 30 August 2009)

Special Note: El Nido Resorts (ENR) 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.