Wednesday, September 30, 2009

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.

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