Andaman Discoveries – 2014 Finalist

Andman Discoveries web

2CULTURAL PRS  ICONAndaman Discoveries in Thailand was born out of tragedy, and formed shortly after the Boxing Day Tsunami when villagers decided that community-based tourism would allow them to generate additional income and support their traditions, culture, and lifestyle. Since then, Andaman Discoveries has been offering various tours (volunteer trips, family holidays, and educational visits for schools) to empower the local community. Their Moken Experience tour supports nomadic communities preserve their culture through responsible tourism.

Here’s a snapshot of some of their key achievements, and reasons why Wild Asia has identified them as one of our 2014 Finalists in the category Best in Cultural Preservation…

  • Education is key at Andaman Discoveries. As well as offering educational tours to school groups, they also work to educate all guests by providing information in the following forms: Pre-Departure Guide, In-Village Guide, Visitor’s Phrasebook, Koh Surin Moken In-Village Guide, and Koh Surin Moken Way of Life.
  • They have created a library collection on local Moken culture. Moken Sea Nomads, an ancient sea people who have lived along Thailand’s North Andaman coast for thousands of years. Traditionally nomadic, the Moken are hunter-gatherers that live in harmony with nature. Guests are encouraged to learn more to discover how they can help preserve this culture that faces challenges of modernisation.
  • A translator accompanies guests on village tours and if they are attending traditional ceremonies, so that customs can be communicated.
  • They advocate traditional building within the community, and the use of sustainable building materials.
  • Guests can learn more about traditional Thai family life by staying at one of their partner homestays . Fun activities include learning how to prepare local food dishes.
  • To support local artisans, they have a shop which provides the opportunity for seven villages to sell their products and traditional crafts.
  • Their historic tours have resulted in the Moken community sharing their wisdom with others and have been inspired to build traditional boats to inform guests about their nomadic heritage. Tours introduce guests to the traditional lifestyle and culture of local communities, which help local communities develop a sense of place and provide the guest with a greater understanding of the area’s cultural heritage.
  • Moken communities have been integral in the development of tours, based on their recommendation. Jobs have been generated for engaged individuals, who have also benefited from capacity building in sustainable tourism development.

 

For more information about Andaman Discoveries, please visit their website.

 

Soneva Resorts, Thailand & Maldives – Most Inspiring Accommodation

winner[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his post congratulates Soneva Resorts for being recognized as a 2013 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards Winner. This award recognizes the accommodation provider that excels in all of the above categories by taking into consideration all the key principles of responsible tourism (maximum positive impacts to the local community and minimum negative impacts to the environment) and awards innovation for this most inspiring accommodation of the year.

Soneva Resorts is the original barefoot luxury brand, and still one of the travel industry’s greatest innovators. The acronym SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences) explains the Soneva philosophy. Intelligent Luxury, is all about creating unforgettable, enlightening experiences that rejuvenate each guest’s love of SLOW LIFE. It’s about illuminating lives whilst treading lightly on the earth.

Our favourite things about them!

  • Excellent sustainable business model incorporating social, economic and environmental aspects.
  • Internal and external impact assessment.
  • Mandatory sustainability training.
  • Wheelchair accessible.
  • A great personal touch to guest communications with “Mr./Ms Fridays.”
  • Concrete emission calculation and reduction goals.
  • Soneva just go so far beyond business as usual… innovation after innovation, active and creative on serious issues.
  • UNESCO Biosphere, shark protection, coral restoration project (30 tonnes of rock), waste to wealth centre, 85% waste recycled, serious engagement with the carbon calculator which avoids dis-ingenuity, Carbon sense fund 450,000 trees planted, whole world water initiative…
  • An established operator with good track record on responsible approaches to sustainable tourism practices.

Inspiring Management

  • Internal and external social and environmental impact assessments made.
  • Engage guests through information in rooms, personal interaction, personal tours, website.
  • Size, layout and location of all buildings planned to integrate the native vegetation into man-made structures and to maintain the natural charm. Large, vegetated parts of the island are unspoilt to provide cooling, shading, fresh air and natural experiences. Villa numbers are kept low.
  • All timber used from sustainable managed, certified sources.
  • Wheelchair accessibility to some villas.
  • Fushi property delivered international event on their SLOW LIFE concept, with international leaders to inspire wider audience on sustainability.
  • Founded WHOLE WORLD Water campaign through their SLOW LIFE Trust.
  • 2/3 properties Long Run Alliance Members; use own Soneva Carbon Calculator annually.
  • Won numerous awards for sustainability.

Community Engagement and Development

  • Hold annual Soneva Nature Trip (through NGO Eco Care, sponsored by Soneva) most influenial environmental awareness event in Maldives. Locals (including 100 students) do various activities, conduct audits and learn about environmental issues.
  • Financially supported Thalassemia Prevetion and Relief programme of screening blood donations (Maldives has highest genetic blood disease prevelance in world).
  • 92% local staff, 50% of management are local people.
  • Staff training target of 9 hours per month, each staff member has own My Development Plan. Mandatory sustainability training for all staff.
  • 50% food from local area (80% organic), lots grown at properties.
  • Each villa assigned with own butler, from local area, who engages guests with local customs etc.
  • 90% staff live onsite, provide good living conditions with access to recreational activities and three meals a day.
  • All staff paid above national minimum wage.
  • Monthly meetings with island leaders to maintain relationships and receive feedback.

Cultural Preservation

  • Do and Don’t guide provided (dress etc).
  • Invite local women to showcase cooking and invite guests to their home to learn.
  • Use locally produced materials for design e.g. coconut ropes.
  • Sale of local crafts through Soneva Gallery.

Resource Efficiency

  • 3% renewable energy – installed 70kW solar PV in 2009 (then biggest on Maldives), expanding to 350kW which will result in 50% reduction in diesel consumption.
  • Each villa has its own Little Green book with information on responsible tourism.
  • 100% self sufficient in water (45% rain water harvested, 45% desalination, 10% deep wells).
  • Water saving: aerators, low flow shower heads, water saving toilets.
  • Monthly monitoring of resource efficiency with targets and bonuses if achieved.
  • Soneva Carbon Calculator includes travel, freight etc – 2011-12 footprint was 42, 500 tons (15% from energy, 76% guest travel).
  • Established Carbon Sense Fund, 2% levy on room bill for carbon mitigation projects (reforestation in Thailand, SLOW LIFE in Myanmar, stoves project in Sudan).
  • Output treated sewage and grey water is mixed with brine to reduce salinity then released into sea.
  • Less than 15% is non-recyclable waste and sent away.
  • Established Eco Centro Waste to Wealth centre with Manager, handles and monitors all Fushi waste.
  • 85% food waste recycled, used on own herb garden.
  • Garden waste composted or bio-charcoal.
  • Working to improve chemicals by working with Eco Lab, hope to install rechargeable batteries.

Protection of Natural Areas and Wildlife Conservation

  • Baa Atoll, where Soneva Fushi is situated, recently achieved UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. In-house marine biologist involved in establishment of management team for Biosphere Reserve, resort will contribute financially.
  • Soneva Fushi worked with local NGOs to lobby for shark protection and in 2010 a national Shark-fish ban was implemented.
  • Soneva Fushi has own Marine Biologist who trains staff on conservation.
  • Follow IUCN ‘no no’ red list for F&B, work with local fishermen for sustainable fish, prioritize organic food.
  • 66% area left undeveloped (e.g Soneva Fushi island has largest forest cover in Maldives).
  • Use of native salt and drought tolerant plants reduced need for irrigation.
  • Soneva Kiri established coral restoration project – 1,850 corals or 27 species were transplanted, 30 tons live rock incorporated.
  • Offer 3 nights free stay to guests in low season who contribute to community/conservation work.
  • 3 hours per week set aside for marine biologist to monitor reefs, working with IUCN, to development management plan.
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T+L 2012‘Most Inspiring Responsible Tourism Accommodation Provider’ Award is sponsored by Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.

Sustainable Island Programme

Soft, white sandy beaches lining sparkling blue-green waters and coconut trees swaying in the background attract thousands of tourists every year. However, our marine ecosystem faces irreversible destruction due to the advent of industralisation. Learn about the Sustainable Island Programme (SIP) as an approach to coral reef conservation.

Sustainable Island Programme

In 2007, Reef Check Malaysia conducted 33 surveys, covering 21 sites around the islands off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The results show that overall, the islands on the East coast face a number of pressures which are negatively impacting their coral reefs. These include rapid development of tourism facilities, principally resorts, which increases sewage pollution, leading to the spread of coral-smothering algae. Poor solid waste management adds to the problem.

Other development pressures (for example the recently completed marina and the ongoing beach replenishment project in Tioman Island) are resulting in increased siltation, which would suffocate the reefs. Furthermore, increasing visitor numbers are causing significant physical damage to the reefs.

Although some Reef Check surveys have been carried out in previous years, there is still insufficient data to accurately identify trends in the status of coral reefs in the East coast islands.

tiomanRealising that an extended survey programme is required to holistically address the environmental conundrum faced by the reefs, Wild Asia, together with Reef Check Malaysia, developed the Sustainable Island Programme (SIP), which was quickly mobilised into action in March 2008.

The SIP combines the strengths of Reef Check and Wild Asia in assessing the stresses faced by the reefs and coming up with a sound reef conservation management plan. This inevitably requires monitoring the condition of the marine ecosystem by surveying more dive sites and correlating it with what is happening on the islands itself.

Wild Asia’s strengths in Responsible Tourism and environmental/biodiversity conservation would come in handy as the effectiveness of reef conservation measures in the long-term would require improvements with regards to the practices and habits of dive operators, resort owners and local communities residing on the islands.

Operators committed to Responsible Tourism would have to ensure that they preserve their local environment and the people and cultures within it. They do this by careful management of all areas of their business, from the resources they buy to the care of their staff to the disposal of waste. They focus on maximising their guests’ holiday experience while minimising the impact this has on the area. Preserving our natural areas and the communities in them serves a dual purpose as it also protects the very things that so many tourists come to Asia to see, which will ultimately increase the all important revenue from the tourist trade.

OUR Reefs, OUR Heritage, OUR Responsibility

Currently only 4% of the world’s marine ecosystems is left undamaged by human impact. It is estimated that 42% of Malaysia’s coral reefs are facing high levels of risk of damage from coastal development, sedimentation, marine-based pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing. In addition to that, global warming is putting further stress on the reefs to survive as higher water temperatures for prolonged periods would result in coral bleaching and will eventually lead to the coral’s death.

With these statistics in mind, let us contribute towards highlighting the significance of coral reefs in sustaining the livelihood of millions of people dependent on fisheries, pharmaceuticals and tourism.

The Results

  • A total of 50 reef check surveys were conducted at selected coral reef sites on Redang, Perhentian, Tioman, Tenggol and Aur Islands. 
  • Islands are faced with too much stress from sewage and waste pollution, sedimentation from island development and over-capacity in terms of tourists and tourist facilities. While the increase in the number of tourists visiting the islands is desirable for economic reasons, this also brings pollution to the sea which can negatively affect the very thing tourists and visitors come to appreciate. 
  • Eco-checks on participating resorts have highlighted the obvious environmental issues the islands face and the main challenges they experience in dealing with implementing good practices. As resorts that participated in the SIP eco-checks this year are representative of operators throughout the respective islands i.e. Tioman and Perhentian, the main issues and challenges they have highlighted during the eco-checks would be applicable to almost all others. 
  • Island operators and Marine Park Officers are now switched on about the SIP and will take the lead where reef check surveys and water quality monitoring are concerned. They are able to play their role in coordinating and mobilizing people to continue the activities of the SIP.