Asian Elephants in Captivity: A Closer Look

This article is reposted from Buffalo Tours website…


Last year, Buffalo Tours launched an ambitious initiative to tackle an important issue: the welfare of captive elephants in Asia. Coming from a long history in logging, many elephants now live in captivity within tourism camps whose main income is elephant riding – a practice that raises important questions about animal welfare. As leaders in responsible travel, Buffalo Tours completed an encompassing review of our tours to establish strict welfare standards, with the ambition to phase out riding in the future.

A year on, we invited Nicolas Dubrocard of WildAsia on a visit a collection of camps to shed light on the issue, our initiative and the future of captive elephants in Asia. Go behind-the-scenes with him for a closer look at our steps toward lasting change. This is the story from his perspective.


My first would-be interaction with wild elephants was only a few years ago. I was in Khao Yai National Park – a vast and beautiful region of Thailand just a stone’s throw from Bangkok. The two-day trip was a master class in wildlife spotting – bats, giant lizards, birds and deer darted in and out of view while we trekked and drove our way through dense jungle foliage.

We were mesmerised by the life of the jungle, but our group of eight was most looking forward to one particular wildlife close encounter: spotting wild elephants.

I remember the sun beginning to set on our second day, and a palpable excitement course through our group. This was the golden hour for elephants, our guide told us, and it was just a matter of time before the gentle giants wandered into our peripheral. All of us were squeezed into the back of a pick-up truck, oblivious to our discomfort as we rattled toward an area where elephant spotting was best.

Khao Yai Guide

The truck came to a halt, and we spilled out onto a quiet park road flanked by jungle. Minutes passed as our group waited silently, motionless for fear that any movement would spook the creatures still hidden in the trees. The sun was nearly beyond the horizon, and our eyes darted to our guide, whose gentle smile was beginning to give way to worry.

Suddenly the walkie on his hip crackled to life, and after a few muffled words of Thai, he urged us back into the truck. “There are elephants on the other side of the park,” he assured us, before throwing the truck into drive and speeding down the road well above the speed limit. Our cameras ready, we tumbled back out of the truck a few minutes later as our guide motioned triumphantly toward a pile of elephant droppings. While the most enthusiastic of the bunch began snapping photos, I remained in my seat, feeling dejected.

Khao Yai Wild Elephant

As the night fell and our hopes of seeing wild elephants evaporated, the atmosphere in my car shifted from happy anticipation to forlorn disappointment. Many knew that this would be the last time they’d ever have an opportunity to see wild elephants, and I could sense the frustration hidden behind their sad expressions.

“Did we really care about the elephants, or did we care about the photos on our camera instead?”

Yet only hours ago, these same sad faces were overcome with excitement at the prospect of experiencing elephants in the wild. Despite my own disappointment, the shift of the group’s energy made me wonder – what made international travellers react this way? If these elephants were living in peace, comfort and freedom, who were we to change things for our own amusement? Did we really care about the elephants, or did we care about the photos on our camera instead? Being part of this paradox left a bad taste in my mouth.

Close Encounters

A few years later, I would find myself in Ayutthaya, Thailand with my wife. She had one goal in mind – to ride an elephant. We travelled to an elephant camp where dozens of tourists were queuing near a raised platform, climbing aboard an elephant for a 20-minute ride along a busy road packed with cars and trucks.

Based only on what I saw with my own two eyes, I had a gut feeling that something was off. It was hot – nearly 40 degrees in the sun – and the elephants appeared to be anything but happy. The procession seemed a million miles away from the lush national park in which I’d once hoped to see elephants in their natural habitat. If wild elephants lived hidden within the depths of a lush Thai jungle, how could this environment be appropriate for the very same creatures?

elephant

With a strange sense of discomfort, I decided not to go for a ride, and let my wife to go along without me. She jokingly dubbed me a “sustainability freak”, even though I’d never considered myself an animal welfare advocate before. To me, it wasn’t a matter of ethics or animal welfare – what lay in front of me was common sense.

My stroll around the camp solidified by discomfort. These incredible creatures were living in squalor – on extremely short chains attached to trees, swinging back and forth on their front legs like a metronome. Nearby, tourists goaded the creatures with bananas or corn, snapping selfies as the visibly concerned but powerless mahouts looked on.

“To me, it wasn’t a matter of ethics or animal welfare – what lay in front of me was common sense.”

In front of me was a prime example of supply and demand. The care of the elephants surely relied on the income of the camp, and even well-meaning tourists threw money at the opportunity to tick another item off of their bucket list by riding an elephant. Meanwhile, camp owners and mahouts gave the tourists what they wanted – knowing full-well that by doing anything less, the camp’s income (and ultimately the capital for the elephant’s care) would dry up.

A History of Struggle

I’d learn later that these incredible creatures were often veterans of the logging trade, and came from even more dire working conditions than the tourist camps. In 1989, logging was officially banned in Thailand after a series of disastrous floods that wreaked havoc on local communities. In a desperate bid to keep their gargantuan wards fed and sheltered, the out-of-work elephants’ mahouts would send them to the only place they knew they could: to the elephant camps.

Bathing time for elephants

With the cost of feeding a single captive elephant for one day at $30 – and with average monthly income in Thailand just under $500  caring for these creatures required one important thing: money. Despite popular belief, captive elephants are virtually impossible to release back into the wild, and require care and food throughout their 50-year life spans. The industry was faced with a dilemma – allow the elephants to die out, or provide an incentive for tourists to visit elephant camps with their vital travel dollars?

“The industry was faced with a dilemma – allow the elephants to die out, or provide an incentive for tourists to visit elephant camps with their vital travel dollars?”

Thus, the market for elephant riding was born – fueled by the well-meaning but misguided aspirations of travellers. While many camps attempted to build a larger boundary between the elephants and visitors, travel dollars most often funneled toward camps that provided the biggest “bang for the buck”.  More often than not, these same camps were the ones with the worst treatment of their elephants.

elephant 2

But in the early 2000s, the public began waking up to the mistreatment within the elephant tourism industry. Shocked and appalled by the treatment many captive elephants endured, a flurry of elephant riding and elephant camp boycotts sprung up among the travel community. Yet, even as more informed travellers call for an end to all elephant riding, the gaps that they leave behind are quickly filled by those that either don’t know or don’t care about elephant welfare.  Which leaves those committed to lasting change with an important question: how can change at a demand level really work?

Change at a Demand Level

In my work with Wild Asia, I collaborate with countless hospitality and travel brands in order to make the travel industry more responsible and sustainable. In recent years, the discussion about elephant welfare began bubbling to the surface – and around the same time, the responsible travel team at Buffalo Tours approached me with an exciting new project.

The Buffalo team was embarking on a massive and encompassing audit of all of the elephant camps that they worked with, using a lengthy set of criteria. The intention was to not only source camps that were the gold standard for elephant welfare, but also find those that were committed to making a change but needed support in doing so.

“The intention was to not only source camps that were the gold standard for elephant welfare, but also find those that were committed to making a change but needed support in doing so.”

The goal was two-fold: reward responsible camps with more business, as well as give other worthy camps the tools and incentive they needed to change their operations. By doing so, the Buffalo team hoped that they could be at the forefront of a massive change. But as a team of locals, they knew that this quantum shift must begin with discourse. Only then could they lead camp owners away from the quick win, and toward a more responsible future.

elephant 3

In April of 2016, I was lucky enough to visit three of Buffalo Tours’ proudest examples of change in Thailand. Throughout my visits to these three elephant camps, I learned about what change really looks like at a demand level – and about how travellers themselves play a massive part in all of it. In part two of this series, I’ll share these lessons I learnt and how I see the future for elephants in Asia.

 

Lanjia Lodge – Winner, Community

WINNER – 2015 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards, Best in Community Engagement & Development

High on a hill in the Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand, offers visitors intimate cultural experiences, whether a locally guided village tour, trek, or boating excursion down the mighty Mekong river. To ensure the lodge supports the needs of the surrounding Hmong and Lahu villages, Lanjia makes sure the communities are an active partner in all of their guest programs and development initiatives.

Before they even began building the founding team created a partnership with the Population and Community Association (PDA), an NGO already working within the local communities, which was instrumental in building a trusted partnership and allowed their projects to hit the ground running. Through PDA Lanjia Lodge learned quickly what the local communities needed, helping them visualize and create means of supporting existing projects like economic and environmental initiatives.

One of the biggest projects Lanjia Lodge supports is the Village Development Bank. For every guest, Lanjia donates 30 baht, which is deposited into the bank every three months creating a quarterly village income regardless of whether the lodge makes a profit. The staff have taken ownership of this project, realizing that more guests mean a healthier bank account, and make strides to ensure each guest has the best possible experience. They’ve even started voluntarily donating 30 baht out of their own monthly salary to the bank. In addition to the guest-dependent donations, the lodge gives 120,000 baht to the PDA every year.

The lodge takes a very hands-off approach to money management. After their donations are submitted the village committee takes over, using the money how they see fit. In the last year this included loans to villagers for household expenses, small business operations, and agricultural investments. Funds were also allocated for local cultural activities, such as a sports day and a New Year ceremony.

In addition to their involvement with the Village Development Bank, Lanjia Lodge also provides scholarships for four high school students, allowing them to attend a vocational school in Bangkok (which also includes English lessons) with the understanding they will return and use their new skills to help continue develop their village.

Lanjia Lodge is also dedicated to involving the local communities in environmental initiatives. They work closely with the Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU-CMU), a team of ecologists and research students in the Science Faculty of Chiang Mai University. FORRU-CMU has helped with technical training and applying their model to carry out Lanjia Lodge’s own reforestation project, which is taking place on a site donated to the King and has since become a ‘royal project’. Since the project started in 2008, hundreds of young plants have grown into strong trees.

In the future Lanjia Lodge hopes to expand their organic farm, currently used in preparing meals for lodge guests, into a community initiative. Their first step, educating the local communities about the health dangers associated with long term use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Their long term goal: create new dining experiences in which guests can become more involved with the local culture by dining in the private residences of community partners.

For more information about Lanjia Lodge, visit their website: http://www.asian-oasis.com/product/lanjia-lodge-hilltribe-discovery/

Watch their video here

2015 Responsible Tourism Awards Finalists

PATA Travel Mart has Sustainability Centre Stage – Wild Asia Awards

Now in their ninth year, the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards, has just announced their 2015 Finalists.

The Wild Asia Awards was the first of its kind to identify Asia based sustainability superstars in the travel industry, and remains the only regional responsible tourism awards. The Awards are based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Criteria, and provide a unique opportunity for tourism businesses and projects to benchmark their work against international standards. Participants also benefit from gaining third party verification from the panel of esteemed expert judges.

This September, Winners will be officially announced and celebrated at the 2015 PATA Travel Mart in Bangalore. “Sustainability is one of the main advocacy themes of the Association and an important issue to address when we talk about the responsible development of travel and tourism,” said Mario Hardy, PATA CEO. “We are therefore delighted to host the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards at this year’s Travel Mart and share in the celebration of tourism organisations that truly exemplify what it means to be sustainable. Wild Asia is a valued PATA Sustainability Partner, and a special partner of the Responsible Travel Pavilion at PTM, a space where like-minded organisations can gather, share knowledge, and build business.”

Best in Community Engagement and Development
This award recognizes exceptional commitment to supporting the local community and economy in which your business operates.

Best in Protection of Natural Areas & Wildlife Conservation
This award recognizes tourism businesses’ consideration of their local environment and biodiversity by actively supporting and protecting their natural assets.

Best in Resource Efficiency
This award recognizes excellence in waste, water and energy management and sustainable architectural design in order to minimize your business’s environmental impact.

Most Inspiring Responsible Tourism Operator
This award recognizes the tourism operator that excels 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 tourism business of the year.

Most Inspiring Responsible Tourism Initiative
This award recognizes grass-roots initiatives championing responsible tourism within their destination.

Over the next couple of months, all Finalists will undergo further rigorous investigation to determine the 2015 Winners. During this time, thorough open-source articles will become available on the Wild Asia website for each of these businesses or projects. The aim of sharing their successes, challenges, and
lessons learned, is to inspire and influence the industry to adopt measures to become more socially and environmentally responsible.

For those wishing to join the PATA Travel Mart and celebrate alongside the winners, the deadline for applying to showcase your business at the Responsible Travel Pavilion is 30th June 2015. Full details can be found at here.

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.

 

2014 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards: Winners

WinnerWe are incredibly excited to reveal the 2014 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards Winners. The following businesses have now completed the first stage of the competition and been shortlisted from applicants from across the region.

The Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards are based on the UNWTO Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. Our categories both align with criteria in different pillars of sustainable tourism, and recognise inspirational operators.

1COMMUNITY ICONBest in Community Engagement and Development

This award recognizes exceptional commitment to supporting the local community and economy in which your business operates.

Winner: Borneo Eco Tours, Malaysia

Based in Malaysian Borneo, Borneo Eco Tours has been a pioneer in responsible nature tours since 1991. Two of their most popular destinations in which they operate includes the iconic Kinabatangan River, where guests can enjoy their award-winning Sukau Rainforest Lodge and Borneo’s famed primates, and Kudat, which provides opportunities for guests to visit and support cottage industries (supported by their partner NGO, BEST) along the scenic coast.

Finalists: Reality Tours & Travel, IndiaVillage Ways, India

2CULTURAL PRS  ICONBest in Cultural Preservation

This award recognizes engagement and efforts by tourism businesses in preserving, enhancing and promoting local cultures and heritage.

Winner: Ock Pop Tok, Laos

Ock Pop Tok is located in the stunning UNESCO town of Luang Prabang in Laos. For the past 15 years they have been working to cultivate and preserve Laos’ textile heritage through sustainable tourism. Today, they have visitor accommodation, a Living Arts Centre, retail outlets and a restaurant – all where visitors can enjoy the colourful textures as rich as Laotian culture.

Finalist: Andaman Discoveries, Thailand

6INITIATIVE ICONMost Inspiring Responsible Tourism Initiative

This award recognizes grass-roots initiatives championing responsible tourism within their destination.

Winner: ChildSafe Network (Friends International), Cambodia

The ChildSafe Network, delivered by Friends-International, is helping to protect vulnerable children in tourism destinations across Cambodia and other parts of South East Asia. Their 7 Tips for Travellers helps tourists make the right choices in responsible travel to advocate child safety. Beyond that, they’re also working behind the scenes to get children off the streets through vocational training, supporting their parents through jobs, and generating funding and employment through social ventures.

Finalist: BEST Society, Malaysia

The Family Tree – fair trade for mass tourism

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001The seeds of the Family Tree were planted in 2006

The Family Tree boutique store in Hua Hin, Thailand, sells a unique collection of handmade arts, crafts, clothes, cosmetics, jewelry and other meaningful gifts made by over 40 community groups, social and environmental projects and inspired independent artists from around Thailand. The store fuses fair trade policies with a responsible tourism mission to offer genuine, local community and environmentally friendly products to visitors to Thailand’s Royal resort town.

Dtor and Peter share their inspirational journey in creating a family business with a heart…’for crafts, culture and community.’

Who?

Premruethai (Dtor) was born in Sri Saket, North-eastern Thailand. She is native Kuy, an ethnic group living on the Thai-Cambodian border. Kuy people have a distinct culture, language, arts and crafts. From childhood, Premruethai was surrounded by silk, artisans, festivals and the friendly warmth of rural Thai life. Premruethai loves her roots and has worked for years to support social, cultural and environmental work in her village. She works closely with a network of Buddhist Monks and laypeople who are striving towards a green and good Thailand.

Peter was born in England. He has lived in Thailand for 12 years, inspired by Thailand’s culture, colour and diversity. Peter has been an English teacher, the Regional Responsible Travel Coordinator for Intrepid Travel and worked with Thai colleagues to establish the Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute, which works alongside Thai communities to set up cultural exchange programs to share local Thai life and culture with visitors.

What’s it all about?

Between 2006 and 2011, Peter and Dtor worked with local Kuy women in Dtor’s home village, assisting them to establish a community group, called ‘Tae Moh Hai,’  meaning ‘Our Friends Hands’, in local Kuy language. The couple supported the women to continue their culture of natural silk dying and weaving and provided additional training in cutting and stitching. They also lead tree planting and environmental awareness activities with local youth and the village temple.

Dtor and LouieLiving in the village was rewarding, but it was also remote and very far from customers, which made it difficult to grow their project into a sustainable enterprise. Therefore, in 2011, the couple decided to open a shop which could support many different good causes. Peter and Dtor decided to plant their ‘Family Tree’ in Hua Hin, a charming, family-friendly Thai beach resort. Their unique boutique store sells arts, crafts, clothes, cosmetics, jewelry and other gifts handmade by over 40 Thai community groups, environmental and social initiatives and inspired independent artists who are working to keep Thai arts vibrant and alive.

The Family Tree is located at the heart of Hua Hin’s tourist center, at 7 Naresdumri Road. This is a historic street lined with wooden shop-houses, many of which have been converted into restaurants.  By offering authentic, meaningful, Thai arts and crafts, and sharing inspiring stories of Thai artisans and social and environmental initiatives Dtor and Peter opened a new space to buy beautiful products, while learning about and supporting great work across Thailand…

Who do we work with? Our partners’ stories:

The Family Tree team search the country for artisans, community groups and families with their own inspiring stories. We want to support people who are doing something good for Thailand’s culture and environment. Some examples of our partners include:

  • Ajarn Kor, Thailand’s No 1 master of natural-dyed silk, who learned the secrets of natural dying from his mother in law, then thestablished a women’s group in her village creating work for local families. Ajarn Kor has now won numerous awards at national and ASEAN level;
  • Manorom, a group of artisans with HIV-AIDS, who make jewelry from disused coconut shells. The group members are able to earn a living, develop skills, maintain a sense of dignity and community, and rise above loneliness through fellowship and recognition for their achievements;
  • A rural community group in Ubon Rachathani, who love traditional Thai arts and want to keep them alive. Villagers work together to paint vibrant scenes of traditional Thai life, often continuing to farm, and working during quiet seasons!

The Family Tree is a real experience

Informationv2Visitors to the Family Tree can enjoy an informative and hands-on experience. You can browse photos of artisans, read articles with information about how products are made, and see and touch examples of various types of equipment. A highlight of the shop is traditional, hand-made, natural-dyed silks. Visitors can see various natural dyes, and even admire Dtor’s great grandmother’s blouse, hand-dyed using ebony seeds and still deep black after 85 years!

Children are very welcome, and can enjoy the Family Tree kids corner, where they can let off some steam playing traditional musical instruments and games.

Why Fair Trade?

The Family Tree wants to benefit the artisans who make our products, our customers, our country, the environment and our family. The Family Tree are for Fair Trade because this movement respects and values producers and customers as people, working together towards a better life and a better world. This is a meaningful goal.

Our 10 Principles of Fair Trade

Businesses which aspire to be ‘Fair Trade’ are required to operate according to 10 principles. Some examples of our commitment put into practice include:

Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers: 100% of our products are made in Thailand. At least 90% of our products are sourced from Thai community groups, social and environmental initiatives, small family businesses and rural artisans.

  1. Transparency and accountability: ‘Keystone’ pricing. Artisans receive an average of 50% of the retail price. This equals over US$100K direct to local producers since 2011. The remaining income covers our shop rent (in a central, expensive area), staff salaries, utility bills, marketing, taxes, etc. We are aiming for a 5-10% profit. We take pride in providing high-quality information about our artisan partners to our customers.
  2. Fair Trading Practices and Mutual respect: We pay on time, and pay in advance on request. We don’t copy designs.
  3. Payment of a fair price: We consult with producers over prices. We accept requested prices and test the market. We don’t push prices down.
  4. No child labour We always ask if children are employed and do not buy from businesses using child labour. However, we do support children learning / practicing arts and crafts, for short periods of time (1-2 hrs per day), in safe conditions, supervised by responsible adults.
  5. No-discrimination, gender equality: The Family Tree is managed by Premruethai (Dtor), with 2 female staff and Peter!
  6. Good working conditions: We always ask about working conditions. We visit regaular suppliers to check for ourselves;
  7. Providing capacity building: We motivate and educate our team and our customers about fair trade and environmental issues. We have provided training for women in Sri Saket since 2006, and will do more with other community groups in the future.
  8. Promoting Fair Trade: through Facebook, our website, and competitions like this one!
  9. Respect for the environment: Minimum contributions to environmental work are budgeted as fixed costs. We offer earth-friendly products made from recycled paper, plastic, leather, silk, and wood. We search for and support government and NGO environmentally friendly products. We also helped to initiate the Greener Tomorrow project to plant 84,000 trees. This is alongside Thai Buddhist Monks and community members in Chaiyaphum province, in North Eastern Thailand. The Family Tree team have donated over $3000 USD directly to this project, and have raised more than $10,000 USD through an English language website and campaigns in our shop and on Facebook. Our shop also uses LED lighting, no A/C and recycled equipment!

For a Green and Good Hua Hin – Our Destination!

Our team understand that travelers visit destinations, not shops! We want Hua Hin to attract more guests who care about the environment and local communities. Therefore, we actively promote local community groups, organic coffee shops, local markets and other interesting spots around Hua Hin to our visitors, and encourage our customers to visit these places.

Our customers have given us great encouragement, and helped the Family Tree to reach the Number 1 spot for Shopping in Hua Hin on Trip Advisor!

We are excited to meet people from around the world, and introduce visitors to our products and the stories of the inspired artists which made them. Our work helps to prove that with quality products and information, time and enthusiasm, mainstream tourists can be engaged by Fair Trade and Responsible Tourism.  We are having a great time working with our partners, meeting our customers and enjoying family time with a mission for people and planet!

The Family Tree is open from 10.00 – 22.00 daily.

Contact Premruethai.t@familytree-huahin.com +66 (0) 81 809 5083

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.

Sampran Riverside, Thailand – Cultural Preservation

finalist[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his post congratulates Sampran Riverside for being recognized as a 2013 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards Finalist. This award recognizes engagement and efforts by tourism businesses in preserving, enhancing and promoting local cultures and heritage.

Sampran Riverside (formerly known as Rose Garden Riverside) is a family-run property close to Bangkok, where visitors can experience authentic Thai way of life and learn about local wisdom. For decades it has been considered one of Bangkok’s favourite attractions because of the obvious dedication to preserving Thailand’s natural and cultural heritage by engaging with the local community.

Our favourite things about them!

  • Supports cultural preservation through preservation of buildings and also preserving Thai culture, provides high employment.
  • Good resource management practices.
  • Good story about protecting trees and sites of cultural and spiritual significance.
  • Use of local building materials.
  • Good practices to educate visitors.
  • Various ways to incorporate local art and culture into visitor activities, and specific events/activities highlighting local heritage.
  • Successfully implementing “edutainment”.
  • It’s a very managed business for a ‘Thai village’, but beautifully and sensitively presented, and the emphasis on organic farming, local crafts, providing training for local people and students, etc protects Sampran from feeling staged.
  • The community market and organic agriculture development centre is a clear positive development.
  • Provides a unique Thai cultural experience with a focus on cultural and architectural preservation.  Has a long history of serving the tourism industry and providing local employment opportunities through the preservation and presentation of Thai culture.

Community Engagement and Development

  • Arts and crafts workshops support 50 local jobs in traditional e.g. silk processing, bamboo dancing etc. Initiated through local staff’s traditions that may be lost.
  • Initiated workshops as a programme to promote awareness of Thai culture through participation.
  • Sell locally made organic herbal products to support local economy.

Cultural Preservation

  • In 1967 the management saved old teakwood houses from local farmers in the area who where shifting into modern housing, and reconstructed (same materials) them around the central lake as accommodation for guests.
  • Preserved 7 Thai houses to provide a unique cultural experience for visitors.
  • Cared for trees around the property are 50 to 100 years old during the growth of business, including a spiritual bulletwood tree and a banyan tree that is used for traditional Thai wedding ceremonies.
  • The Thai Village House and market pavilions (host weekly farmers market with local traders, including artisans) is constructed from local natural materials incorporating traditional design.
  • Welcome briefings inform guests of local customs and traditions. Including briefing on how to dress for ceremonies in presence of monks.
  • Provide guided tours and engage in Organic Farming, Thai art and craft workshops, informing of cultural significance.
  • Daily cultural show with literature explaining cultural aspects, includes Elephant Demonstration to educate guests on livelihoods of elephants in Thailand.
  • Guests can participate in traditional alms giving ceremonies and learn more. Thai weddings take place, guests explained about customs.
  • Traditional Thai cuisine, ingredients sourced from own organic farm or other local farmers. Promote seasonal produce.
  • Thai culture throughout business, e.g. garlands at theme events, pottery making workshops.
  • River cruise to temples etc, restored traditional barge.

Resource Efficiency

  • Minimise waste from food produce, e.g. serve food in coconut shelves, use leaves for decorations, rice seedlings as table centre pieces.

Lisu Lodge, Thailand – Community Engagement & Development

winner[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his post congratulates Lisu Lodge for being recognized as a 2013 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards Winner. This award recognizes exceptional commitment to supporting the local community and economy in which your business operates.

Named after the Lisu hill tribe village that is found near the lodge, Lisu Lodge is part of a community-based project that aims to conserve the natural heritage of the hill tribes of northern Thailand. The Lisu migrated from southern China and Tibet in the early 20th century.

Our favourite things about them!

  • Outstanding benefits spread throughout community. Long term, consistent commitment to the host community.
  • A fund set up to support local communities – Village Bank – an innovative example of how a business can contribute to local well-being in a concrete and practical way. Tangible, quantifiable contributions to local capacity and development funding.
  • 55% occupancy rate and 9000+ guests last year – these demonstrate that the lodge is a financially viable business, which is a critical factor.
  • Focus on low-impact activities such as walking, trekking and biking – a great way to engage travellers in the lodge’s effort to walk the talk.
  • Local villagers are not just the beneficiaries, but also involved in the business of the lodge – e.g. being part of marketing efforts, identifying new sources of revenues, having a say in management practices.
  • Ecological and sustainability practices such as use of locally sourced building materials, solar panel, water usage agreed by villagers, sewage management, etc. demonstrate awareness and commitment beyond what meets the eye. 

Inspiring Management

  • Provide each guest room with information on local culture and ways in which to behave when visiting a villager’s house.
  • Local guides provide orientation at the beginning of each tour, explain etiquette of hill tribes.
  • 94% workforce is local.
  • Provide opportunities for staff and villagers in business development, education, hospitality training.
  • Staff are paid exceeds national minimum wage (monthly salary, share of guest service charge, social security); meals and uniform provided.

Community Engagement and Development

  • All staff are local community members, including tour staff.
  • Tour guides have been trained with experienced facilitator to develop ‘introduction brief’, information on safety, history of Lisu communities, culture, environmental issues etc.
  • Local community engaged from beginning of development.
  • Lodge contributes to village bank each year, owned and operated by locals exclusively. 2012 contributed approx. US$4,000. Money funds community projects, e.g. waste collection, decided upon by community (lodge has no input).
  • Contribution to building of a school, dam, water investigation studies, disease prevention measures.
  • Purchase fresh produce from local farmers at a fair price.
  • Local work force try to purchase other goods from local family members.
  • Designated area in lodge for local people to sell handicrafts at no charge, as a result the village is now one of the largest local suppliers of handicrafts to the region.
  • Regular meetings with village chief. 

Cultural Preservation

  • Lodge has library with largest collection of hill tribe literature, available for guests and locals.
  • Guests visit local festivals or ceremonies upon invite of community members only.

Resource Efficiency

  • Solar energy used to heat water.
  • Water sourced from source agreed by local villagers.

Protection of Natural Areas and Wildlife Conservation

  • Run project ‘Earth Care’ and deliver annual workshops on e.g. recycling for local people.
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