“Resorts in the Third World have both the potential to be agents of social & economic development in less developed areas, or as a source for friction and alienation within the local economy”
by Banyan Tree Founder & Executive Chairman Ho KwonPing (1992)
“Sustainability will remain core to our business; it must as it is demanded by our guests, our associates, our business partners and we demand it of ourselves.”
by Ho KwonPing, Banyan Tree Holdings Sustainability Report (2014)
Embracing environmental change for the better, the Banyan Tree nurtured green tourism years before it became part of the mindset of many hospitality developers, tourists and investors. The international operator and developer of hotels, resorts, spas and residences in 25 countries has its brand roots firmly grounded in positive environmental efforts. Those roots, which were first planted in Phuket, in Thailand, have grown over more than 23 years to embrace solid branches of green hospitality initiatives.
Today, the four-year-long Stay for Good Greening Communities Together program continues to raise awareness about climate change and preserving the environment; supporting the environment and caring for local communities with educational activities, community clean-ups and in-house recycling activities.
In the Maldives, harmful crown of thorns starfish have been removed from coral reefs with plastic bottles collected and donated to a recycling company. In Mexico, 700 native trees have been being planted to combat urban development, with road cleaning and garbage collecting as well as planning set in motion for an environmental festival. In Indonesia, 200 mangroves and 100 corals have been planted with 100 kg of garbage picked up. In China, conservation presentations and guided nature tours have been set up to protect wetland animals and flora and fauna, identifying over 100 species of freshwater fish and birds.
We connected with Managing Director of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, Des Pugson to explore how the company is committed to growing as a green hospitality brand; giving back to the environment and the people.
Banyan Tree began life as an environmental development, didn’t it?
Yes. Our founders purchased a vast expanse of coastal land in Phuket, in Thailand, only to later find out it was acid-laden and polluted by a previous tin mine tenant. To help rehabilitate the environment and land, more than 7,000 trees were planted and the cobalt blue water cleansed of all pollution; resulting in the successful transformation from an ecological wasteland with an 8-km-long white sand beach at Bang Tao Bay to the launch of Laguna Phuket in 1987 (six resorts over 600 acres), supporting a dynamic community and the opening of our flagship resort – Banyan Tree Phuket in 1994.
What are some of the benefits has this development brought to Phuket?
We organize an annual carnival to raise awareness for marine conservation and raise funds for conservation projects with the Laguna Phuket Sea Turtle Conservation Ceremony. We collaborate with the Royal Thai Navy and Phuket Marine Biological Center.
We have also invested in the local community with an accredited spa academy and a childcare center for employees’ children. The Laguna Phuket Foundation for Education has awarded hundreds of scholarships to exceptional pupils from surrounding schools since 1993 to allow them to overcome economic problems and fulfill their academic potential. We also helped fund the development of a new health clinic for the community.
How is Banyan Tree minimizing environmental damage from developing and running resorts?
In 2010, we rolled out EarthCheck across all our resorts – the leading benchmarking certification and environmental program used by the travel industry for sustainable efficient operations.
As of 2015, 34 of our hotels have achieved EarthCheck Bronze benchmark status. In true Banyan Tree spirit, Banyan Tree Ringha, which opened in 2005, our first resort in China is a ‘recycled’ resort made up of original Tibetan farmhouses which the resort group purchased from local families, relocated and reconstructed in a traditional style, removing the need to log any new timber for the resort.
Banyan Tree Seychelles’ construction and operation included an ongoing wetlands management plan to minimize the negative impact of tourism in the area. To further showcase Seychelles’ heritage, soft furnishings in the villas have been sourced from indigenous craftsmen. Local artists were commissioned to produce paintings based on the island’s legendary Coco-de-mer nut. The resort site sprawls over hill and beach areas, encompassing some wetlands that are home to a diverse range of birds, bats and turtle nesting.
One of our key CSR initiatives is ‘Resource Conservation’ with the aim of reducing energy and water, as well as the amount of waste sent to the landfill. All properties are tasked with carrying out at least one resource initiative per year, and to measure reductions via EarthCheck.
In 2015, more than 100 such initiatives were successfully implemented across our properties. These
Experiential travel is a big trend within tourism, but there is a danger that experiences corrupt rather than sustain local environments and cultures. How do you ensure that interactions with the community and natural surroundings are responsible?
We ensure that guest interactions with community and natural surroundings are responsible through our Stay for Good initiative. It is the platform encompassing all our sustainability efforts where we encourage our guests to get involved through key initiatives that all our 41 hotels and resorts participate in.
We have a Green Imperative Fund that provides financial support for worthy causes with a matching dollar-for-dollar contribution for every room night. Other initiatives include, Greening Communities Together which involves planting trees or clearing waste. and Feeding Communities Together which provides meals to underserved segments of the community.
We have also been running Seedling Mentorships since 2007 to encourage education for your people at risk of societal exclusion, through training and financial support. We run a Seedlings Café in Phuket to provide F&B vocational training to underserved adults and we will be opening another location in Bintan in Indonesia soon.
Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab encourages guest engagement in the protection of local waters. What have been some of the major successes of these projects?
To give you an example, some achievements in 2015 were the planting of 5,353 corals, 3,200 annual measurements of reef condition taken from 10 reefs and 1,888 crowns of thorns starfish removed by 417 Banyan Tree employees and guests over a reef search area of 24 km. Over 12,500 guests and more than 1,300 associate participants were involved with marine lab associated sustainability activities in the same year, with over 300 associates educated about environmental awareness.
What is Banyan Tree Bintan Conservation Lab in Indonesia involved with?
From its inception in 2007 until 2016, Banyan Tree Bintan Conservation Lab (BTBCL) has mentored nine scientists and postgraduate students, as well as nine undergraduate students to carry out research and fieldwork on subjects such as marine life, terrestrial, conservation and CSR. BTBCL also supports scientists with their scientific publications which contribute greatly to scientific development.
Over the past decade, more than 13,000 guests have joined activities such as nature walks; tree treks; bird watching; jungle night walks; ranger trails; forest survival; coral planting; tree planting; sea turtle releases; sea turtle feeding; and more.
BTBCL has released 2,892 hawksbill and green turtles classified as critically endangered species into the ocean. A total of 56,959 trees have been planted between 2008 and 2016 on Bintan Island.
In terms of community outreach, Banyan Tree Bintan Conservation Lab has facilitated more than 1,000 Bintan students from kindergarten to university to learn about the environment and conservation at the Lab. In addition, 32 Bintan students have been selected to join the Seedlings Mentorship program. Apart from this, Seedlings students also receive additional lessons through a systematic conservation curriculum from the Lab.
Why was 2012 a ground-breaking year for Banyan Tree Lijiang?
In 2009, nine out of 11 assessed areas were found to be at or better than practice levels, and in 2012 Banyan Tree Lijiang became the first entity in China to earn EarthCheck Gold Certified status as it emitted just 7.1kg CO2 per guest night. Banyan Tree Lijiang has since been awarded the gold certification in 2015.