On 8 December 2008, under a marquee on a beach at Le Lagon Resort in Port Vila, the Vanuatu Tourism Association (VTA) distributed honours to the stars of its industry. On hand were John and Silvana Nicholls of Vanuatu Hotels to present to Epi Island Guesthouse the Green Award, introduced to create a greater more serious awareness of and engagement in the issues of environmental and cultural protection in tourism.
In an undelivered speech, John Nicholls was prepared to frame the importance of the award for those who might not understand the broad implications. “Our industry is the biggest in the world and promises to grow exponentially over the next 50 years. We cannot ignore the realities. We have a role to play now in reducing our industry’s impact on the environment we depend on in order to gain our livelihood. Whilst we focus on our short-term goals and annual profits, let us not lose sight of the long-term responsibility we have to the place we call home. Our children and our customers will not forgive us if we do not act.”
John and Silvana Nicholls are the local Vanuatu partner of whl.travel, whose emphasis on responsible and sustainable tourism has helped lead to the development of a fast-growing global grassroots network of like-minded tour operators. As owners and operators of Vanuatu Hotels, the most comprehensive online accommodation booking facility for this South Pacific island nation, John and Silvana have been active in fostering local awareness of sustainable practices in Vanuatu tourism. (See here for a full profile.) For a year they produced a monthly newsletter addressing sustainability issues and John is active on committees and advisory boards looking for ways to influence government policy and the hospitality industry about it. Their introduction and presentation of the VTA Green Award is another important step.
The selection of Epi Island Guesthouse to receive the award was a no-brainer. Located on the southwest corner of Epi Island, about five minutes from Valesdir airport, but a 30-minute flight from Port Vila, Epi Guesthouse is surrounded by private white sand beaches, limpid mountain waterfalls and a lush tropical-jungle setting. Nearby are a local village and, a bit further away, the black sands of Lamen Bay, home to tame dugong. Most important, the large handcrafted house is a showcase for the owners’ enduring passion to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
“We have throughout our lives been practical environmentalists by minimising our impact on natural resources,” say owners/managers Rob and Alix Crapper. They therefore approached the Guesthouse project with four core objectives:
1. To question and evaluate everything done in building the guesthouse in terms of ecological responsibility.
2. To offer all employment opportunities related to building and operating the guesthouse first to the indigenous people and to help ensure that all tours be owned and operated by locals.
3. To provide Guests with the purest environmental and cultural experience possible, using homegrown organic foods and involving local interaction etc.
4. To self-finance everything.
The result: “We are very isolated, but we certainly don’t rough it out here,” confess the Crappers. “With our own micro-hydropower supply, we have 24-hour electricity, hot showers, and comfortable furniture. We grow all our own vegetables and fruit in our organic garden, make our own jams, ice creams, dried fruits and nuts and other preserves.”
Most people can only dream of the life they live. Now Epi Island Guesthouse offers a unique opportunity to live it.
“We were delighted to present the Green Award to Epi Island Guesthouse,” remarked John Nicholls. “They embody the ideal environmental ecolodge, not only operating with sound environmental practices but having included the participation of the indigenous inhabitants from the onset, back in 1993, when the industry had little awareness of sustainable tourism. They are the ideal role models.”
More photos of Epi Island are available at www.vanuatu-hotels.vu/photo.