The finalists of Wild Asia’s 2010 Responsible Tourism Award have already been announced, bringing some well-deserved recognition to six small- and medium-sized hotels and local tourism operators that champion responsible practices in the travel industry.
The second of the finalists to have received a visit from the Wild Asia team was the Soneva Gili resort, the first all-over-water lodge of the Republic of Maldives. Located off the shore of an idyllic stretch of powdery sand on Lankanfushi Island in the North Male Atoll, the posh resort boasts 45 luxury villas, which offer a simple yet sophisticated design and luxurious comfort, all perched on top of the crystal sea. The limited number of villas allows for exceptional service by attentive staff at a guest-to-staff ratio of 1:6. The villas and other buildings are constructed and crafted from renewable and certified-sustainable sources.
Responsible tourism is engrained in all aspects of the operation, stemming from the founders, Sonu and Eva, who are committed to running an environmentally and socially responsible business. Over the years, the entire team at Soneva Gili has embraced this goal and act as stewards for improving their environment and local communities. At Soneva Gili, they realize the fragile and important ecosystem in which they operate and know that in order for their business to thrive, they must have an extremely low environmental impact along with positive social impact in local communities.
One of the best practices at Soneva Gili is the strong commitment to local employment and workers’ welfare. The resort guarantees excellent staff conditions, as well as extensive training in environmental management for all employees. Soneva Gili believes that the success of its business depends, amongst other things, on its qualified, motivated and happy staff.
The resort also practices responsible tourism through some innovative carbon- and waste-reduction measures. Since 2008, a ‘carbon tax’ of two percent has been included in Soneva Gili’s guest villa rates to offset flight-related emissions. This money is used to finance clean-energy projects and community development in developing countries, such as India, through a non-profit organization called The Converging World.
The resort has also invested a great deal in innovative technologies. For example, a desalinization plant is used to provide all water for the operation, including drinking water (thus not importing any plastic water bottles onto the island). The implementation of heat-recovery systems that capture hot exhaust from the generators in order to heat water for the entire resort is yet another example. The resort also has its own organic gardens and sources produce from local farms and fishermen as much as possible, thereby reducing air miles and non-biodegradable packaging.
In terms of social contributions, 0.5% of Soneva Gili’s annual revenue goes into a Social and Environmental Responsibility Fund (SERF) that supports national and international programmes on health, education, conservation and community development. Soneva Gili strives to empower local NGOs and promote economies. They understand the importance of being a leading role model in local environmental conservation and social empowerment and try “to create innovative and enlightening experiences that rejuvenate guests’ love of SLOW LIFE.”
Soneva Gili’s “S.L.O.W. L.I.F.E.” concept – Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experience – is the real treat for guests who stay at this resort. An extremely relaxing and pure environment, friendly staff and management, superb and healthy food, and the true feel of a Robinson Crusoe adventure while indulged in luxury is what Soneva Gili is all about and why many guests repeatedly return. The resort exemplifies a holistic approach to responsible tourism, and its passion and commitment toward the environment and local community shine.
Tune into The Travel Word in the coming weeks to read about the remaining four Responsible Tourism Award finalists from Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Winners will be announced on 21 October 2010 during the Responsible Tourism Award ceremony at ITB Asia in Singapore (20–22 October 2010).
Together with the Awards will be a Responsible Tourism Forum and networking session jointly organised by Wild Asia, ITB Asia and The Blue Yonder. Themed ‘CSR in Travel,’ the forum will feature the Award finalists, winners, CSR leaders and green entrepreneurs among others. ‘CSR in Travel’ will cover topics such as tourism and sustainability, greening the supply chain and communicating Responsible Tourism, as well as share Responsible Tourism experiences by successful tourism operators, NGOs and social enterprises working in Asia.