Friday, November 21, 2008

Inspiring, earth-friendly retreats

From eco-chic resorts in Thailand and Indonesia and community-based homestays in the Himalayas to an ecolodge in Sri Lanka, winners of this year’s Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Awards prove that you can benefit the local economy, safeguard the cultural and natural heritage AND sustain a business.

After six months of short-listing the finalists and checking out the final eight properties, Wild Asia (WA) has selected its 2008 Responsible Tourism (RT) Awards winners.

In its third year, this year’s Awards attracted a larger and more diverse group of tourism operators from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.

Initiated in 2006 by conservation group WA, the Awards showcase exemplary resorts and small community-based ventures that are committed to sustainable practices.

This year, WA introduced a new set of criteria which included:

* Sense of place — whether tourists understand their destinations better through operators’ efforts.

* Sustainability — whether these RT efforts are long-term.

* Involvement of guests — do the operators involve their guests in their RT practices?

* Internalisation — how much is sustainability part of the day-to-day operations?

* Reach — are the ideas and practices shared across the destination or industry?

Judges’ findings

After selecting the eight finalists, WA’s team of fact finders and four RT judges, including yours truly, set out to size up the properties.

On our Sri Lanka visit, we were pleasantly surprised to find that some of the bigger hotel operators, notably Jetwing Hotels and Aitken Spence and mid-size resorts like Ranweli Holiday Village have been adopting “responsible” practices long before “green” became a buzzword.

In the mid-range categories, the Alila Hotels & Resorts properties — both Alila Manggis and Alila Ubud — are leaps and bounds ahead of other properties in the region in terms of their green initiatives. The judges had to crack their heads to decide the winner.

“The sway factor was due to Manggis being located in East Bali — the less pretty sister of beautiful Ubud in the uplands,” says Rick Gregory, one of the judges and a WA advisor.

“They support poverty reduction programmes for the locals etc. So it was a recognition for their RT efforts in an area left behind by others.’’

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