Responsible TourismPhuket hoteliers, tourism partners rally to tackle environment issues and lead tourism recovery at PHIST 2019

STR’s Jesper Palmqvist: ‘Make sustainability a key success metric tied to profitability’

‘Our house is on fire’: Speakers at PHIST 2019 outlined the urgency of climate action in the tourism and hospitality industry.
‘Our house is on fire’: Speakers at PHIST 2019 outlined the urgency of climate action in the tourism and hospitality industry. Photo Credit: Naomi Neoh
PHUKET – Phuket’s leading hoteliers have rallied to step up plans to tackle plastic waste on the island and equip hoteliers with best practices on sustainable operations, amid growing strength from the private sector in the ground-up initiative.

For Phuket, the issue takes on a keen economic angle, as hoteliers seek to develop sustainable businesses to ensure the island’s long-term future and lead a recovery of the tourism industry, which has seen declining visitor arrivals this year.

Over 1,000 tourism and hospitality professionals turned up at sustainability conference PHIST 2019 held on Sept 23 at Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa.

Organised by the Phuket Hotels Association (PHA), hospitality consultancy firm C9 Hotelworks and sustainability firm Greenview, the conference attracted double the number of attendees from its inaugural edition last year.

A pledge last year by 74 hotels in Phuket to remove all plastic bottles and drinking straws from their properties has resulted in a 51% reduction in single-use plastics, sparing more than 4.4 million plastic drinking bottles from Phuket’s landfills.

This year, PHIST organisers are raising funds from sustainability events that will go into starting the island’s first plastic recycling centre, expected to open in September next year.

It will be an educational centre as well as a plastic recycling centre that will make products from plastic that guests bring to the island. The organisers are currently researching the volume and the type of waste hotels are generating in more detail which will determine the exact kind of recycling centre needed. 

PHA president Anthony Lark hailed it as “not a total solution but a great first step of many that are expected to make ‘demonstratable’ progress on sustainability across the island”.

Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas COO Guy Heywood; STR’s area director for Asia Pacific, Jesper Palmqvist with his daughter Maylea Palmqvist; Sukosol Hotels’ EVP, Marisa Sukosol; PHA president Anthony Lark and co-organiser of PHIST 2019; Kanokrittika Kritwoottigon, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Phuket office; and Thai rappers and winners of the Green Beat 60 competition Rattanachot Srikhongmuang and Kanthep Srikhongmuang. (PHIST)

Also launched at the conference was a 79-page sustainability manual, Great Big Green Hotel Guide, containing case studies and practical solutions for hoteliers seeking to make sustainability changes for their properties.

The guide features examples ranging from plastics recycling to best practices in reverse osmosis and ideas for a chemical-free environment. The guide can be downloaded for free here.

Echoed throughout conference discussions was the goal to “make sustainability a key success metric tied to profitability”, shared conference speaker Jesper Palmvqist, area director – Asia Pacific of STR, a hotel research company.

“At the end of the day, a vast majority of business owners need to be able to make more money and do something good at the same time. There is increasing data on this, and you can do this at a very small level to track food waste and the amount of food sourced locally and how it translates to cost savings,” said Mr Palmqvist.

“Is it enough to follow the trend now and say ‘I’m not going to have plastic bottles or plastic straws’? It’s not enough, but a great first step out of a massive effort ahead,” he added.

PHA’s Mr Lark has seen great interest in “a global movement that is very new to Phuket”.

“Climate change, plastic pollution, environmental degradation; these are issues that affect us all, and they are felt even more profoundly in island communities like Phuket. The only way to tackle these problems is through a collective approach; by working together we can make a difference,” said Mr Lark.

Wider efforts to help hotels across Thailand become more eco-friendly have also borne fruit.

Marisa Sukosol, EVP of Sukosol Hotels and the environmental chair of the Thai Hotels Association, who works with government agencies to educate hotels to be more eco-friendly, has observed a “big change over the past six years”.

An initiative, Green Hotels, which started six years ago with only 20 hotels has since grown to encompass about 460 hotels.

One key challenge Ms Sukosol highlighted was to bring the issue in front of consumers in the group and mass tour segments.

“Beyond the top-tier, luxury segment of consumers, it’s important to get the mid- and lower-tier to make a conscious decision to pick a hotel that is green. It would be wonderful if online travel agents (OTAs) can help do that,” she added.

Fake plastic creatures: Colourful installations made of discarded plastics at PHIST 2019. (PHIST)

A prominent leader in sustainable hospitality, Six Senses welcomed the hotel industry’s “proactive approach to tackle critical environment issues”.

“Global tourism is growing at an unprecedented pace, and this is putting unprecedented pressure on resources, communities and the environment,” said Guy Heywood, chief operating officer at Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas.

“We all want the world to visit and experience our beautiful region, but something needs to change. By joining PHIST 2019, we want to create a viable future for Southeast Asia’s tourism industry,” added Mr Heywood.

Phuket is also seeing a new era of sustainable tourism businesses.

The newly-opened Blue Tree Phuket, a rolling 53-acre development in central Phuket comprising a water park with extensive dining, retail and entertainment offerings, is an example of a sustainable development from the ground up.

Sustainability anchors the family-friendly attraction, from educational activities to energy-efficient operations, waste management and land use to retain large green spaces.

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