As tourism continues to grow in fragile environments such as the Maldives, Galapagos Islands and Iceland, hoteliers in those areas are homing in on safer operations and development to better preserve for the future.
GLOBAL REPORT—Tourism in exotic regions of the world can put fragile ecosystems at risk, and hotel developers and operators have to be careful not to add to the problem, sources said.
David Torres, GM of Ikala Galapagos Hotel in Puerto Ayora, Ecuador, said certain types of tourism, such as island hopping excursions, have increased over the years in the Galapagos Islands, and hotel development has grown to keep up with the number of visitors.
“Unfortunately there was a period where this growth was not controlled, resulting in the proliferation of cheap accommodation providers that did not implement any of the good environmental practices or standards of sustainability necessary to run a property in such a destination,” Torres said in an email interview.
He said he doesn’t wish for the Galapagos to be a massive tourism destination “as this would certainly cause a lot more damage in the long term.”
Flights to the islands have increased, which has generated stress on the destination, he said. Cheap tourism can never be truly sustainable, and having good practices means spending a bit more on internal processes, he said.
“A long-term sustainable operation requires a careful balance between arrivals and what the destination can actually accommodate,” he said.
Developing the Ikala Galapagos Hotel was a challenge due to limited resources, Torres said. The ships that supplied building materials, as well as food and other supplies needed, caused multiple issues, which resulted in construction delays.
“We were also very adamant about having the construction take place integrating the beautiful trees and vegetation that existed before the construction started, making the day-by-day work complicated, but necessary to respect these ancient life forms that deserved to be protected,” he said.
Torres said hotel development in the Galapagos must comply with multiple regulations, including new environmental protection standards, such as solar energy for water and lighting, waste processing practices and no-plastic policies.
Hotel development and operation in the Maldives also has to be respectful of the islands’ natural resources, which “need to be protected in various ways for it to remain as beautiful for future generations,” Ibrahim Shijah, resort manager at Baros Maldives, said via email.
Shijah said that the tourism industry in the Maldives has been flourishing. There are currently more than 150 resorts in the Maldives, he said.
“More hotels are opening up, and the number of airlines flying to the Maldives has also increased in recent years,” he said.
Baros is one of the only non-man-made islands in the Maldives, which makes it even more important to protect, he said. Strict regulations are needed for the sustainability of the destination as a whole, and most hotel developers in the Maldives build with that in mind, he said.
“It is also required of the developers to perform an Environmental Impact Assessment before any construction work begins on an island,” he said.
Baros Maldives is built on a coconut plantation island and has been well-preserved for the 46 years that the hotel has been in operation, Shijah said.
To lessen impact to the island’s integrity, the hotel recycles water and is powered by LED lighting systems, which cut costs while being environmentally friendly.
All air conditioning units are also free of chlorofluorocarbons, a harmful, ozone-layer depleting gas that emits from various appliances, he said. Each guest villa is fitted with a heat exchange system that heats water used for bathing. Shijah said staff accommodation and back-of-house areas are also supplied with hot water from the heat exchange system fitted to the island’s generator.
Training staff, guests on operations
Being environmentally conscious requires educating staff and guests, Shijah said.
His property organizes awareness programs with tours to neighboring villages and uninhabited islands, offering staff and guests diving and snorkeling activities to promote understanding of ecological issues.
The resort also has an in-house marine biologist “to monitor and maintain our natural reef surrounding the island,” he said, nothing this position helps to “implement many of our eco-friendly programs, which have proven to revitalize our reef.”
The fragile coral reefs of the Maldives draw in thousands of visitors each year for snorkeling and diving excursions, he said, but the reefs are much more than a tourist attraction. “They are the foundation of the Maldives both literally and by sustaining the industries on which Maldivians depend,” he said.
Guests are urged to respect the reefs and refrain from breaking off or even touching any pieces of coral, he said, noting it is illegal in the Maldives to collect any coral, shells or other “souvenirs” from the ocean.
“Proof of the success of our reef care (rejuvenation and coral planting) and cleanliness (removing garbage) is that the Baros house reef is the only one in the area which Hawksbill turtle—which are on the critically endangered list—inhabit and return to lay their eggs on the beach,” he said.
Eyrún Aníta Gylfadóttir, marketing manager of Hotel Ranga in Southern Iceland, said her hotel has a quality manager who oversees sustainability initiatives at the hotel and holds meetings with staff to discuss best practices for things like waste removal.
“We have meetings all of the time, we have lecturers that come … and we also send out a newsletter once per month that goes to all of our staff,” she said. The newsletter updates and engages staff on what’s new and helps generate ideas on what the hotel can improve on, she said.
Torres believes changing the minds of the general population involves a lot of time and work. So the core focus is for management to make decisions around sustainability. The hotel started with a no-plastic straw policy at all food-and-beverage outlets, and then moved to no plastic bottles, disposable cutlery or cups.
“Step by step, and with policies that staff had to comply to, creative solutions arrived from staff itself, who also started to question and investigate why we choose to do business like this,” he said.
Future of sustainability
Torres said every company and industry has some level of responsibility in generating a global sustainable economy, but in tourism, it goes a step further.
“We are directly responsible for the promotion of each destination and with that, we have a big responsibility to protect the space around us,” he said.
He said his team has promised to do whatever it takes to keep natural spaces as clean and as pure as possible. To do so, his hotel has created reforestation funds to help areas negatively affected by deforestation, exploitation and tourism. Further plans include energy autonomy and education, he said.