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Green Hospitality Takes Global Hold: Part 4

Over the last decade, the movement towards ecologically sound tourism has swept across the globe; and the practices being implemented are as diverse as the different geographies. In part three its global green study, Ernst & Young explores sustainability across Oceania and Latin America.

Oceania's hospitality industry has long been a world leader in sustainability, particularly in ecotourism. Oceania is seeing an increase in new conservation policies from both government and operators, particularly to address diminishing water supplies as a result of climate change and to protect native habitats, shifting from traditional ecotourism to even broader sustainable initiatives.
A pioneer in ecotourism in Australia is the Kingfisher Bay Resort located on the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island. The resort, which opened in 1992, was designed to the highest environmental design and sustainability standards and was designed and developed after substantial research on surrounding environment and on the proposed resort's impacts. Buildings, carefully constructed around trees, were designed to be energy efficient and are restricted to two levels to promote environmental harmony. Fiji's Turtle Island Resort, another early example of an eco-friendly resort, limits visitors to fourteen couples at any one time to reduce the environmental impact on the ecosystem.

Responsible and sustainable development
Greater emphasis on social responsibility is influencing business to initiate environmentally friendly designs in hotels and conference venues and to implement water, waste and energy minimization initiatives.

The Marriott International's Environmentally Conscious Hospitality Operations program has contributed to the efforts of the Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa in Australia. In a 12-month period, the hotel reduced water consumption by 35.5 megaliters, gas consumption by 2.9 gigajoules, and energy consumption by 1.2 megawatt hours by reviewing its operations, investing in new plant and equipment and involving staff which in turn resulted in savings of over AUD$250,000 (US$171,600).

The Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre recently released its first comprehensive measure of carbon emissions for the tourism industry, The Carbon Footprint of Australian Tourism report. The report identified that transportation is by far the greatest contributor to tourism's carbon footprint and accounts for 82.2% of tourism's GHG emissions.

Greener marketing
Greening initiatives are only just emerging as a key attraction for customers and being used by operators as a marketing tool. Major tourism operators such as Flight Centre are providing customers with information about providers that support green travel and sustainable tourism. In New Zealand, the sustainability message is promoted internationally by the "100% Pure New Zealand" advertising campaign. This campaign is reinforced by the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010 Implementation Fund which provides tools and assistance to implement sustainable practices at the individual business level to correlate with the national brand image.

Barriers and outlook
A number of barriers to implementing environmentally sustainable practices in Oceania still exist. These include implementation costs, the labor-intensive certification process and a lack of industry support/adoption. Most significant has been the lack of awareness of available financial incentives and potential savings that can be realized from reducing energy consumption and minimizing waste. Many hotels are still not promoting their greening initiatives even though increasingly customers are prepared to pay extra for an environmentally friendly option.

The emergence of mandatory greenhouse gas and energy reporting across Australia and New Zealand and the development of emissions trading schemes is likely to continue to raise the profile of sustainability and climate change issues for the hospitality industry in the Oceania region. Government regulation is likely to impact the supply of new developments through minimum energy efficiency standards while greater disclosure will influence existing developments and operating practices.

Latin America
The private nature conservancy "RUES Eco Lodge Village" in the Amazonian region of Ecuador is arguably one of the first environmentally sensitive lodging developments in Latin America, having opened in the 1970s. In the past few decades, several other lodging properties have followed RUES' example, and yet the "green movement" remains in its infancy. Though it is true that many urban hotels and resorts have become more environmentally friendly through the implementation of various initiatives (e.g., reuse policies for towels and linens, electronic room keys to control electricity consumption, nonsmoking premises), an important driver of these programs was the product of cost-cutting measures. More recently, however, the green movement has taken on a new role and is best represented by efforts at the destination level to promote nature-based tourism in the context of environmentally sustainable developments and eco-friendly resorts.

Costa Rica in the forefront
According to a recent study conducted by Yale and Columbia Universities, Costa Rica is the only country in the western hemisphere with an Environmental Performance Index above 90. Approximately 10 years ago, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute developed the Certification in Sustainable Tourism ("CST") program for tourism businesses based on the degree to which they complied with a sustainable model of natural, cultural and social resource management, the only such initiative in Latin America. To date, while only one hotel has achieved the initiative's highest ranking (Lapa Rios, itself a pioneer for sustainability), many hotels and resorts have made it a priority to adhere to CST standards. Overall, since the CST program was adopted in 1998, total arrivals in Costa Rica have increased by 7.2% annually, one of the highest growth percentages in Latin America, arguably driven by the country's success at marketing itself as a safe, environmentally friendly, nature-based destination, differentiating itself from other regional destinations.

Mexican initiatives go mainstream
In addition to exploring nature-based tourism as an attractive niche market and following the Costa Rican model of educating tourism businesses and pursuing an eco-friendly positioning, other destinations are also enticing the government to play a role. For instance, the Mexican Tourism Board recently introduced new incentives supporting conservation and community development while initiating educational partnership programs with travel agencies such as Expedia to point travelers towards eco-friendly retreats. One such retreat is Mayakob - a 600- acre development in the Mayan Riviera with a delicate mangrove and tropical forest ecosystem. By securing international luxury lodging operators such as Fairmont, Rosewood, Viceroy and Banyan Tree, the project demonstrated that some form of sustainable development can co-exist with the needs of high-end brands. Another notable ecofriendly destination is Loreto Bay, an 8,000-acre development in Baja California, which markets itself as a sustainable community emphasizing its green building practices, community initiatives and dedicated nature preserve, which covers over 60% of the total land. Given the size of Mexico's tourism industry and the large pipeline of future projects, it is anticipated that the country will continue to serve as the playground for new forms of mainstream sustainable development.

Seclusion drives ecotourism
Green policies in other destinations in Latin America have been relatively limited, and are best represented by the efforts of specific resorts in more remote and secluded destinations. For instance, Explora Hotels and Tours in Chile focuses on achieving sustainability through an educational and unique experience and interaction between guests and nature, particularly in its new Eastern Island property, which has been built following LEED building standards. The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Resort and Spa uses hydroelectricity, as well as indigenous Andean ingredients and treatments dating back centuries, while Morgan's Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge in Nicaragua is part of a 2,500-acre tree-farming and restoration project, and is surrounded by 2,000-acres of private nature reserve. Meanwhile, the Brazilian government is increasingly pushing major tourism players to diversify into niche ecotourism markets, particularly in the Amazon and Pantanal regions.

The future of "going green"
The future of the green hotel movement in Latin America is not without its challenges. Leisure lodging and tour operators continue to be at the forefront of the movement, while governments still lag behind in initiatives, particularly as it relates to the adoption of tax credits for green initiatives for fear of driving away necessary tourism investments. Costs concerns and know-how to "go green" are an additional element of complexity, although such costs are anticipated to decrease in the future and may ultimately be offset by the positive impact of utilizing the region's rich nature diversity as the basis to attract higher levels of tourism. Overall, however, the green movement in the region continues to be concentrated in niche markets catering to leisure travelers, with a focus on the guest experience and rather passive vernacular green technology as opposed to the tech-heavy, urban driven green hotel movement observed in more industrialized markets.

To read the full Ernst & Young report, click here.
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