The Soneva Fushi philosophy by Nicholas Rainer

Tuesday, 7 October 2008 13:18

Thanks to the 700 million people who travel yearly, the world tourism industry rakes in a staggering $2.4 billion daily! And an increasing number of these are demanding greater environ-mental accountability from their service providers. They want to know how their trip will impact on the planet and what is being done to temper any negative effects. Some cynics call this sentiment eco-guilt. However you may wish to call it, this will be a defining factor for the tourism industry in the future. For tourism operators, greening up their acts thus makes great financial sense.

The tourism industry here is environmentally-retarded. Green generally only matters when it’s the hue. There are some small improvements though. Increasingly, inbound tour operators seem to be awakening to the necessity of preserving the environment, if only to protect their livelihoods. Yet unless hotels start reducing their energy and water consumption, improving their waste management systems and generally gearing themselves towards more sustainable practices, their newfound eco-consciousness could come to naught. As for the government, it’d be nice to know where the funds collected by environment taxes go. The odds that they’re actually spent on the environment are rather slim.

For inspiration, Mauritian hotels could do far worse than look northwards, to the Maldives to be precise, where Soneva Fushi, a stunning luxury resort has dispelled the myth that high-end tourism and environmentally-friendly practices don’t mix. Its swimming pools are filled with salt water. It has committed itself to becoming carbon neutral in the next few years by using renewable energies and reducing its use of electricity by privileging natural ventilation instead of air conditioners. Rain water is collected and endemic plants are used extensively. Most importantly, its clients love the experience!

More glaring than the environmental insensitivity of some is the attempt by others to slap an eco-tourism label to their activities. Despite often being marketed as a green activity, quad biking, for example, violates every single principle of eco-tourism. One of the world’s leading environmental NGOs, Conservation International, points out that ecotourism consists of a lot more than simply organizing outdoor activities. “It's about ensuring that visitors travel responsibly, help protect the wildlife they are visiting and contribute to the well-being of local communities. Ecotourism only works when it yields economic benefits to local people, supports conservation and reduces the human impact of travel. It requires the active and educated participation of tourists and the travel industry alike, and it involves everyone from the visitor to the tour operator and airline, the hotelier and the local labour force to agriculturists and individual conservationists.

Contrarily to what the authorities seem to believe, the sustainable island concept and the aim of welcoming two million tourists are mutually exclusive. Not only will the latter place an almost untenable amount of strain on our overstretched water and energy resources, but it will further imperil our already fragile vital coastal zones. Liberalization has a steep price. Have we asked ourselves if we’re prepared to pay it?



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