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Prudent energy, water & waste management key to eco-tourism
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Eco-tourism is more than a modern fancy term for marketing. It involves long-term planning of social livelihood, business strategy, corporate social responsibility, and management of natural environment. There are eco-tourism standards and certification for organizations and companies wishing to demonstrate their capabilities either in marketing, management and operation of eco-tourism. Most tourism institutions in Hong Kong include these elements in their curriculum.

But in real business it is entirely up to the owners' or stakeholders' to decide. There is no legal obligation in the laissez-faire of Hong Kong's tourism industry yet.

I had an interesting conversation with the general manager of a five-star hotel in downtown Hong Kong. He told me his hotel saves 1 million dollars a year by educating all his employees on the sustainability of the hotel's operation. He asked every staff to turn off the light if there are no services or customers in any rooms or ball room. The waiters in food and beverage department must ask customers if they want a glass of water, thus reducing the cleaning of glasses.

This general manager implements the need to reduce energy, water and waste management costs. He even motivates and gets staff involved in environmental issues too.

The eco-tourism standard covers six important elements:

1. Waste reduction, re-use and recycling

2. Energy efficiency, conversation and management

3. Management of fresh water resources

4. Waste water management

5. Environmentally sensitivity purchasing policy

6. Social and Cultural development

I visited many island resorts around the world. A handful of them actively sponsor wildlife research centres on top of their green initiatives. One of the most successful island resorts takes the environment seriously. Many customers visit the resort to enjoy great island experience, and to live harmoniously with the eco-system.

The resort has demonstrated its resolve to constantly seek ecologically safe solutions that set good environmental standards in the industry. Dos Palmas Resort and Spa is located among a group of islands and sandbars in Honda Bay, northeast of Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan. It takes a 50-minute ride on an outrigger banca to get there. My female friends love to go there for a unique experience like the traditional Filipino hilot (massage) which employs local massage techniques and treatment made from natural ingredients. Also, young children can enjoy out-door marine sport activities, banana boat rides, bottom fishing, island hopping, kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, water skiing and diving there.

I find the marine centre very educational, and realize that tourism can assist many projects by serving as a training facility in the field of natural sciences.

The research camp is tasked to monitor, safeguard and preserve the ecological balance of the diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems around Honda Bay in the Philippines, where once dynamite and cyanide were used for fishing.

The researchers at Dos Palmas are obliged to share their knowledge with the guests by illustrating their work such as preserving the hectares of mangrove forests, sea grass beds and coral gardens, protecting and studying the more than 70 resident and migratory birds and their habitat, monitoring the feeding ground for endangered sea cows on dugongs, overseeing and protecting the nesting places of hawks bill turtles.

It is so interesting and enriching, and I learn a lot during my stay there.

Eco-tourism can generate operational efficiencies that save money and underpin the environment quality management of the organization.

The author is the marketing development director of HK Discovery.

(China Daily HK Edition June 13, 2008)

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