Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Destination Stewardship in Belize

Last week, we discussed destination stewardship in class with Seleni Matus joining us by telephone from Belize. Seleni and I have collaborated over the years on a number of projects in Belize. She worked as the ecotourism director for Programme for Belize and I was at that time the president of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). One of TIES board members, Joy Grant, was executive director for Programme for Belize, and together our two organizations were able to raise funds to do research in Belize on questions of user fees for Marine Protected Areas, and a model assessment processes for rural peoples, which we named the Rural Ecotourism Assessment Project (REAP).

Seleni was the one to point out that I have always used Belize as a testing ground for new ideas! I never thought of it that way until she mentioned it, but it is very true. Belize has only 330,000 people living within a country which has extraordinary rain forests and the second largest barrier reef in the world. There are many conservationists there, who have decades of experience managing tourism in fragile natural environments.

This year my firm, EWI, helped Seleni and the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), which she now leads, undertake an Action Plan for 2010-2012. It led me personally down familiar pathways with old friends, whom I had not seen in years. But it also led me to see how much the country had changed, due to the number of cruise tourism arrivals, who were not even present on my last visit! In 2010, it is estimated 800,000 tourists will arrive in Belize on cruise ships.

The Action Plan focused on marketing, quality assurance, operations, and destination stewardship. I led all teams, but personally supervised the destination stewardship component. Much of the focus by necessity was on cruise arrivals, as the management of these arrivals had fallen far behind and Belize City itself, never a very beautiful city, was losing almost all these tourists to outlying areas where day trips were being efficiently organized.

The challenges were many, but I wanted to focus on the poverty alleviation possibilities for Belize City, and the idea of creating tourism friendly neighborhoods, an idea I named and proposed, seemed to be a good one for Belize City. I am also leading a process for the development of of Destination Stewardship Knowledge Management System which could help provide more consistent and informative statistics for BTB and the government of Belize to make strategic decisions on managing their destinations for tourism in future.

These ideas at the front of my mind these days. I see that destinations continue to court and accept tourism growth, without funds for the protection of ecosystems or necessary basic benefits for local citizens. It is easy to use corporate statistics, such as provided by cruise lines, to prove the gross and net economic benefits to the nation of tourist arrivals. But this is where the thinking stops. Without looking at specific sites, and how to ensure tourism is actually contributing to the protection of the sites themselves, the discussion is moot. Without looking at the existing infrastructure for local people, which may not even be considered adequate at the most minimum levels, the discussion is moot.

So, I do believe more research is required, and I continue to believe Belize is a great place to do it!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Environmental Management Research Corps

I am traveling by bus again to Boston to teach my class tomorrow in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This seems to be one of the few times I can write my blog! It is certainly nice that our Greyhound buses now have Internet. It makes the time so much more productive.

During my journey, I prepared my lecture for tomorrow and am in the middle of providing input on student projects.

All of our 70 students have taken up the challenge of studying one specific type of environmental management problem for one sector of the tourism industry. We have asked them to focus on practical questions, using quantitative analysis to review the current problem and research on comparable sites to determine best approaches for mitigation.

They are reviewing the management of solid waste, waste water, air emissions, CO2 emissions, sensitive habitat destruction, and questions of water use, wildlife impacts, and runoff, sprawl and other types of regional planning problems, questions of preservation of key tourism destination assets for countries around the world, and the improvement of supply chains.

It is quite exciting to see the range of proposals. We suggested that a few local students look at Logan Airport in Boston and about 3 are going over questions of waste management and sourcing of more healthy, local foods for this local transport hub.

We have many international students. One is reviewing the question of water use in Mombasa, Kenya as global warming and rising seas create increasing problems for the city's water supply in this tourism dependent city. We have a review of how to improve the environmental design of the new luxury Sofitel in Dubai by one of its architects, after the project was put on hold due to the current economic downturn. One student is looking at increasingly problematic algae blooms in Lago Atitlan in Guatemala and what may be the factors causing it, with mitigation approaches based on his results. One student is looking at her home country of Jamaica and how to improve standards of sewage treatment for hotels operating on the island. Another is looking at the largest hotel chain in Colombia and how it can reduce its environmental impacts by creating a more well planned, lower impact supply chain for its many amenities, from terry robes to shampoo.

I am working with one student on the question of how the destruction of mangroves in Belize for more tourism development may be impacting its most important tourism asset - the Barrier Reef, and we have a review of Bonaire's management of tourism in its coral reef reserve.

There is one student looking at air emissions in Long Beach, California and how cruise lines will be affected by the strict California laws.

We have a number of students looking at how to lower the impacts of hotel chains, via a review of their policies, and several looking at domestic policies for tourism destinations, from Baltimore Harbor to Oklahoma City.

All in all, it is very satisfying to have the student environmental management research corps we have established by virtue of teaching this course looking at such a wide range of practical questions. It feels so cutting edge, as if we are in the vanguard here. While certainly tourism has received some scrutiny, there are vast gaps in the industry's efforts to manage even the most fundamental impacts. Perhaps even more overlooked is the role of municipalities and local authorities to manage tourism's impacts in ports, airports, and other tourism destinations where regulations are generally weak. It is well known that sewage still flows untreated from tourism destinations around the world, likely due to lack of regulation and enforcement of regulations. We know that a large majority of U.S. airports do not recycle, which seems remarkable in this day in age.

With our ad-hoc student environmental management research corps, we are likely to uncover a surprising number of positive, and "doable" solutions. We will be ascertaining costs, and looking to create economically feasible approaches. All students are being trained to look at the economic impacts of their approaches and many are talking directly with corporate,municipal, or protected area managers. In this way, we will not only quantify what is transpiring, we will be making proposals on improvements that are possible to adopt.

We are all excited to see these outcomes!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Alphabet Soup of Monitoring Bodies

I am preparing my next lecture today. We have heard some terrific talks on corporate approaches to environmental management from Sabre and Rock Resorts. This coming week we will hear from TUI.

I want to provide my students with context, and have been looking up all of the bodies particularly in Europe that help travel and tourism companies to manage reporting on the environment and carbon. The Global Reporting Initiative and the Carbon Disclosure Project are critical resources. I then look at the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, and I am trying to understand even myself, how to distinguish between the reporting initiatives and this effort to create global standards. I am searching the web for the new materials that make the connection for me and I am getting frustrated!

Obviously, this is an emerging field. And it is clear that the effort to consolidate the reporting process with so called "accreditation" is still on-going. As we look over all of the major hotel chains, we see that each is creating their own internal mechanisms as well. These are proprietary certainly, but trying to develop a fair presentation on the most practical and responsible approach is getting even more difficult than I imagined.

I have followed this field of reporting and certification now for almost 10 years. I continue to study it, but it is still a conundrum to me what is the right move for a company that seeks to manage its impacts in the most efficient way possible!

I am working on it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dow Jones Sustainability Index

After our class last night on the efforts of Passport Resorts to create a truly sustainable model for hotel development, I think all of us were in awe of Mike Freed's ability to create a sustainable model for resorts from the ground up.

I was amazed he was able to negotiate developing a solar array that his company will own later, by selling the power both to his resort and to the grid. I was really impressed that he was able to keep the Fort Baker complex in Sausalito so historically well preserved while winning a Gold Leed certification, creating what is now the incredibly beautiful Cavallo Point Lodge - a place I have enjoyed numerous times as part of my work at the Institute at the Golden Gate.

Peter Haase, the civil engineer with Fall Creek Engineering who works through many of the sustainability solutions for Passport, gave a thorough review of nuts and bolts solutions to water management, laundry, landscaping, sewage and waste. He stressed interdisciplinary team solutions. He made me think about how much the approach to creating and developing sustainable hotels is still in process. While we have celebrated the break throughs in ecolodge development for 15 years, we are still just beginning to create a thorough set of development procedures for hotel developers around the world to adopt. In fact, we still have not gotten far enough with this at all! The question is how to create standard procedures now that achieve the best results. I will review more of his thoughts in my next post.

This morning at breakfast, here in Boston, I was reviewing my notes from Faith Taylor's lecture and looked up the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. There is a very clear movement in the marketplace to reward sustainability procedures, not with seals or awards, but with encouraging more investment. The website is quite clear that sustainability as a principle for attracting investment is becoming increasingly important. It is a means of "driving shareholder value" and "managing risks from economic, social, and environmental development"

Interestingly, they rank companies in "supersectors" annually. For travel and leisure, Air France/KLM won the top kudos! They are rated on corporate governance, risk and crises management, reliability, brand management, environmental policy and management, air quality, fleet age, route network, talent attraction, standards for suppliers, noise, human capital development.

According to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index report,

"A growing number of investors is convinced that sustainability is a catalyst for enlightened and disciplined management, and, thus, a crucial success factor."

Let's hope so, as we continue to look at the triggers, and the hard work behind developing tourism more sustainably.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wyndham Hotels Green Program

Faith Taylor spoke last night about the Wyndham Hotels Green program. She is Worldwide Vice President for Sustainability and Innovation. Her warm and optimistic approach to converting the company to a holistic sustainability model was refreshing. She recently launched a global initiative to train Wyndham employees about the value of sustainability, she is actively undertaking the measurement of the corporation's green house gas emissions and setting reduction targets, and supporting the innovative ideas for building hotels around the world that are using fewer non-renewable resources.

I loved her story of introducing changes in the Wyndham supply chain, where her team worked with the uniform company that supplies hotel staff uniforms. This large supplier, was resistant to the idea of creating a uniform from recycled products, but ultimately styled a new front desk suit made from recycled PET bottles. They tested this "plastic suit" in a variety of locales, including Puerto Rico to make certain it was comfortable and breathable. The new uniform was a hit with staff across the world, and the company is now using this green product line for other hotels worldwide. Faith's idea of modifying the corporate supply chain and reducing environmental impacts using their hugely influential buying power, is right in line with research about the most effective approaches to improving the hospitality industry's ability to have positive impacts both economically and environmentally.

Faith lit up when she spoke of her own life decisions. She is clearly someone who is comfortable with innovation in business and has always been part of launching new product lines and brands. So her move to develop an innovative approach within the hospitality industry that is based on sustainability was natural for her. Asked by our students if she might move forward with her ideas in other corporate settings, she made it clear she is on a mission to see results from the groundwork she has laid at Wyndham and is looking forward to seeing the changes that take hold there over time.

She was extremely interested in the power of technology to facilitate change, and spoke quite passionately about using new technologies to track both corporate and individuals' carbon impacts. She understood that much of the world is still catching up on the idea of reducing environmental impacts. She was deeply supportive of the idea of working more in China and countries that will be the next leaders in corporate hotel development.

With 7000 hotels in the Wyndham family, from luxury to budget, she made it clear that globally firms like Wyndham can make a real difference in lowering carbon and environmental impacts.

I was impressed by Faith's "can do" fun-loving attitude toward her work, and I believe all of us were charmed by her willingness to constantly adapt and change to the latest challenges and make things happen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why is tourism not managed as carefully as other industries

In our course on environmental management, we are looking first at the types of responsibilities the various stakeholders have for the management of tourism around the world. We discussed the role of government in detail, and how government has frequently not sought to scrutinize the impacts of tourism as carefully as other industries.

My students sent in many questions as part of their assignment this week related to this. Why have governments not carefully scrutinized tourism?

My answer is the fact that tourism has no smokestacks. It appears to be a benign industry, and it is easy to show it has economic benefits. While Environmental Impact Statements (EIAs) have certainly been applied to large tourism complexes around the world, the overall effort to prevent sprawl and the impacts of population and growth of services and housing around tourism complexes has eluded government after government. The lens with which tourism is scrutinized is not wide enough.

Even if large scale resorts undertake environmental management systems, that seek to reduce impacts, what happens in the periphery of these complexes is frequently not considered. From their experiences in Cancun, Mexico; the Pacific coast of Costa Rica; and coastal beach resorts in the Dominican Republic, our students are now asking why the process of managing growth and development around tourism is not more carefully reviewed.

In our discussions, we are looking at the tools governments can apply to manage growth. These are not easy tools to implement. And we are discussing how and why they have not been implemented. Mostly, it requires stakeholder consensus that in fact regional planning is required - as a primary tool for making tourism sustainable.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Students taking the course

Our first class last Thursday was filled with exciting moments. We have launched our website which helps us manage information for students taking the course from around the world. Students are now introducing themselves, and they are a very interesting group.

I just read an introduction from an architect who is working in Dubai on a hotel next to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Another student, from Jamaica is getting her MBA at the Bainbridge Institute and trains on climate change as part of the team organized by Al Gore, she is photographer who focuses on sustainability and conflict areas. Another student recently returned from working at a safari lodge in Zambia. We have a hospitality student from Brazil, and someone working for an ecotourism company in Panama. There is a representative of a tourism foundation in Qatar.

All in all we have 68 students to date, and we are hustling to prepare the assignments for them. The program depends on all students working through a learning program on-line called Elluminate, where they meet weekly with our Teaching Assistants to prepare their projects.

The first week we focused on explaining the overview of how the tourism industry is structured and the types of environmental impacts caused by tourism.

I made it clear this is not an ecotourism class! This class intends to look at tourism worldwide as an industry, or system, which has complex and difficult impacts to manage. We will not seek to construct products for tourists at all. Rather, we will focus on understanding what approaches will be the most effective for managing environmental impacts of this enormous industry.