Guest Posts

How to Run a Sustainable Small Resort in Thailand

How to run an eco-friendly small resort in Thailand

This was planned as part of a larger article on the problems of garbage on the island, but it didn’t really fit and also I felt the information deserves it’s own page.

More and more people are complaining about the garbage on Koh Chang and nearby islands and also asking what resorts are doing to help save the environment.  And an increasing number of people are choosing where to stay based on a resort’s eco-credentials – or supposed credentials.  The photo below is of the garbage dump on Koh Chang where a large resort, that prides itself on being green, burns all its garbage.
kohchang-garbage

It would be nice to think that guests will favour hotels and resorts that go out of their way to show true green  / sustainable credentials.  But actually finding resorts like that in Thailand isn’t as easy as you might think.

Thailand has it’s own Green Leaf Standard for hotels. Bet you didn’t know they had one.

This was established in 1998 and to date  219 hotels have achieved the Green Leaf standard.  That’s 219 out of well over 30,000 hotels, resorts and guesthouses  in the country.

So the qualifying process must be tough?

Hmmm . . . .  resorts have to fill out a questionnaire and are then inspected and audited.  Although there isn’t actually a possibility of failing.  The worst that happens is you get a 1 leaf award.   Alternatively, many resorts seem to just sign up to be a member of the organisation and they too are listed on the website with the others that have been audited.

Despite this being promoted by the Tourism Authority; despite this being an easy award to obtain and despite eco credentials being something that is of interest to many visitors nowadays,  still 99% of accommodation has ignored the opportunity to get it.

Being, or even appearing to be, eco-friendly obviously isn’t at the top of the list of priorities.

What you will see at virtually all resorts is recycling.  The recycling of glass & plastic bottles, plus metal cans is good business.  But that still ignores the basics of running a sustainable, environmentally friendly business.

As there’s not much point in contacting a large resort I reached out to emailed Allen from Thaidaho Vista on Koh Mak.  One of the few businesses that can truly be called a sustainable venture.  He gave some pointers on how their business is run.  Most of these can be scaled or adapted to a larger resort.  But if you are staying in a guesthouse or small resort and want to see how much they care for the environment then these are some good points to bear in mind.

Sustainability Initiatives For a Small Resort

These tips involve – among other things – trying to walk lightly on the earth.   And that doesn’t just mean putting up one of those ‘Take photographs, leave nothing but footprint.‘ signs.  Action is also required.

The reasons for implementing these ideas are quite simple. Going Green helps a business to:

  • Reduce running costs
  • Improve customer loyalty
  • Improve the image of your operation
  • Compete better within the tourism market
  • Improve relationships with staff and the local community

Compare what Allen and Kat at Thaidaho do, compared to where you are staying on your next holiday.

Over to Allen . . .

Local Food

Whenever feasible we try to use local food. This involves purchasing produce from Koh Mak’s relatively new organic gardens, buying local Koh Mak pineapples when possible, and growing and using as much of our own herbs and produce as we can. At Thaidaho Vista we have a herb garden -fertilized primarily with kitchen waste – where we grow mint, basil, lemongrass, chili peppers, etc. We also have three mango trees, one star fruit tree, one rose apple tree and many, many papaya trees. We use all of this in our kitchen, and we then use the kitchen waste to fertilize the garden and fruit trees.

We are not able to produce or buy local everything we need during the island’s high season, so we must still purchase fruit, vegetables and groceries from the local Koh Mak stores – much of which is brought in from Trat. But we do the best we can. We also steer away from using imported food products, choosing instead to use Thai products.

We also use northern Thai ‘Through-the-Fence’ coffee beans. It turns out that the ‘Fair Trade’ coffee logo can now be ‘bought,’ and so most ‘Fair Trade’ coffee involves the same brokers and middle men as every other coffee. To circumvent the brokers and middle men, Kat’s friend buys only northern Thai coffee beans directly from the farmers north of Chiang Mai. He then roasts them himself in BKK for his own coffee shops and for our use. Thus, Kat not only uses great tasting northern Thai coffee in her drinks, but it is from coffee beans we can feel very good about.

Resorts should grow their own fruit.

Reusable Shopping Bags

Thai’s tend to package everything in plastic within plastic. The cost to the earth of this practice is evident along the sides of any road, and on any beach that is not cleaned multiple times each day by resort staff. So we originally brought and used reusable canvass shopping bags from the USA for all our local shopping. Subsequently, Yodchai ( owner of the villa and Ao Kao Resort ) purchased 2,000 reusable tote bags, which we have been giving out for free to all the local school children, resident islanders and business owners in an effort to fight the use of plastic.

This is a slow battle but we have seen a few tiny signs of progress. We also give these bags to our guests for use when they are on the island. We ask that they return the bags for reuse when they leave.

Energy Use

Solar Yard Lights: we use only solar rechargeable yard lights for exterior lighting and sidewalk illumination. These lights are also used as our emergency backup lights for rooms when—for whatever reason—the island’s power is lost after dark.

Timer Circuits: we installed timer circuits on the café building and courtyard lights to limit energy use. In addition, all of Thaidaho Vista’’s courtyard and café lights are now downward facing in order to support international ‘dark sky’ initiatives.

Motion Detector Lights: We installed small motion activated LED lights in the scooter parking area, above each guest room door and in the guest kitchen to provide temporary light for guests returning late after the timer circuits turn off the main building lights. These lights are battery operated and the batteries recharged with solar battery rechargers.
solar battery recharger

Optional A/C: We are currently installing switches on the guestroom A/C’s. This will allow us to offer the same rooms as either ‘fan-only’ or ‘A/C.’ We will then charge a reasonable premium for the A/C rooms in order to encourage use of just fans. In this way people who want A/C can pay for it, and those who can do without it won’t be charged for it. Furthermore, it is flexible, so if someone reserves a fan-only but the weather turns very hot, they can opt to have the A/C enabled; and vice-versa.

Television: we have no TV’s at Thaidaho Vista, either for ourselves or for guests. Instead, we have books!

Recycling

Thaidaho Vista separates and recycles its glass, cans and plastic. The recycled materials are then given for free to local resident private recyclers in order to help subsidize their important recycling efforts.

No Disposable Single-Service Items

We choose not to sell or use any disposable plastic single-service items at Thaidaho Vista. This includes plastic bags. disposable plastic water bottles, or plastic straws, cups, glasses, flatware, etc. Instead we serve all our food and beverages using washable and reusable glasses, cups, plates and flatware. We even purchased and use washable and reusable stainless steel and glass straws for our various drinks and beverages.

When a customer needs a container for food leftovers, we use compostable and biodegradable bagasse containers which are now available at Makro and other stores in Trat. We also provide free, cold, self-serve drinking water to our café and guesthouse customers using washable glassware.

Marketing

Because four years ago there were no good maps of Koh Mak available for tourists, we decided to make one and distribute it for free. However, we did not want to see our maps thrown away on the sides of Koh Mak’s roads, or washing up on Koh Mak’s beaches, so we decided to give our maps ‘value’ by making them recyclable. Thus, when done with the maps, tourists can bring them up to Thaidaho Vista and exchange them for a free Coke or espresso. We then reuse the exchanged maps saving the resources and cost that would otherwise be expended to print new ones.

thaidaho-maps

Transport

We utilize only one Yamaha scooter for all of our operations on Koh Mak. We did not want to bring another vehicle to the island, so we built our own scooter trailer for shopping, and for picking up and delivering packages to the boats at the piers. I just posted a photo of our trailer on Thaidaho Vista’s FB page. The scooter trailer falls under the broad category of walking lightly on the earth. We built the trailer using a standard luggage cart and materials available on Koh Mak and/or in Trat. We can connect or disconnect the trailer in 10 seconds or less, and when disconnected—unlike a sidecar—we still have an efficient, unencumbered scooter. We use the trailer for daily operations including shopping and obtaining supplies. For guests and luggage, we promote use of the island’s existing taxis.

Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water

Thaidaho Vista has its own on-site deep water well. We get all of our fresh water for showers, sinks and toilets from this well, which is not chlorinated or otherwise treated. For drinking water, we run our fresh well water through a Reverse Osmosis water filtration system, which creates the highest quality drinking water available. We provide this clean RO drinking water for free to our guests and customers so they don’t have to buy disposable water bottles.

For every liter of drinking water produced through Reverse Osmosis, the process wastes two liters of bypass water. In other words, the RO process is about 33% efficient in terms of water. So we capture this bypass water in large cisterns, and then use it for irrigation during the dry season. We ‘seeded’ these cisterns with tiny guppy fish that are supposed to eat mosquito larvae, and now we have bio-balance micro habitats in each cistern.

Finally, the filtration system we purchased and installed is a 12V system. While we are currently using a transformer so the system can be plugged into the electric grid, our near-term plans are to obtain and deploy a solar rechargeable 12V DC battery system to run the drinking water process.

Running the Business

A. Room Cleaning: Thaidaho Vista does not offer daily room cleaning. Instead, we provide fresh towels, hand rags, beach towels and toilet supplies every three days or whenever requested. If a guest does want a full room cleaning—with change of bedding, we charge 200 baht and require a one-day advance notice. This approach tends to conserve some resources but also encourages guests to keep their rooms orderly and self-cleaned. We make cleaning tools and supplies available for guests in the shared guest kitchen area, and most have opted not to have interim room cleanings during their stay.

B. New Construction: we have tried to be environmentally conscientious with all new construction at Vista. For example, we have built several new walkways using gravel and stones to facilitate rainwater infiltration rather than runoff. We have also added gravel and stones along building roof drip lines to minimize erosion and facilitate infiltration. Irrigation cisterns have also been placed to collect rainwater from roofs.

C. Guest Kitchen: is stocked with only washable and reusable glasses, cups, plates and flatware. In addition, the guest kitchen is a shared self-cleaning area.

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Let’s hope that having seen what’s required, other businesses follow the initiatives and ideas being successfully implemented at Thaidaho Vista in order to help reduce their carbon footprint and use less natural resources.   The rave reviews  show that their guests love this approach to running a business.

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