The Travel Foundation’s Sustainable Practice team joined GIZ in Luang Prabang to work with hotels to improve resource efficiency. Here’s how they got on…
Why Luang Prabang?
Over 70% of all visitors to Laos will choose to visit Luang Prabang in the North and it’s not hard to see why. The city is a UNESCO world heritage site with the River Mekong flowing through and a stunning mix of traditional and European colonial architecture. Tourism growth is rapid and whilst contributing to a rising GDP, this growth is exerting an ever-greater pressure on the environment, communities and culture.
But we can reduce these pressures. A key step in reducing tourism’s footprint, can be achieved by moving hotels to a more sustainable model of operations – in particular, reducing their water & energy consumption and reducing waste. As sustainability training experts, we were invited to work with hoteliers to improve their resource efficiency as part of the Luang Prabang Handle with Care project. The project is co-funded by the European Union as part of the EU SWITCH Asia II Programme and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Getting to know the area
Before starting our work, we were privileged to be able to spend a day exploring the area by bike (freely provided by our guesthouse) and immediately fell in love with Luang Prabang – it just all seemed very high quality… great tasting and fresh local food, free bikes, water refill stations, clean streets, thriving shops, restaurants and markets, views of the iconic Mekong at every turn and kind and genuine hospitality everywhere.
What are hotels doing at the moment?
We then turned our attention to our task – working with hoteliers to improve resource efficiency over the course of two days of workshops. Many of the hotels are already making a great effort to improve resource efficiency and are very aware of the impact of plastic. Water refill stations with the slogan ‘refill not landfill’ in hotel reception areas and restaurants are testament to this.
Despite all of the great activity, there is still a real challenge for hotels to adopt sustainable practices in a systematic and comprehensive way because:
- There is a high turnover rate in hotel management – what happens if the manager moves on?
- Very few hotels have a formal sustainability policy or action plan – how do the staff know what the plan is and how can they buy in to a sustainability vision if it’s not written down?
- There is a lack of sustainability training and communications resources – without the support and participation of all employees how can a hotel achieve its sustainability ambitions?
A sustainability policy is vital
We helped hoteliers to piece together the elements of a sustainability policy using a visual aid that walked them through the vision of where they want to be, where they are now, the steps they will take, and how they will engage staff, customers and suppliers to work with them in achieving their vision.
We also reinforced the importance of measuring performance – a step that’s often overlooked but is vital in order to demonstrate that efficiencies are being made and to identify areas for improvement (if you don’t measure, how do you know you’re actually performing well?)
No matter where they were in their sustainability journey, all our participants engaged with the activities, and 96% felt that they had increased their capacity to develop a sustainability policy and action plan which is really encouraging. Everyone left our workshop armed with their draft action plan and policy to introduce to their hotels.
Our continued support
We’re now back in the UK and working on a practical manual that will guide hotel managers in setting up systems to manage and monitor their resource efficiency performance. We hope that these tools and workshop will help the hotels in Luang Prabang to further embed sustainability into their, already high quality, tourism product. With beautiful surroundings, food and hospitality, this is one place that exemplifies the message sustainability IS quality. Put simply, sustainability is about doing business better.
Our mission in the Sustainable Practice team is to make sustainability engaging, practical and enjoyable for everyone. To find out more about our work, explore our online training site: www.travelfoundationtraining.com