Sustainable Tourism Solutions Displayed in Luang Prabang

The Sustainable Tourism Solutions Expo (STSE) on 14-15 September, attracted more than 100 hospitality trade decision-makers from around the Mekong Region to the Luang Prabang View Hotel, where they met some 30 Lao and international sustainable product and service providers, and participated in related symposia.

Tom Grimm led off the “Saving Money through Sustainability” forum with “Making Good Bacteria Work for Us,” during which the Green Footprint Solutions President merged a biology class with a convincing sales pitch for biotechnology cleaners.  

While admitting the upfront costs for super-concentrated bio-cleaners might raise eyebrows among accountants, Mr Grimm explained they deliver more bang for the buck over time, especially considering hidden cleaning costs.

“Besides being less expensive after dilution than chemical cleaners, the enzymes in bio-cleaners are residual in that the product continues cleaning after the housekeeper’s work is done.” He added, “Follow nature for cleaning products with beneficial microbes, as they work like nature does.” 

He also cited the regulatory expenses of storing and shipping chemicals, while bio-cleaners have a longer shelf-life and reduce cleaning time. “With bio, you don’t need to rinse due to the cleaner’s residual qualities.” 

Patricio Gonzalez Morel, a sustainability and resource efficiency consultant, presented “Sustainability and Profitability in the Hotel Industry,” which rehashed 1970s water and energy-savings solutions with high-tech names.

The attendees learned of a “pressure compensator”, which was once a $0.05 washer placed in the showerhead’s inlet to constrict flow, increase pressure, and save up to eight litres per shower plus heating costs. 

Mr Morel reminded the group of the “economics of lamps”, and how LED bulbs may cost much more than their incandescent brothers, but they last 15 times longer. Spotlights from decades past have been renamed as fashionable “directional lights”. 

However, he pointed out that the return on investment for sustainability tops the stock market’s best performers.

John Williams, General Manager of the host venue, Luang Prabang View Hotel, closed out the session with “Saving Money through Sustainability,” and an itemised list of accounting wins. However, he is quick to point out, “It’s more than saving money or a thing you can purchase; it’s about doing what we feel is right. My view is, it’s a way of life…common sense…part of our daily work load.” 

Mr Williams grew up in a rural town, where sustainability was a way of life. “I have been working to save and use nature for many years since working at home, where I learned to use and re-use. Now, I have decades of experience, with 30 years in hospitality.”

He downplays the role of certification awards, which can cost up to $5,000 per year. “Just do it (sustainability) and save the money.” Mr Williams should know; Luang Prabang View has landed several awards including the ASEAN MICE Award earlier this year.  
He said Luang Prabang View can check off the items on certification forms as a matter of course, and added several sustainable initiatives that any property can implement. 

Take the hotel’s “grey pond” septic system, in which the overflow is channelled through three naturally cleansing ponds, before use in the gardens and lawns. “If we used the city system, it would cost $46 per day or about $1,475 per month which easily covers the cost of a $480 pump.”

The laundry department saves almost $4,000 per year by washing and drying slightly smaller loads. This also extends the life of the machines by five years on top of the expected eight.

The hotel has switched from plastic to reusable glass bottles for its in-room drinking water. “Plastic runs $7,125 per year, so we changed to reusable glass this year,” Mr Williams said. “The initial outlay for 1,000 bottles was less than $1,000, and to clean, sterilize, refill, and cap costs about $0.07 each for a total annual cost of $3,167. That’s a savings of about $4,000 per year.”   

Luang Prabang View is implementing other sustainable in-room changes. They are reducing paper packaging with fresh milk and sugar containers, and plastic coffee pods are re-used for germinating seeds before recycling. The hotel also provides cotton shopping bags for guests. 

Plastic is out elsewhere. The hotel switched to paper bags and recycled containers for take away food, and straws are temporarily bamboo. Green netting is replacing big black plastic bags for a projected savings of 60% in 2019. The hotel also reaps about $200 per year by selling recyclables. 

The properties nine compost heaps for rejuvenating the soil versus buying dirt heaps save $450 per year on a ton of soil. Replacing chemicals with Effective Microorganism (EM) production from hotel waste for use in the garden and kitchen saves $8,220 a year in bio-cleaning purchases.  

And don’t forget the gardener, who produced close to $4,000 in herbs and vegetables last year for the hotel. 

This level of sustainability attracts responsible travel agents and DMCs such as EXO Travel, which have their own strict standards, and according to Mr Williams, “Since EXO inspected the property, our business with them has risen 170%.” 

EXO Travel Sustainability Coordinator Laos & Vietnam Nia Klatte weighed in during the symposium titled, “Why Sustainability Communication Matters: Improving the Guest Experience.”

In her presentation, “Mainstreaming Responsible Tourism,” Ms Klatte said tours should include responsible options, and the industry needs to assess its suppliers and share the results.

“Personal storytelling by locals adds appeal,” said Ms Klatte. “It provides a face for an activity, attraction, or village.”
University of Surrey Professor Dr Xavier Font delivered “Five Benefits of Sustainable Tourism Communication” with sets of bullet-point communication tips that are well-known in the marketing world.

His stressed honesty and building trust, suggested using humour while avoiding clichés, and spoke of the need to be engaging by presenting shared values.    

Dr Font said the content should use appealing language in telling stories, and “make people feel good. “Show the benefits…what’s in it for them. Introduce local producers and suppliers…make them visible.” 

Dr Steve Newman, Group Sustainability Director, Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts presented “Sustainability Engagement, Awareness and Stewardship in Tourism,” during which he emphasised being genuine.

“You need to connect with the destination…its people, history, culture, heritage,” he said, and pointed to the pathway to stewardship. “Start by knowledge of the destination and communicating with the locals. This communication leads to engagement, and eventually stewardship.”  

Dr Newman said a tourism business needs to convey genuine values such as sustainability, resilience, and stewardship. He added that communications to tourists need to show a genuine impact. “Tell the story of your journey to sustainability.”

Alongside the symposia, the expo was in full swing. Gabriel Kuperman, Event Coordinator for STSE 2018, said the expo is the first B2B event in the Mekong region connecting the suppliers of sustainable products and services to an expected 300 buyers from throughout Laos, Thailand, and Hanoi.

“It offers the opportunity for local businesses to learn about and purchase sustainable alternatives to traditional tourism and hospitality supplies, such as environmentally-friendly cleaning products and toiletries, plastic-free packaging, locally produced substitutes to imported food and beverages, and handmade gifts and décor,” he explained. 

Exhibitors displayed the latest in cost-saving products and services for the tourism industry, which are also environmentally friendly and locally responsible.

Buyers found drinking water filtration systems, biodegradable packaging, energy efficient technology, organic vegetables, and handmade gifts. They also met local responsible tour operators and hotels. 

There were five categories of exhibitors:
1. Eco-Friendly Hospitality Supplies
2. Organic and Local Foods
3. Handmade Products
4. Sustainable Tours and Accommodation
5. Certifications and Initiatives

To meet and directly connect with the exhibitors, click here.