Another thing you’ll want to do is sit down with your sustainable management group (this can be your environmental management person, if you have one, and a handful of your staff members that have shown most interest in improving sustainability within your company) and draw up some boundaries so you know how to proceed in the future. Boundaries should be well thought out and set in stone. These are decisions you will be making now to determine the future of your hotel or your company as it grows.
Basically, what you need to decide is how your company feels about certain types of travel and tourism services, and whether or not you feel it’s morally okay to participate in them.
Here’s a sampling of some of the issues you may want to consider (this is by no means a comprehensive list, and issues will vary according to your hotel’s location):
- Golfing. If there is a golf course nearby your hotel, are you going to promote golfing as an activity? If your company expands in the future, will you consider building a golf course yourselves? If a golf course is organic, that means it’s free of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, making it a better option that a traditional golf course. But how many trees will need to be cut to clear room for the 18 holes? Things to consider.
- Fishing. Some areas are ideal for fly fishing or other types of fishing. Fly fishing enthusiasts often boast that their sport is catch and release, meaning that the fish are returned to the water, and not killed and grilled. But does that really make it okay? That’s for your company to decide. Fish are stressed and often injured in the process of being captured. Are you open to developing a fishing lodge in the future?
- Hunting. This is pretty much the same as fishing, except that hunt and release is not an option. Hunters do have their own ethics for the sport. What remains to be decided is whether your company wants to be involved in it. Do you feel there’s a difference between harvesting domesticated animals and wild ones? How do you feel about the possibility of developing a hunting lodge in the future?
- Dolphin swims. Dolphins are generally considered to be ill-suited for captivity, meaning they can become irritated and aggressive, which is quite understandable considering their environment is greatly restricted while in captivity. Not to mention the violence reported with the capture of dolphins, often resulting in injuries. Are you open to recommending dolphin swims, if this is offered in your area?
- Zoos. How about other animals in captivity? Many animals suffer in captivity, and often show signs of mental disturbance due to lack of natural stimulation in their artificial environment. Would you consider recommending a trip to the zoo, if this is offered in your area?
- Jet skis and other Personal Water Craft (PWC). Most jet skis are powered by two stroke engines, which pollute both the water and the air. Not to mention the high-pitched whine they make that can disturb peace and quiet in a natural environment, bothering both people and animals. Will you offer jet ski rentals or recommend companies that provide these services, if your hotel is located on or near water?
- Coral reefs. Despite their limited mobility, coral are animals, not plants, and form an important part of the intricate marine ecosystem. Underwater activity such as snorkeling and diving can adversely affect the health of reefs, if proper care is not taken to leave them undisturbed. See Save Eco Destinations for a four-part series on reefs and how they are affected by tourism and other activities. Will you offer snorkel or diving tours at your hotel, or will you recommend service providers for these activities? If you choose to do so, you can educate your guests on the importance of proper underwater activity to avoid damage to reefs.
- Turtle nesting. Many hotels located on beaches have the added attraction of sharing them with turtles, who return each year to nest. Will you encourage your guests to wander down to the beach at night to observe the turtles? Will you recommend tours to see the turtles lay their eggs at night? If you choose to do so, you can educate guests on how to behave so as not to disturb turtles. Flashlights should be prohibited on the beach during turtle season, as any light will distract the mother as she is building her nest, and later on the babies as they hatch and head to the sea. A mother who is distracted by human noise or lights will return to the sea and absorb her eggs, meaning no babies for her that year.
- Beach bonfires. If you’re on a beach where turtles nest, bonfires are probably prohibited by law (and even if there are no turtles around, they may still be prohibited by law). Fires also contribute to global warming. Of course, a forest fire is a lot more damaging than a small beach fire, but bonfires are really easy to avoid. Yes they’re fun, but not necessary, unless you’re stranded on a deserted island. If bonfires are not prohibited in your area, will you encourage them?
- Jungle tours/Safaris. If your hotel is located near a reserve or natural park, many companies will likely offer jungle/forest tours or safaris. Are you open to promoting these tours? Do some research before promoting any tour of this type. What kinds of vehicles are involved? I have seen jungle tours in Hummers. Are ATVs used? They make a lot of noise which can bother animals, not to mention emissions. Investigate exactly how each tour is run, and whether there have been reports of adverse effects on wildlife in the area as a result of tourism.
- Pasture raised meat/chicken/eggs. A lot of pollution comes from manure in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, not to mention mistreatment of animals. Will your hotel choose only pasture raised animal products for its restaurants? If you are unsure about what to do, and haven’t yet seen Food, Inc. (or read the book) then now is the time.
- Vegetarian restaurant menus. Cattle produce methane gas, which contribute to global warming. Other animals also produce methane, but in lesser quantities. Meat eating isn’t exactly green, though some options are better than others (pasture raised meat rather than CAFO meat). This may sound extreme for many, but I’m including it anyway: are you open to including only vegetarian or vegan options on your restaurant menus?
- Foie gras. This is just one example of a highly controversial menu item. Foie gras is made of the live of a duck or goose that has generally been fattened using force feeding techniques. This is often seen as cruel treatment of animals, and many countries have laws against force feeding. Maybe this isn’t directly related to sustainability, but animal treatment is an important part of how we relate to the planet and all of its inhabitants. Will you offer foie gras on your restaurant menu?
All of these issues are important things to consider, and once you’ve decided whether or not to promote or embrace them, it’s a good idea to share your decisions on the sustainability or eco page on your website, and on site (at the hotels) in whatever eco information you provide to your guests.
It’s often important to understand why. Many guests will be disappointed they can’t build a bonfire on the beach, but once they understand how it can affect both global warming and the local turtle nesting sites, they’ll likely be more understanding.
Can anyone think of other activities or issues I’ve left off the list? Good luck!