LooLa and sustainability - philosophy and eco/customer awards
Before we start ... our (inter)national top Eco awards and customer awards:
On the modern definition of ``eco``
Not so long ago, “Eco” used to refer exclusively to “green”, meaning, roughly, nature conservation of animals, plants, rivers, lakes, the planet – in short, the natural world separate of human existence.
More recently, a realization has taken hold that in practice, it is difficult to conserve nature if the local communities in the area do not support the idea. In other words, the key for an eco-conscious business is increasingly understood to be this: to construct a business that is sustainable, meaning that the interest of all stakeholders (owners, staff, local communities, local government, clients, and the nature around us) align to produce an outcome that is good for each stakeholder.
The modern definition of Ecotourism is, therefore, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990)
In more detail, Responsible tourism is defined in the 2002 Capetown Declaration as tourism which…
- minimizes negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
- generates greater economic benefits for local people, enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to opportunities;
- involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
- makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
- provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
- provides access for physically challenged people; and
- is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
Connection to the awards
All the awards listed in the logos above thus evaluate businesses on their performances in these criteria.
The WildAsia awards, for instance, evaluate (and issue awards to) tourism businesses on its performance in the following four categories:
- Community Engagement and Development
- Cultural Preservation
- Protecting natural areas and/or wildlife
- Resource efficiency
The World Responsible Tourism awards use the following criteria:
- Evidence of positive impact
- Replicability – can the ideas be adopted by others?
- Innovation – new ideas that should become common practice
- Influence – does the operator use its influence to inspire others to follow suit?
- Sustainability – is the operator’s model is made for the long run?
- Overall commitment to Responsible Tourism
In the year 2012, WildAsia featured an overall award called Most inspiring Responsible Tourism Operator (in Asia), for the (Asian) tourism operator who does best in all of its four categories.
LooLa is extremely proud to have received this fantastic award for the year 2012, and even more proud to follow this up with being honored World # 1 in the World Responsible Tourism Awards in London, 2015.
We aim to demonstrate that LooLa is deserving of these awards by a continued commitment to sustainability – refer to some of the details below.
On this page, we explain how LooLa is trying to be a sustainable business, and what role all stakeholders play in this.
The name LooLa was suggested by our local staff, because it is the name of a typical local sea shell as well as a combination of the names of the founder/owner teacher couple Marc van Loo and Isabelle Lacoste.
LooLa has attempted from the outset, when we started in 1996, to ensure that all stakeholders would benefit. We bought the land from a local family, and we employed them rightaway to make the sale a long-term mutual beneficiary act. The (still quite deep-rooted) prevailing wisdom at the time was that no international business can succeed with strictly local staff, but we set out with a firm conviction to prove this idea wrong: not only is it possible to work with purely local staff, but it can work very well, combining the natural Indonesian hospitality with the expectations of the modern traveller.
Indeed, for many of our (return) guests, our local staff is seen as one of our best assets! (refer to our feedback page, Facebook page, and Tripadvisor reviews)
We opened the resort in the year 2000, building with strictly local materials and strictly local labor, and contracted all our staff from Bintan itself, mostly from the local village in which we operate. Our village, Galang Batang, is spread out over a radius of 5 km, and counts only 79 families with around 370 people. It was generally regarded as one of the least developed areas in all of Bintan. Indeed, NONE of our local staff had ever visited the capital of Bintan, Tanjung Pinang, just 40 km away, when we first met them! Only one of the villagers had completed highschool, the rest had either primary school or no schooling.
In 2015, more than 30 of our 50+ full-time staff still hail from our own small village, while the rest hails from villages and towns less than 40 km away (the owners reside in Singapore to head the sales team). More than half of the staff are speaking English now – an incredible achievement given the educational background – and more than 20 of them own company-subsidized laptops and smart phones and are conversant with office applications, dropbox, Google docs, Facebook and the like.
Our staff also run their own shop and drinks/coffee sales on sight, as well as other client services such as massage. So our guests know that if they buy things at the shop, they are directly benefiting the local community. The owners strongly feel that it is in our very best interest if our staff are our business partners, rather than our employees, so we’re very happy to see this shop doing well!
There has been virtually no turnover of staff; instead, the staff force has steadily grown over the years. This means that our staff doesn’t quite feel like staff but more like part of the family …
Indeed, LooLa opened in the same year as our first son, Igor, was born, and our 3 sons certainly regard our staff as part of their family. We endeavor to continually develop LooLa and our staff to make sure we can continue to rely on their experience.
We engage the guests and the community around us in a win-win scenario as follows: we invite our guests to set aside a little bit of money as well as some of their time to engage in meaningful community projects that allow for real interaction with the local community and environment.
This win-win partnership, just to give some examples, has seen the construction of local roads, volleyball and basket ball fields, and children’s play grounds. At the level of individual local households, there are housing upgrades, construction and placement of beds in local homes, placement of mosquito nets, and the construction of waste water gardens and water filters.
Furthermore, there are plenty of interactions between visitors and local schools and orphanages (arts, sports and educational exchanges), and altogether our guests have planted more than 10 hectares of forest land, mangrove reforestation, and local village farms.
If any of our guests has any idea of their own to engage in a meaningful community project, we are delighted to make it happen.
In short, community work is one of these beautiful examples where everyone is happy to participate and everyone benefits – clear and simple.
In terms of the resource aspects of a responsible business, while we believe there is merit in new green technologies, we believe that the most obvious key to a sustainable use of resources is to simply limit the use of water and electricity. We do this by appealing to our guests to give up a little comfort: apart from our new luxury eco villas, LooLa’s rooms offer sea-breeze and fans rather than air-con and there is only sun-warmed water. Our guests are, on the whole, supportive of this philosophy and are quite happy to give up these creature comforts in exchange for a rustic natural feel and so as to do their part for conservation.
We continue to expand on these ideas. In 2012 for instance, we introduced a chemical-free method to combat mosquitos, and we installed WiFi in order to assist our staff’s IT development and to plug them more firmly into the wider world. In 2012 we also overhauled our electricity systems and started reviewing our waste management systems to see where we can improve. This process of improvement won’t ever stop, and that is a good thing: the key is to continually improve things so as to keep all stakeholders excited and engaged.
Following our WildAsia and WTTC awards, we realised that we could broaden and strengthen our overall sustainability by addressing matters concerning resource management (water conservation, waste water, waste management, and renewable electricity).
As such, we embarked in 2013 on the construction of
– Rain water collection systems;
– Biological waste water processing systems (following a UNESCO-endorsed formula that came out of the Aceh post-tsunami relief efforts) that can be adopted by the local community;
– Solar power systems;
– Two brand new luxury eco villas
– The world’s first residential green aircon that uses solar freezing of ice during the day
Early 2015, the rainwater collection system was ready, and we’re now learning how to make the most out of it, and become a nett contributor to the water table.
Our waste water gardens are working beautifully, and our guests have helped us bring these systems – at a cost of under SG$ 600 per household only, including a ceramic water filter! – to over 70 local households (as of Nov 2016), saving these households about $ 300 per year (about 10% of household income) as they no longer have to buy mineral water.
Our solar power panels (70 of them, covering an area of 120 m2) are powering the entire resort during the day, plus they power the aircons of our new luxury eco villas.
The aircon systems in our 2 new luxury eco villas operate completely chemical-free and purely using sunlight: the sun freezes a block of ice during the day under each villa, and we use this block of ice subsequently to cool the villa at night!
As far as we are aware, the LooLa aircon systems, designed by a Bali-based company, are a world-first, and at a cost of under $ 50,000 per villa, it shows that the system is not just great for the environment, but that it makes economic sense too, since powering aircons by conventional means would consume $ 50,000 in generator fuel within 5 years.
We may be the world’s first, but we shall campaign to promote these systems and see them adopted throughout Asia through continued development of these systems in an Open source manner.
We are delighted that SERIS (Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore) is so impressed by the potential of LooLa’s cooling concept that they decided to commit to a 2 years joint research programme with LooLa which started in March 2016.
The intention of this research is to
– Display all relevant data for everybody to see
– Use data analysis to determine optimal settings
– Refine the systems and come up with new, robust prototypes that are ready for wide-scale adoption.
In partnership with WBCSD, three world top universities, global corporate backers, and schools in our region, we will start a research project late 2016 in order to optimize the UNESCO-endorsed wastewater gardens.
The idea is that we take these highly successful gardens as a base, and then try to make them even more efficient, easier to build locally, while reducing their cost to a level so low that we can secure a roll-out throughout rural Indonesia and beyond, leveraging on the star power of all the above partners in sustainability.
A copy of this project can be found by clicking on this PDF doc.
To show that it is possible to run a successful tourism business built on the following principles:
– It is good for business to fully empower local staff and let them run the business
– It is good for business to engage and encourage guests to interact with – and help develop – local communities
– It is good for business to act as a test-bed for eco solutions (rainwater collection, waste water gardens, solar power, sun-powered cooling, chemical-free insect control).
LooLa maintains a sustainable tourism policy, which keeps track of where we are and where we would like to go (we are supposed to update this file continually, but in practice, this webpage is more likely to be current). Should you like to see a copy, you can download the Nov 2014 version here.
List of awards and media exposure
We are very proud to say that in recognition of these efforts, we received the following prestigious business sustainability accolades – and we fully intend to continue to show that we deserve them!
2013: WORLD TOP 3: Best Community Tourism Operator
2016: WINNER: Singapore APEX Corporate Sustainability Awards
International newspaper coverage (mostly following LooLa’s World # 1 WRT Awards):
2015: Indonesian Tourism Board
WTM is also working on an hour long BBC-hosted video of the award event (the LooLa relevant portions are in the video above), but they are currently sorting out an issue with the sound: