Eco & LooLa

We like to show everybody... Eco is fun, Eco is cool, Eco works!

Our guests often ask us:
Can we make our stay both fun and meaningful?

The answer is a big YES!
LooLa was built in 2000, and subsequently run by our fully local staff, who help our guests engage with the local community.
LooLa is owned by two teachers (Marc van Loo and Isabelle Lacoste, the “Loo” and “La”) who fell in love with Indonesia in their back-packer days.

Through our programs and our location in Bintan, all 17 UN SDGs (United Nation Sustainable Development goals) come to life – for all ages

Below, we take you on a magical quick tour to make eco come to life for you!

Eco works for everyone: the very young, the young, and adults (CSR)

In the pictures below, you see a lot of students, but rest assured – the activities work for everyone! 🙂

Trash to Cash

A beach clean-up never felt so good!

Go to the beach or to the village with our local female staff and do a thorough clean-up of trash (this is a cool social event in itself!).
Then, together, turn the collected plastic into fantastic bags and ornaments which our staff can sell for profit!

This event involves an explosion of joint creativity and, like no other, it has empowered local women, because they feel proud that guests admire and enjoy their creative skills. They are delighted that this recycling event generates extra family income, and they embrace the opportunity to talk with you (our guests) about their lives and to hear about yours. The general verdict from local women is that they feel this event has made them feel light, free, empowered and happy – so please try it out!

Make your Trip Carbon-Neutral

Mangrove tree planting at night: it’s a blast and a huge gain for marine life and clean air!

There’s so many dimensions to mangrove trees: they are known to be the best carbon-absorbing trees in the world, they prevent erosion, and they play a crucial role in the health of coastal marine life. They come in great variety –near LooLa, we have 3 different types– and each of these varieties has its own special advantages.

You could choose how you want to get engaged with mangroves:
• Before the trip, you could calculate how many trees you should plant to make your trip (or your whole year!) carbon-neutral. Contact us if you want to learn how to do that!
• For a minor surcharge (typically not more than $ 10 pp) you can do the work and plant mangrove trees at night – not just highly useful, but super fun as well: mangroves at night look spooky in your torchlights, more so with all the crabs and other animals racing through the illuminated areas. Magic for kids and adults alike!
• You could get engaged with our very ambitious research program which aims to enable the planting of millions of trees (!). Your measurements [of the trees planted before you] crucially contributes to this goal.
• During your trip, you can learn more about the value of mangroves from our local staff, or you can engage local marine professors who can tell you all about it!

Get in touch with us if you want to know more!

More details for eco-buffs

Plant-based cooking (including pizza making)

Cook it yourself and experience how great it tastes!

Most people are already aware that eating meat is not good for our global environment, but for many of us, we find it tough to give up on meat because it tastes so good…

As we have found out, there is no better way to discover that plant-based food is awesome … than cooking it yourself!
The cooking activity in itself is super fun, and it empowers our local staff, because they are proud to show off their local dishes and their skills.

Fun fact: until the Vegetarian society explained to our staff that they love plant-based food –and the more local the ingredients, the better– our staff believed that it would be an insult to our guests to give you plant-based food “because that is what we eat ourselves, but to show we honour our guests, we must give them meat!”.
Thank you vegetarians, for clearing up this misunderstanding 🙂

Design a party for orphans!

Invite orphans over for a party, join the party, and enhance your event management skills!

Invite a group of orphans out to meet your group at LooLa … Organise an amazing party together, deepen cultural understanding, make lasting friendships and … learn Event-management while doing it!

Note 1: Orphanages in Indonesia don’t just house kids whose parents have died; they also house kids whose parents are too poor to look after them. Orphanages tend to be in demand with well-wishers, so they are generally OK in terms of financial needs, but orphans are –above anything else– children, and like any kids, they like to have fun and have a party … So you could do no better community work with an orphanage than organizing a party for them!

Note 2: in the past, many visitors asked if they could paint orphanages. In some cases, this led to orphanages (across our region) being painted several times a year… Also, ask yourself: how many of you could be bothered to paint your own rooms? 😉 The key takeaway from this is: community work is great, but let’s make sure it’s meaningful and enjoyable for all parties – like running a joint party! 🙂

Work with local schools

Have fun doing things together, deepen cross-cultural understanding and self-understanding, and learn from each other!

Indonesian schools love doing joint projects, games, and joint ecological events … but above all, they like to make lasting friendships that deepen mutual understanding.

Working with a local Indonesian school means you can truly co-design the event together –Indonesians are very good at designing things on the spot!– and then execute it together. You will come away understanding why Indonesians are the most optimistic people in the world, and you will understand that there is so much more that binds us together than sets us apart.

You can do a project at the school or a joint eco project together with the school, and/or you can invite the school over to LooLa and have a party together (refer to the orphan section above).

Get in touch with us to learn more!

Work with local families

Nobody needs you more than local families.

It’s great to work with local orphans or with local schools, but Indonesia is a very progressive and people-centered society, so it is taking good care of its schools and orphanages within its means. But while making the transition to a middle income country, Indonesia’s focus is now to raise the living standards of ordinary families, and this is where your visit can truly make a deep impact:

• Learn what it means to survive on $300 / month with a whole family
• Understand the societal impact of climate change and its direct and painful consequences for Indonesian families.
• Understand why Indonesian people, despite all this, are the world’s #1 optimists!
• Design a fantastic program doing a joint project with a local family … in particular, look at the Safe Water Garden project (see below) and understand that there is no bigger bang for the buck than upgrading a family’s sanitation system.

Animal tours

Enjoy Bintan’s magnificent bird and marine life!

The unique sea-flat on Bintan’s east coast (a kilometer-wide shallow coastal area that surfaces at low tide) provides the environment for a truly unique marine and bird life. There are a number of ways that you could engage with this natural environment:

• We have animal booklets with photos. So when you do a nature tour, you can try to identify the animals yourself, and ask our local staff for more details.
• There are opportunities for scientific marine surveys, for instance for those doing IB studies in Biology or Environmental studies.
• Understand what the local wildlife means to local people and how local people have long sustainably interacted with the local marine environment.
• Learn how a nature/animal tour stimulates local pride and hence promotes wildlife well-being.

Green Energy & Resource Management

It’s quite easy to be green!

What we try to show in LooLa is that it is not only possible to be 100% on renewable energy, to get 100% of the shower supply from rainwater, and to recycle all wastewater, but that it is much easier than you think, and that you can implement these principles at home!

Here’s what you can do at LooLa:
• See what worked at LooLa, but importantly, also see what didn’t work, and how LooLa made the journey together with our guests towards robust, simple and cheap systems that do the job.
• Learn about our Safe Water Gardens (biological wastewater processing systems) –or better even, build one yourself for a local family (see below)!
• Bring rainwater harvesting to life, and find out how your water consumption in LooLa compares to your consumption back home.
• LooLa is going for 100% renewable energy: our energy is currently 70 – 100% generated by solar power, and you can learn that this is much easier to achieve than many people think!

More details for eco-buffs

Enjoy an Eco villa!

LooLa’s two eco villas were designed together with a research group of NUS architecture students. We aimed for the villas to be as sustainable as possible, using sustainable materials and making them energy and water friendly. We have learned a lot along the way: local materials are always better than materials from far away (even if it is sustainable bamboo from Bali!) and simple is always better than complicated.

We’re very happy to share the journey towards a sustainable house with you, and to let you experience that eco and luxury can go hand in hand.
Referring to the schematic drawing –made by NTU students (environmental journalism)– there are 7 features that show how the Eco character of our villas. Can you find them all? Go to the NTU student page to find out!

Check out the original interactive NTU student page here!

Happiness and Story-Telling

Understanding that happiness is the key to achieving a sustainable world

• Understand how happiness drives workforce productivity.
• Appreciate the importance of story-telling for a sustainable future:
swap stories, get to really know each other, understand what binds us together as people.

During LooLa’s two-decade long journey towards greater sustainability, we have learned that the sustainable development goals are best advanced by consciously and strongly promoting happiness: if people are happy, they are more likely to cooperate and empathise with others and they are, hence, far more productive. We’ve also found that we can do this best through story swapping: nothing brings people (within a company or from different communities) more together than understanding our shared humanity and celebrating and enjoying our common humanity as well as our small cultural differences.

Read the life stories of LooLa staff –they are posted in the eating areas– and start swapping experiences!

Safe Water Garden

Safe sanitation for every village family by 2025!

The Safe Water Garden (SWG) is a scalable wastewater management system developed from an original UNICEF concept. It suits individual households and small community centers like rural schools.

Developed by LooLa –in collaboration with NUS, other world-class universities and industry partners– by the end of 2019, Singapore’s students, families and companies had built 450 SWGs, making Bintan the largest live sanitation research laboratory in the world.

The Indonesian government declared the SWG part of the national standards in Jan 2020, making the SWG officially the world’s most cost-efficient sanitation system –refer to our official Safe Water Garden website for more info.

Our aim is bold: a safe sanitation system for every Asian village home by 2025.

LooLa’s guests helped us to get this far, and it is fantastic to see how many of you –schools, companies, families, individuals– are continuing to show that together, we can make our dream come true!

Special thanks to SJII, who has supported this project right from the start, and who produced the magnificent video posted here.

More details for eco buffs

Safety

As a member of the global sustainable business community, LooLa believes that high standards for quality and safety are in the best interest of all stakeholders. As such, we are proud to be a part of an expert community-driven initiative to build and maintain such standards with an open-source principle.

The standards at hand were initiated by a dozen of Singapore’s leading practitioners from both the public and private sector, whose pooled experiences span well over a century of senior man-years. These experts articulated a set of high standards that reflect the best of their joint wisdom in order to serve all stakeholders, with safety and quality being paramount.

But good standards are not static: they must constantly evolve to reflect the latest wisdom, and this is best done by engaging the community: Everyone with a stake and an interest in maintaining high quality and safe overseas trip experiences should be able to contribute.

LooLa endeavors to be part of this ongoing effort, by striving to adhere to the standards, as well as to maintain and further develop them.

As such, we hereby pledge, publicly:

1. To do our best to adhere to the community expert-driven Overseas Travel Guidelines published here (refer to the latest open-source version)
2. To help to maintain and further develop the Overseas Travel Guidelines by contributing new insights and areas for improvement at any given opportunity

Our Story

Marc van Loo (the “Loo” in LooLa) grew up and studied in the Netherlands.
After finishing my studies, I travelled in Indonesia for a year in 1989, and spent most of my time in West Sumatra, fascinated by its local culture & hospitality – the photo shows why!
I decided to come back to Asia in 1991, do a PhD in Einstein’s relativity theory (cosmology) in Singapore, and to travel frequently to Bintan to keep connections with Indonesia.

In 1992, I met my wife, Isabelle Lacoste, originally from France (the “La” in LooLa 😉 ) who had travelled to Singapore with her dogs to teach at the Alliance Francaise.

Upon finishing my PhD in 1994, I discovered that there was no future for cosmologists in Singapore, so I became a teacher here, and Isabelle and I invested the money we had made as teachers to build an eco resort in Bintan – LooLa Adventure Resort!

We finished building the resort in the year 2000 (same year our oldest son, Igor, was born), and our Indonesian staff coined the name LooLa because it combined our names, and it is also the name of a beautiful local sea shell.

All staff were –and mostly still are – local people, from the nearby kampung (village).

Our objective was to show that …
1. It is possible to build a successful international resort that leverages on the natural hospitality of local Indonesian people, and
2. There is a good business case for an eco-resort focusing on educating & entertaining its guests.

We are very happy to say we succeeded:
Our fully local staff managed to become Bintan #1 Tripadvisor hotel, LooLa was crowned World #1 Responsible Tourism Operator in London (2015), and Singapore’s best sustainable SME (2017) (click the button below for more details).

After we won the 2012 award “Asia’s most inspiring responsible tourism operator”, however, we took the judges’ feedback to heart, and started working on ecological wastewater solutions – and this project became even more personal after the daughter of our cook died on account of insufficient sanitary conditions at home.

More in general, we have found that pursuing the United Nation Sustainable Development goals is a deeply fulfilling journey that unites people from all ages and backgrounds.

LooLa aims to be a test-bed for practical eco-solutions –stuff that works for everyone– and we continue to work with our guests to develop and highlight our best solutions, while leaving some legacy projects that didn’t work –as a good laugh, and to remind ourselves that no fun journey is ever straight! 🙂

More details for eco buffs

Our staff

Many of our staff have been with us since the year 2000 (when LooLa opened), and as our reviews show, our wonderful staff really are our greatest asset: every glowing review singles them out!

We are incredibly proud that a team of local people (many of whom did not have the chance to go to school), have shown what all friends of Indonesia know: Indonesian people are the world’s greatest optimists, and there is nothing they can’t do if they set their mind to it 🙂

Many guests want to mention our staff by name in their reviews.
We hope that the staff pictures here will help you to do so.
Please know that it means a lot to our staff if you mention them by name in your reviews, so thank you for doing this!

For eco buffs: click here for all eco details!
LooLa Eco Adventure