ECO speaks exclusively with Geraldine Dreiser, Vice-President of Marketing at YTL Hotels, about responsible tourism, their efforts to protect the marine environment and winning the prestigious International SeaKeepers Society Asia Achievement Award 2018.
YTL Hotels owns and manages a prestigious collection of award-winning resorts, hotels, boutique experiences and Spa Villages with a hospitality footprint across Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan, Australia, France and the United Kingdom. This includes Pangkor Laut Resort, voted the world’s best resort in 2003 by Condé Nast Traveller UK. The group also co-owns the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train. With each new experience that it presents, the company strives to embrace and highlight the natural essence of culture, character and tradition of its surroundings.
In April, the International SeaKeepers Society’s Asia chapter - a not-for-profit organization focusing on the health of the world’s oceans and climate - hosted the Asia Achievement Award Dinner 2018, recognizing organizations that demonstrates a responsibility towards the health of Asia’s marine environment. The YTL Hotel Group won the awards for SeaKeeper of Singapore and The International SeaKeepers Society Asia Achievement Award 2018.
By Scott Mayback, Marine Biologist, YTL Hotels
1. How has YTL Hotels integrated marine environment concerns into your core business?
We are committed to integrating responsible environmental decisions and related sustainability strategies into our core business decisions that protect and improve the natural environment for future generations.
We also pride ourselves as leading the community in marine conservation. For instance, the Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre advocates three conservation pillars – Turtle Rescue, Coral Reef Restoration and Conservation through Education.
An example of how we do this is our exclusive partnership with Lang Tengah Turtle Watch, a new conservation unit and turtle hatchery 'Lang Tengah Turtle Watch at Tanjong Jara Resort', which was unveiled in July in 2016 with the launch marked by the release of turtle hatchlings at the main beach of the resort. Following the construction of a third hatchery last August, the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch at Tanjong Jara Resort continues its expansion, with works currently underway for a fourth hatchery.
Scheduled for completion in June, this latest hatchery will be used as a research center and will enable egg development as well as nest and hatchling fitness assessments to be carried out. The turtle hatchery, located on the beach fronting Tanjong Jara Resort, offers guests the opportunity to discover more about these magnificent creatures, learn about the dangers they face, and the conservation efforts made to protect their hatchlings from poachers, and return them to their natural habitat in the sea. A nest adoption program is also available, where guests’ pledges will save a nest from poachers preventing them from being sold as food at the marketplace.
2. How is YTL Hotels actively working to reduce impacts on the environment?
Under several luxury resorts – Gaya Island Resort, Pangkor Laut Resort and Tanjong Jara Resort – as these resorts operate in the proximity of protected areas or primary forests and some of the resorts’ attractions also rely on the ecosystem services provided, extra care has been taken to assess and monitor the habitat changes and trends.
For example, we are committed to ecologically-sustainable practices to minimize its carbon footprint within the environment and have made Gaya Island Resort a fully walking resort with minimal motorized vehicles used only for operational purposes. Under YTL Hotels, The Surin Phuket also completed LED lighting replacement in all of their guest rooms this year as part of an energy saving program to replace high energy consumption lighting.
By Scott Mayback, Marine Biologist, YTL Hotels
3. Can you tell us more about the various biodiversity, turtle and coral projects your hotels were supporting in 2017?
Pangkor Laut Resort
Nature is respected here, almost revered and it rewards visitors in ways that simply need to be experienced. Renowned for being a habitat to the Oriental Pied Hornbill and the Great Hornbill, Pangkor Laut Resort invested in preserving their existence and facilitating the increase of their numbers. Realizing a noticeable level of competition for naturally suited habitats (tree trunks with suitably-sized holes), the Pangkor Laut Resort Naturalist Department started the Hornbill Nesting Box Project by installing wooden nesting boxes made of recycled materials at different areas around the resort in the hope of giving the hornbills more alternatives for breeding.
Pangkor Laut Resort is also where the reef rehabilitation and concrete reef block project first started in 2007/2008 with 20 blocks sunk with Reef Check Malaysia. Then we took that further and added another 40 blocks in 2016. It is also where our collaboration with Reef Check Malaysia started on reef surveys at Pangkor and also at Pulau Sembilan. We have also been advocating for Pulau Sembilan to be gazetted as a marine park with the assistance of Marine Parks and Fisheries. We also established a Safe Snorkeling Zone on Pulau Mentagor where the first reef blocks were sunk. We carried out education program for snorkeling guides and local schoolchildren.
Tanjong Jara Resort
As mentioned before, we have an exclusive partnership with Lang Tengah Turtle Watch, a new conservation unit and turtle hatchery 'Lang Tengah Turtle Watch at Tanjong Jara Resort' was unveiled in July in 2016 with the launch marked by the release of turtle hatchlings at the main beach of the resort. The turtle hatchery, located on the beach fronting Tanjong Jara Resort, offers guests the opportunity to discover more about these magnificent creatures, learn about the dangers they face, and the conservation efforts made to protect their hatchlings from poachers, and return them to their natural habitat in the sea. A nest adoption program is also available, where guests’ pledges will save a nest from poachers preventing them from being sold as food at the marketplace. Jennifer Tan, local artist and regular guest of Tanjong Jara Resort, has partially funded the research hatchery, which more than doubles current incubation capacity levels, increasing the total to 240 nests per season across all the hatcheries.
The Lang Tengah Turtle Watch at Tanjong Jara Resort has works underway for a fourth hatchery. Scheduled for completion in June, this latest hatchery will be used as a research center and will enable egg development as well as nest and hatchling fitness assessments to be carried out.
Gaya Island Resort
Gaya Island Resort launched the Gaya Island Resort Wildlife Centre on 26 October 2016. Led by Justin Juhun - Senior Resident Naturalist, the team at Gaya Island Resort is committed to long-term conservation, raising awareness for sustainable seafood choices, crafting experiences and educational program to protect and improve the natural environment for resort guests and future generations to come with the unwavering support of Sabah Parks and local governing bodies.
The Gaya Island Resort Wildlife Center is the realization of three intents that were conceptualized – the preservation of the endangered proboscis monkeys who have made Gaya Island their home is the key program, alongside nature and wildlife conservation, and educational jungle trails. Through the new wildlife center, the team of naturalists will also share environmental enrichment initiatives, the diverse wildlife species and habitat found on Gaya Island, conservation activities within the resort and in partnership with Sabah Parks and/or Sabah Wildlife Department. The protection of mangroves that surrounds Gaya Island is also a key focus that resulted in a mangrove reforestation project that was initiated by the naturalist team in September 2014 to further enrich the local habitat.
In addition to the Wildlife Center, the Gaya Island Resort Marine Center, which was set up in 2013, has rescued, treated and cared for multiple endangered green sea turtles and one critically endangered Hawksbill. To date, the center has released four turtles - Bobby, Ninja, Carmen and Nick Jr. all of which have undergone rehabilitation and research.
The marine center is also home to four coral reef display tanks for educational purposes as well as producing coral fragments that will be returned to the sea. Outside the turtle rescue center is a 14,000-litre recovery tank, which provides a safe and stable environment for sick or injured sea turtles to have the best chance for survival. This recovery tank also houses a coral nursery that establishes an artificial environment to aquaculture coral fragments that will be returned to the sea to help rejuvenate and enhance the natural reefs.
The ongoing efforts at the Center advocates three conservation pillars – Turtle Rescue, Coral Reef Restoration and Conservation through Education.v
This program sees to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sea turtles that the resort receives from the Sabah Wildlife Department and other conservation agencies. Operating a Turtle Hotline at +60 13 899 9509, the marine center, run by our Resident Marine Biologist Scott Mayback, is notified whenever there are injured or sick sea turtles in need and provide them with a safe environment in which to recover and be treated with the assistance of Dr. Nicholas Pilcher, Founder and Executive Director of the Marine Research Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Kota Kinabalu.
Coral Reef Restoration
The marine center’s coral nursery provides an on-land opportunity for guests to become engaged with coral reef conservation. It also provides a controlled environment for freshly planted corals to recover. This initiative is carried out in collaboration with Reef Check Malaysia, a non-profit organization. Activities include the collection of broken or non-viable coral fragments, their attachment to coral blocks or artificial reef structures, placement in the nursery for observation and their return to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park to rehabilitate damaged areas. Gaya Island Resort also has a mangrove seedling and planting project which is also considered part of the marine programs.
Conservation through Education
This program aims to lead by example; by not selling endangered species like sharks and humphead wrasse, but by choosing products that have minimal impact on the environment, and by providing engaging education opportunities for guests and staff to further their appreciation of conservation.
The resort has weekly conservation talks, a Marine Biologist for a Day Program and it encourages guests to become involved in future external outreach programs as volunteers or sponsors. The marine center also provides outreach to the local fishing communities by training the fishermen in using less harmful fishing practices, educating on the benefits of conservation and implementing a recycling program to reduce floating debris.
4. What are the benefits for hotels to be involved in conservation projects and environmentally friendly practices?
Conservation projects and environmentally friendly practices help build or strengthen ties with numerous stakeholders such as customers, staff, local communities, NGOs, municipal and other authorities. For example, YTL Hotels’ Pangkor Laut Resort conducted their usual periodic beach cleanup with around 40 employees, whilst Tanjong Jara Resort worked with Lang Tengah Turtle Watch (LTTW) for a joint beach cleanup on the East Coast.
They specifically attract new staff, help retain existing staff and attract customers who are looking to stay with responsible partners and create loyalty and repeat visits.
Most importantly, they reinforce the Group’s overall commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals such as responsible consumption and production. For example, YTL Hotels actively encourages guests to reuse towels and bed linen which has successfully reduced water and detergent use, and most of the YTL Hotels use the same sources of water for gardening and watering purposes.
5. Sustainable tourism is a rising trend across the world. Do you feel this is a trend that will continue to grow into the future?
Absolutely. Travelers are more discerning about the sustainability commitments of where they stay, as it also translates into their personal carbon footprint. It is no longer enough to take a vacation – travelers are concerned about where their dollars are going and make their travel decisions with the impact that it has on local communities in mind. As climate change continues to loom over us, there is a huge potential for tourism to positively our impact our world.
6. What is your key message to other hotels who are yet to incorporate sustainable practices, and what will be the biggest challenges for them to follow your lead in operating sustainably?
Sustainability sits at the heart of everything we do, and operating sustainably is an integral and vital component of our business strategy. It makes business sense to provide our customers with world class products and services that meet their expectations whilst minimizing the harmful impact on the environment and local communities around us. It is also a reminder that the journey towards a truly sustainable future continues for us and our stakeholders.
In terms of challenges, responsible design and construction and mitigating negative impacts on marine eco-systems from earth works, construction materials and waste management. Resources and capabilities may be a concern for other developments as well. Inspired by our strong focus on conservation, we have in place a dedicated, highly skilled and experienced in-house team comprising marine biologists and naturalists, to handle and oversee our marine and wildlife conservation work.
7. How does it feel to receive this award from SeaKeepers?
We are truly honored to receive this award for a cause this close to our hearts. Embedding sustainability into YTL Hotels has always been of great importance, and we have been embracing a culture of socially responsible and sustainable business since we opened Pangkor Laut Resort in 1985.
It is a continuous process of value creation across our stakeholders, business operations, and society at large, that will carry us through the coming decades and beyond.