Everything Is Connected: Inspiration for Pursuing Sustainable Hotel Practices
Few hotel companies have gone as far as Ekosistem Hotels & Villas in Bali in its commitment to lowering its environmental impact.
Here, the company’s founder shares his story and provides recommendations for other hoteliers who wish to follow a similar path.
How sustainable is your hotel? It’s a question more travellers are asking as they decide where to go and where to stay in 2023.
According to Expedia’s Traveler Value Index 2023, 90 per cent of consumers now look for sustainable options when travelling—and half are willing to pay more for sustainable lodging. Meanwhile, Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report 2022 found that 78 per cent of global travellers intend to stay in a sustainable property at least once in the coming year.
For hotels, sustainable practices have become less of a “nice to have” than a growing necessity. This means going beyond linen reuse programs to implementing tangible, meaningful initiatives that help guests reduce their environmental impact and add value to the communities they visit.
But that can be easier said than done. Just ask Ekosistem Hotels & Villas, which has dedicated its team to following the philosophy and practices of sustainable tourism.
A climate emergency
Ekosistem Hotels & Villas operates a small collection of boutique hotels, luxury villas and eco-retreats in one of the most beautiful—and vulnerable—regions in the world, Bali, Indonesia.
“Tourism is responsible for eight per cent of the world’s carbon emissions,” the company’s founder and chairman, Wayan Winawan, told D-EDGE Hospitality Solutions in a recent interview. “And emissions are expected to grow by 26 per cent by 2030 relative to 2016. It’s a climate emergency.”
In Bali, tourism is one of the most important business sectors. The island is home to over 5,000 hotels and 110,000 hotel rooms, with an average of eight hotels per village. Like other destinations around the world, local businesses depend on tourism to survive, but that takes a toll on the environment.
Five pillars of sustainability
The vision of Ekosistem Hotels & Villas is to respect and promote local cultural heritage, increase positive impacts on the environment and improve the prosperity of the local community, while at the same time helping visitors explore the beauty of Bali responsibly. The approach centres around five pillars: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.
Founder Winawan, who also goes by the name Pak Win, is a firm believer that “everything is connected.” The philosophy was popularised by Tom Chi, a cofounder of Google X, who argues that humankind is connected to the universe through our hearts, breath and minds. (See his viral TEDx video.)
A Bali native who began his career in hospitality 25 years ago working in the housekeeping department, Winawan has worked for a variety of award-winning resorts in the region, including Ritz Carlton, Le Meridien, Karma Resorts and The Ulin Villas.
A devoted meditation practitioner and instructor, Winawan believes that the philosophy of “loving-kindness” is the most affirmative energy in hospitality and that people are most happy when others are happy. He is also a certified member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism practices around the world.
Sustainability programs at Ekosistem Hotels & Villas
In addition to providing guests with plant-based products for bath amenities, bamboo for tissues and a #refillmybottle program to discourage single-use plastics, the company has undertaken numerous larger initiatives, including:
- Sustainability Planning. The company collaborates with sustainability experts to plan daily eco-friendly operations, activities and future projects like the programs listed below.
- “One Booking, One Tree” program. For every new reservation, the company plants a mangrove tree in Bali. Guests can track their tree’s growth on a mobile app. To date, over 4,000 trees have been planted.
- Composting & recycling. The company recycles non-organic waste and composts organic waste, giving it to organic farmers as fertiliser. Today, less than 40 per cent of the properties’ waste goes to landfills.
- “Zero Hunger” program. Money from recycling is used to support underprivileged families with donations of food and by assisting with basic needs, benefiting over 80 local families.
- Greywater treatment. The company has installed technology to allow shower and tap water to be recycled back into its gardens. To date, 1.6 million litres of water have been saved through the program.
- Solar panels. The company has installed 110 solar panels at its Blossom Eco Luxe Villas property, supplying up to 60 per cent of its electricity consumption.
Benefits of hotel sustainability to brand awareness & bookings
While the company’s programs were developed out of genuine care for the environment and love of hospitality and the island of Bali, they also heighten awareness of the company and attract visitors to its properties.
“Many travellers choose to stay with us due to our environmental initiatives,” Winawan said. While he says it’s hard to quantify the marketing impact, Ekosistem’s properties enjoy a higher occupancy rate and average rate than their competitors.
To ensure a seamless booking process, the company has partnered with D-EDGE Hospitality Solutions, which provides a Central Reservation System (CRS) comprising a website booking engine, channel manager and GDS connectivity, in addition to search engine marketing and metasearch services.
“Integrating D-EDGE’s central reservation system was one of the best decisions I made last year,” Winawan said. Direct bookings have increased by 300 per cent over last year and now represent about 35 per cent of rooms business, he said.
Inspiring hoteliers to champion eco-friendly practices
One of Ekosistem Hotels & Villas’ core values is to inspire others in the hospitality industry to move toward a sustainable future together.
“I understand that not all hoteliers are as lucky as me,” said Winawan. “I own my company, and I can start initiatives and inspire my team to continue with them. Even then, it’s not easy. I know it can be challenging for hotel operators to get approval for such initiatives from owners.”
Nevertheless, he believes that with the right approach any property can make meaningful changes. Here are some of his recommendations.
- Start small. Rather than try to do too much too quickly, take small steps. “Don’t try to do rocket science,” Winawan said. “Start with one initiative and then add more over time as you experience success. We started with one program. Now we have eight.”
- Make it a team effort. “Get your team excited about your objectives and programs,” he said. Recognising that its team members are its heart and soul, Ekosistem focuses on their well-being by nurturing their talent, providing education and training, and creating a positive working ecosystem and a balanced way of life.
- Involve your guests. Ekosistem educates its guests about the local culture and environment, providing a list of “do’s and don’ts” such as wearing a sarong and sash at ceremonies and temples and avoiding stepping on Balinese offerings found on the streets. “Our guests love our programs,” said Winawan. “Many of them share their tree certificate on social media. Others sponsor extra trees. It makes them feel good and more connected to the island.”
- Measure social return on investment (SROI). SROI quantifies the social, environmental and economic value of sustainability programs. “Create value with values,” said Winawan. “Present ideas to owners in the most common language in the world: money. Explain why they’re important, the impact on the company and community, and the money they can save. For example, our solar panels save 50 percent of our electricity bill, freeing up money to invest in other initiatives.”
- Track and share results. “Data is beautiful,” Winawan said. “All our progress is tracked—trees, composting, families, etc. We share our progress monthly with our team to keep them updated. That way they know they’re doing good things.”
- Support local culture and communities. Ekosistem supports local products, partners and suppliers to help continually improve the prosperity of the local community. When designing travel experiences, the company consults with the local community and always respects indigenous culture and traditions.
I understand that not all hoteliers are as lucky as me, I own my company, and I can start initiatives and inspire my team to continue with them. Even then, it’s not easy. I know it can be challenging for hotel operators to get approval for such initiatives from owners.
4 guidelines for effective “Green Marketing” for hotels
In addition to implementing sustainability programs, hotels should ensure guests know about the programs and how they can help. According to Booking.com, 38 percent of travellers actively look for information about the sustainability efforts of a property before they book.
Here are a few suggestions from the marketing experts at D-EDGE:
- Update your website with relevant information about eco-friendly initiatives, along with profiles on OTAs and third-party listings. For example, check out Ekosistem’s Positive Impact page.
- Share details via signage and educational materials on the property, in guestrooms, on your mobile app and in your digital directory.
- Sign up for programs like Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable badge and Tripadvisor’s GreenLeaders badge.
- Don’t “greenwash” travellers with misleading information or by exaggerating sustainability initiatives or results. Build trust by being honest and transparent.
If you love it, you will do it
This June, Ekosistem Hotels & Villas will face an important milestone on its path to sustainability. As a signatory of the Glasgow Declaration, the company has committed to cutting its emissions in half by 2030 and to reaching Net Zero emissions by 2050. In June, the company’s progress will be assessed by the organisation.
Is the company on track to reach its goals? “Yes, we are,” Winawan said proudly, adding with a smile, “If you love it, you will do it.”
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