Can Tourism in Goa Go Green?
It’s October and yet another tourism season is upon us. The travel and tourism industry will obviously be in a frenzy, keeping its fingers crossed that the current global meltdown does not hit them too badly, and yet there are other issues plaguing the sector that need addressal. Prominent among them is that of the environment, this issue has been a flashpoint for many a years between them and the local community. Thus the crucial question, can the hotel industry in Goa really go ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’. This question needs to be answered keeping in mind the long term benefits, rather than one that will appease an increasingly conscientious clientele.
Tourism is one of the leading growth sectors of the global economy, bringing in billions of dollars annually to developing countries like India. Tourism accounted for $ 12 billion of foreign exchange for India in 2007 and a large amount of this was contributed to, by the tiny State of Goa. While the industry is poised to grow further, veterans finally acknowledge that its future is intricately linked to the environment. This is an interesting realization, which is perhaps new to the industry – as I’m not refereeing to the superficial changes that have been adopted by the sector thus far- and is very much linked to their future survival.
Tourism is linked to the environment first, in terms of promoting places of natural beauty and second, in providing resources for the functioning of the industry. Environmental resources for the industry are called for in three areas namely: transport, accommodation, and miscellaneous activities. Experts both within and outside the travel and tourism industry concur that in-puts for the sector put considerable stress on the environment and this is viewed as an areas with tremendous scope for change.
Today the pressure of the travel industry to go green is three pronged. Travel guides and brochures constantly urge travelers to patronize green hotels; as a result there is much environmental consciousness among them. Secondly, in the face of stiff competition using the ‘Eco-friendly’ label allows hotels to attract clients and build a loyal customer base and thirdly there is constant pressure to adopt sustainable ways that reduce the demand for scare resources like water and electricity and find safe ways of waste dispose.
Just so we have a common definition of the term “green”. It describes those hotels that attempt to be environmentally friendly through the efficient use of energy, water, paper, technology and other materials while providing quality services to their clients. Green hotels conserve and preserve water, energy and reduce solid waste.
Going green, the first tottering steps
With the cost of scare resources like water and energy spiraling and thus eating into tight profits, their ‘sustainable use’ has a two fold advantage; one to reduce input costs and the second to be largely self reliant. Interesting, hotels like Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels Corp and other have with a little effort introduced the greatest innovation in this area and turned the situation to their advantage.
In a place like Goa, tourist accommodations for one have large and expensive energy requirements, especially for cooling systems and lighting. Experts advise to do an energy audit and identify various areas that could do with energy efficiency, these areas could include the hotel lobby, guest rooms, meeting rooms, corridors and the kitchen and offices as well. After this the hotel could introduce energy conserving methods like ensuring good insulation to reduce the need for costly cooling and keep the thermostat settings at a minimum. For light, the hotel can adopt compact fluorescent light (CFL) instead of incandescent lights. According to the Alliance to Save Energy, CFL produce four times as much light per watt than incandescent lamps, and they can last eight to ten times longer.
Solar power is being increasingly recognized as a limitless natural resource with economic and environmental benefits. Today solar power is being harnessed in many ways to provide thermal and light power to hotels, additionally, in a State like Goa that has nearly 300 days of bright sunlight a year, it easily allows hotels to make the shift. Even thought the initial investment for things like the solar water heater may seem high, the Bank of Maharashtra gives soft loans at fairly low rates of interest and the entire unit is low maintenance for a minimum of 10 years, by which time it has long since paid for itself. These changes can make a huge difference to reduce the figures on your energy bills.
Those who have been able to address the energy and water issue, with the loads of options available, swear that they almost immediately experienced benefits such as reduced costs and liabilities, higher returns on their low-risk investments, increased profits, and a positive cash flow, so why should an international tourism destination like Goa be left behind.
Some ways to get cost efficient and environmentally friendly
· Conserve water by using low-flow showerheads and less water consuming flushes in toilets.
· Put a note in the toilet encouraging guests to use the flush sparingly.
· Offer a linen and towel reuse program on a two- to three-day cycle. This could save lots of water and detergent and research shows that 78% of guests participate when offered this program.
· Avoid pre-filling water glasses at the hotel’s restaurant and avoid using saucers. This again saves lots of water and detergent.
· For room service, serve water in bulk instead of in one time use bottles.
· Use china ware instead of disposable cups and plates, this prevents the use of hundreds of Kilos of plastic. If disposables are unavoidable, use bio-degradable products instead.
· Use refillable hair and skin-care dispensers.
· Have a recycle program and put recycling baskets in all the guest rooms.
· Compost your biodegradable waste.
· Use recycled paper and chlorine-free paper products.
· Keep a chemical-free area by using non-toxic cleaners, sanitizers, paints and pesticides throughout the hotel.
· Have solar water-heating system for pools and hot tubs. Solar lamps for the garden and as emergency lights. The kitchen can adopt solar cookers.
· Use cloth napkins instead of paper and coasters instead of cocktail napkins.
· Incorporate environmentally friendly carpeting, furniture, and finishes.
· Instruct housekeeping staff to shut blinds and shut off the air conditioning during the day in rooms where the attendees are away.
· Put timers for the lighting and ceiling fans in areas like the gym, swimming pool and lobby.
· Getting the cleaning staff to use natural light instead of switching on lights
· Donate leftover food to local charity organizations in the areas
How green is my hotel? Is a question more and more travelers are asking and it is the booking and buying habits of this growing number of people which should be influencing the tourism industry. Research in the UK by Travelodge found that almost 90 % of people, who responded to a survey of 2,000 customers, believe that hotels and tourism companies have a responsibility to be environmentally friendly. And in the face of growing competition it is this adoption of ‘sustainable’ methods that will give a hotel that much needed edge over its competitors.
This article appeared in the Herald, Goa on 24th October 2008