Green is in, and it’s here to stay. Seeing how eco-friendly and sustainable practices are becoming increasingly desirable in consumers’ eyes — especially in the tourism business — building your brand and reshaping your very business model around more environmentally conscious practices are indispensable.
There’s a growing list of sustainable tourism business ideas you can turn to for inspiration, and Alphaland’s Balesin Island Club sits in the top ranks. This luxurious island getaway off Polillo, Quezon is Instagram-able in and out, with a well-thought-out and sustainable ecosystem recognized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization for their innovative approach to sustainable tourism. So if you’re looking to steer your own tourism business in the Philippines towards a similar path, take these tried-and-tested green business tips into consideration:
Before making the switch, identify your main goals and the budget that follows. Balesin tourism, for example is driven by several goals that also served as their key success drivers: a brilliant masterplan that respects the environment, a unique concept, and the commitment to the green business practices it had set. In fact, the island’s infrastructure was designed specifically around the island’s natural state, not treating the environment as an afterthought or mere factor that had to be considered for compliance. To this day, only 8% of the island has been developed.
Giving your business a green makeover requires a concept that flows seamlessly with its natural highlights. When Alphaland’s Chairman Roberto Ongpin envisioned Balesin’s concept, he handpicked seven destinations from around that world that had one thing in common: the stunning natural landscape and seascapes they were set in. Today, Balesin’s authentic recreation of Mykonos, St. Tropez, Toscana, Costa del Sol, Bali, Phuket, and Balesin Villages showcase the island’s beauty through gorgeous spaces designed to do just that. Visitors will also notice that there are no cemented roads (to reduce heat-island effect), and where there are roads, the trees take priority as the paths are mapped out around them. Taking these things into consideration will not only increase your business’ visibility as a sustainable tourist hotspot, but it may also save you more money by playing up what your location already offers (rather than transforming it into something else entirely).
If there’s one thing not to be scrimped on, it’s green innovation. Technology complements nature beautifully when it’s geared towards self-sustainability. Having been a zero-waste destination since day one, Balesin has went well beyond waste segregation systems and put other sustainable systems in place.
First off, it uses the runway as rainwater catchment, collecting over 200 million liters per year into man-made lakes and solving the main challenge of water supply shortage even during the dry months.
Secondly, it has set up a potable water refilling station that makes use of glass bottles instead of plastic bottles (all of which undergo laboratory tests that follow the highest sanitation standards).
Next is a state-of-the-art central Sewage Treatment Plant that ensures that there is no water waste emitted to the island’s surrounding pristine waters; and last are aquaculture and cutting-edge, compact organic farms that are supported by vermiculture and compost systems, and the efficient water catchment systems put in place.
While some items like rice and meat have to be brought in from mainland, the island’s abundance of other food sources such as seafood, produce, and fruits (such as coconuts and bananas) are sourced from within and cultivated with the latest food systems to ensure their sustainability.
One of the sustainable tourism practices worth emulating in Balesin’s operations is the inclusivity it maintains. For example, the original fishing community that continues to live on the island are the ones who supply the fish served in the island’s restaurants, as well as staffing the aquaculture facilities. Balesin’s sea patrol has also been deputized by the government as “Bantay Dagat,” which grants them authority to protect up to 5km radius of Balesin’s marine environment and shores from harmful activities such as dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing.
Aside from providing substantial livelihood options for the local community, Balesin has a list of meaningful corporate social responsibility efforts, such as:
Opting to allocate a big chunk of the operations doesn’t only provide residents with livelihood; it also helps them thrive and opens doors for other opportunities that might not have been in the horizon previously.
When all your foundations have been put in place and all your green business ideas set in motion, the biggest sustainability challenge comes in: living according to the standards you’ve set. Changing your habits — whether it’s setting a daily “Earth Hour” or practicing proper waste segregation — has a positive ripple effect that your staff can pick up on and incorporate in their daily routines, too. Balesin, for example, actively advocates for the minimization of their ecological footprint as much as possible by using reusable materials, avoiding single-use plastic usage, and participating in the annual International Coastal Cleanup where their members, employees, and barangay residents participate in. Consider coming up with incentives and similar activities that empower your staff and your community to be ambassadors of your cause. With you and your team as primary examples of your sustainable business development plan, keeping your business green and thriving is more easily ensured.
What can entrepreneurs looking to venture in the sustainable tourism business learn from all this? In the words of Balesin Island Club CEO Mike Aspirin: “Dahan-dahan ‘yan, it will come in time. Hindi tayo puwedeng magmadali. You have to be very patient, and very wise in choosing your partners as well.”
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