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With all properties approved by EarthCheck standards and a carbon-neutral headquarters, Alila Hotels & Resorts have plenty to discuss when it comes to sustainable initiatives. Whilst there is still progress to be made when it comes to energy consumption one of the key successes of Alila Hotels has been embedding sustainable and responsible practices in an enriched guest experience.
Tell us a bit about the roots of Alila Hotels and your involvement in the company?
Alila Hotels & Resorts was founded just over ten years ago with our first hotel in Jakarta. Alila currently manages eight properties under the Alila Villas and Alila brands in Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia and Bangalore and Goa, India.
The concept of Alila grew out of the experience of mine, and my Indonesian partners, developing properties with Amanresorts and partnering with GHM for hotel management in Indonesia. Having worked with some of the most creative and innovative players in Asian hospitality we developed the core design and operating values of Alila with the intention of providing a more contemporary window on Asian culture and design.
Additionally, it has always been Alila’s long-held vision that commerce, conservation and community can and should be integrated; that our hotels and resorts would have a sense of place that provided opportunities for our guests to interact with the people, cultures and natural beauty of the destination and that we would be responsible members of our host communities.
When and why did sustainability first come on the agenda?
Sustainability has been on the agenda since day one. Most of our properties are resorts in locations of exceptional natural beauty or cultural interest. The preservation of these attributes, therefore, are the core of our business sustainability. It has long been my belief and Alila’s founding philosophy that to achieve long-term commercial success, hotel developments must put conservation and community at the forefront. Alila has a holistic vision to create a positive impact on the community in which we manage hotels – economically, socially and culturally and this includes employing local people, developing the local workforce through skills training, using local suppliers and educating our guests on local culture and traditions.
Major milestones have been the Alila Singapore head office becoming carbon neutral in 2008, a natural step in Alila’s longstanding commitment to minimise the environmental impact of our business and provide a sustainable business model, which could be applied to all our properties and strengthen our position as a leader in sustainable tourism.
In 2009, Alila Villas Uluwatu was completed on Bali as the first on the island to be built to strict EarthCheck standards following a dedicated environmental and social sustainability policy that cultivates eco-friendly concepts through environmentally sustainable design principles. Alila Villas Soori opened a year later adhering to the same strict design and operation principles and all of our hotels are now certified by EarthCheck.
Has there been one person or hotel that has encouraged the group to commit to sustainable practices?
From the outset, sustainability has been at the forefront of Alila’s philosophy. I have been the cheerleader behind the green initiatives and community involvement projects but it is deeply embedded in the Alila culture and championed by each and every member of the team from head office to resort management. The building of Alila Villas Uluwatu on Bali was a key milestone for us as a representation of combining sustainability in planning and construction and outstanding design.
What are some of the most exciting sustainable and community initiatives run by Alila Hotels at the moment?
All of our hotels run innovative community and sustainability initiatives spearheaded by the local teams. On Bali, Alila Villas Uluwatu is deeply committed to the Bali Life Foundation, an orphanage that provides housing, education and health care to children from the age of five to 15. As well as a food sponsorship programme, Alila Villas Uluwatu is helping to building a new house, which will accommodate up to 60 children, and has also set up a training programme to help the children make the transition from school to work and provide them with technical skills to help them find employment.
At Alila Manggis on the east coast of Bali the ‘Green Bank’ project is a hugely successful community recycling initiative designed to help instill a greener and more responsible outlook for the hotel and local village. The interactive project is helping residents to set up recycling schemes, learning playgrounds for local children, community allotments within the grounds of the hotel to grow fruit and vegetable for sale to the hotel and in the local village and home craft industries, developing important bonds between the hotel and local residents.
An exciting initiative across all our properties is the Gift to Share programme, a pledge to make donations to local causes with every booking. It’s a no obligation option to donate to local community endeavors, with Alila Diwa Goa, for example, donating a sum to the local school for every booking of its special opening packages.
How do you think these initiatives add to the guest experience?
Alila strives to offer memorable experiences and journeys for a total destination experience and our sustainable and community initiatives offer guests the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the local culture and achieve a sense of place.
For example, the ‘All About Rice’ journey at Alila Villas Soori set amidst the rice paddy fields on west coast Bali offers guests the chance to learn about the significance of rice to the culture and identity of the Balinese. I was personally involved in the lobbying for the area to receive UNESCO world heritage status, which was achieved this year and this interesting journey is a way to experience local community life – the picking, planting and spiritual significance of rice – whilst exploring the local area.
At Alila Villas Uluwatu, guests interested in the architecture can learn about the environmental design principles from the team, exploring the indigenous vegetation, environmental design principles, trying their hand at composting, taking part in the flora nursery programme and planting their own tree. The experience is combined with sunrise breakfasts or lunches in stunning natural settings to create a luxurious and insightful experience. Guests can also visit local community projects.
Alila Ubud is becoming renowned for its commitment to locally sourced organic produce which has provided a market outlet for farmers transitioning from chemical farming and animal husbandry methods to organic and ensuring an improvement in their well-being at the same time. In addition to enjoying fresh and sustainably grown local food the guests are able to visit some of the farms that the hotel is supporting.
Is sustainability an increasingly important criteria for luxury hotels? Why?
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental footprint. Travellers and luxury hotels have a responsibility to minimise their impact and respect and support the communities in which they reside. Commercially, conservation and community have to be at the forefront of future development for tourism to be sustainable and successful.
Whilst Alila Hotels & Resorts aren't committing to specific sustainability goals and targets, the group has an exciting development plan with up to 10 properties set to join the portfolio over the next two years. Mark states that sustainability will remain key to every forthcoming project and that they will only manage and develop hotels and resorts with partners that adhere to their strict environmental standards.
For more information on Alila Hotels & Resorts visit http://www.alilahotels.com