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Laguna Lang Co is Banyan Tree’s first integrated resort in Central Vietnam, and with a range of carefully researched community and environment projects rolling out over the next few years, the company is working hard to support and celebrate the local culture.
From an organic farm to a restaurant training and mentorship programme to supporting a local chocolate entrepreneur and a fishing village, Laguna Lang Co is keen to create good relationships with local people, and Banyan Tree Group Director CSR Operations David Campion says implementing these community initiatives, “is really a no-brainer.”
Campion says, “We work to support our local community for several reasons. Firstly, this is where our associates come from and we seek to provide job benefit beyond the scope of the contract, so kids grow up with an awareness of our brand values – hopefully assisting in the development of the next generation of associates. Secondly, this is the destination our guests come to see, and working to improve that destination increases the strength of our product and therefore its competitive advantage. And finally it creates good relationships and a positive working attitude with all local stakeholders and it increases the quality of life for those around us. We are in a position to enact this.”
Campion cites the words of Chairman, KP Ho, spoken at the birth of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts in 1989, ‘Resorts in the Third World have both the potential to be agents of social and economic development in less developed areas, or as a source for friction and alienation within the local economy.’ Clearly a doctrine they continue to work by.
Campion says the initiatives were chosen because they tick multiple agendas. For instance, from January 2014 Laguna Lang Co is launching its own organic farm. Located near the resort golf course, the fully sustainable farm will focus on high yield crops like mushrooms, berries, herbs, salads and cocoa plants, expanding later to include wild pigs and bee hives to make honey.
Additionally, alongside it will sit horse stables and a worm farm which will convert hotel organic waste, horse manure and charcoal into fertilisers that in turn will develop crops. After the farm has been fully operational for a year, it will be used as a model for farming practices in the local communities.
Guests can enjoy special farm tours with explanations to show how the farm sustains its production, along with riding lessons. Campion says, “The organic farm will provide fruit and vegetables to the hotel kitchens, it will recycle our organic waste and reduce the overall waste output of the hotels, it aims to create a model that can be replicated by local communities so in the future we can increase the income level and economic diversity of local farmers and reduce the distance of produce supplied to the hotel. It will also reduce the amount of fertiliser, pesticide and fungicide going into the local environment.”
Supporting local fishermen
Laguna Lang Co is also working on its sustainability by supporting a small nearby fishing village called Loc Vinh where the fishermen lay nets from their round ‘thuyen thung’ boats. As well as buying fish for their restaurants, the resort organises village tours with lessons on the traditional fishing methods, ensuring meanwhile that the fishermen’s fish production and practices are both preserved and supported.
A key project is the Seedlings restaurant which opened in the UNESCO world heritage town of Hoi An. Seedlings is a company-wide mentorship programme for Banyan Tree helping under-privileged young people, and the restaurant is a first for the company. All staff members are from marginalised backgrounds and the training provided by the restaurant helps them build vocational skills for a successful career.
The restaurant is a joint collaboration with Hanoi charity the KOTO Foundation (Know One, Teach One) which provides under-privileged young people in Vietnam with catering skills. The restaurant supports the final six months of training on a two year course for twelve trainees.
Campion says, “KOTO is a Hanoi based NGO taking kids from difficult situations to being active members of the hospitality industry. We can provide industry training to support their work. The project was chosen because it links our core business and specialisation to support the efforts of local NGO’s.”
Other programmes include the Clean Water in Schools programme which supports a national strategy by the Vietnamese government, aiming to reduce sick days as well as saving costs for local families. The resort is also supporting terrapin conservation, and Pheva World – a small entrepreneurial chocolate business.
Cocoa plants are common in Vietnam but the potential of cocoa beans is not yet being fully exploited despite the high quality of the chocolate they produce. A recent report by www.trendwatching.com notes that developing countries increasingly appreciate the importance of celebrating their own culture and customs to capture the interest of international and domestic tourism. Chocolate production in Vietnam is one example of how this trend is manifesting itself.
Pheva World was set up by a young Vietnamese couple who gained chemistry degrees in Europe before returning to their local town of DaNang to open a chocolate company. The company’s mission is to produce a high quality handcrafted Vietnamese product - made by Vietnamese people - that sells to both the domestic and international market.
Laguna Lang Co’s organic farm will support Pheva World by testing the potential of cocoa plant growth in central Vietnam. When the cocoa plants prove to be viable, Laguna Lang Co will assist local farmers to develop production as an increased economic yield. The chocolate will also be offered as turn down gifts in the hotel and sold at the Seedlings restaurant.
Banyan Tree’s commitment to so many carefully considered programmes is impressive, and they have worked to ensure that resort staff are equally committed to the projects. Campion says, “Local staff make up the CSR team (except for myself). Additionally our associates - who all come from the local area - ran a community day, are involved across the board in hotel sustainable operations (EarthCheck), are involved in developing the onsite farm, provided all the data for the development of our staff ‘wellness’ programme and run hygiene training days in local communities.”
Clearly the resort and its staff has its work cut out, but they are always looking ahead. Campion concludes, “Right now, we’ve only been open for a few months, so we are still getting these programmes going. But during this period we are really increasing the depth and understanding of the location and the local community, so the next steps - and probably our 2014 agenda - will be created based upon what we learn in the next 6 months.”