Red Centre’s Green Hotel

Uluru, (Ayers Rock), the world's largest monolith, sits in the desert outback in the geographical heart of Australia. Helena Faith Miel, Environmental Consultant comments

It attracts visitors from all over the world wishing to experience the stark beauty of the desert and the 20,000-year old Aboriginal culture. Tourist accommodation for the area is provided by Ayers Rock Resort, which comprises of hotels, apartments, a lodge, camping grounds, a shopping centre and conference facilities.

Managed by Voyages Hotels and Resorts, Ayers Rock Resort was purpose-built in 1984 to blend in with the desert environment and to protect the area's fragile eco-system.

The company signed on to the Australia Greenhouse Challenge programme and agreed to reduce its energy consumption, even though the resort has been expanding. In 2001, CO2, emissions were reduced by 13.2% through improved energy efficiency and conservation practices.

Speaking about the company's commitment to the environment, Voyages CEO, Grant Hunt said: "We've actually moved the environment above financial as our number one priority. We feel that if we do that, the financial results will only get better."

Solar panels on the rooftops provide some of the resort's hot water as well as insulation from the desert sun. Recyclable materials such as glass, aluminium, paper, cardboard, waste cooking oil and toner cartridges are collected, compacted (where appropriate) and loaded onto empty supply trucks returning to Adelaide. Suppliers are asked to use recyclable materials (such as cargo net rather than shrink-wrap) for deliveries of fruit and vegetables. This minimises waste, makes for better produce and saves the supplier money. Guest rooms are equipped with low-flow shower heads, compact fluorescent light bulbs, biodegradable amenities, in-room recycling bins and an energy-saving key tag switch system which turns off all electricity when the room is unoccupied.

Together with Parks Australia, Voyages Hotels and Resorts have drawn up a plan for a comprehensive study of the underground aquifer system that supplies water to the entire area. Because water conservation is so important in the desert the laundry facilities, which launder over 10,000 items each day and are responsible for 20% of the resort's water consumption, are being upgraded with new and more efficient equipment.

Demand in the laundry is also reduced through a towel reuse programme where guests are invited to reuse towels instead of receiving fresh ones each day. Wastewater is used for irrigating the grounds and gardens, which consist predominantly of native flora species more suited to Central Australia's climate.

The company considers environmental stewardship to include community and culture as well as the land. To this end, Voyages is establishing a foundation, the Mutijulu Foundation, which benefits the local Aborigine community.

Hotel guests are invited to add a dollar or two to their bill and Voyages matches the donations, dollar for dollar.

To further the local environmental and cultural experience, Voyages launched a tour company in September providing small groups with the opportunity to find out more about the land and the Aboriginal culture.

The 2001 Northern Territory Tourism Awards gave top honours to Voyages Hotels in six areas including Environmental Tourism. The resort has also been nominated by the Greenhouse Challenge Office for the Best Environmental Initiative award from the Australian Hotels Association.

Voyages Hotels and Resorts has implemented a major programme for developing a sustainable policy and work practices for resort operations. The internationally-renowned The Natural Step programme has been introduced with ongoing staff training in sustainability tools and models, and the introduction of three working groups to develop initiatives to improve sustainability in energy, water, waste, purchasing, communication and cultural issues.

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