This is an original article in collaboration with Banyan Tree Group.
The world is teeming with life. The interconnected global network of diverse ecosystems and the biodiversity that enriches them support the lives and livelihoods of billions worldwide. However, we are currently losing biodiversity at up to 1,000 times the natural rate in what is referred to as the ‘Earth’s sixth mass extinction’ due to human actions.
The most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth are as delicate as they are breathtaking. Indeed, the very beauty that attracts visitors to these sites can also introduce potential imbalances into their equilibrium if not managed carefully. Areas of high biodiversity often provide a foundation for tourism and can put an enormous strain (e.g. land degradation, increased pollution, heightened pressure on local and endangered species etch.) on the area. Consequently, industry players must act as stewards to safeguard and promote a healthy, resilient and sustainable environment. If we want to preserve our earth for the current and future generations, we must start now.
Build for Good
Firstly, a sustainable environment requires sustainable design. This means to minimize disturbance and maximize the value of nature in the development, architecture, and design.
For Banyan Tree Group, environmental responsibility is a major driving consideration in its design process, which prioritizes the protection of landscapes. Over 20 of its hotels and resorts in 10 countries are located near areas of protected status or high biodiversity to assist in its conservation. These include the vibrant coral reefs that fringe its properties in the Maldives, Indonesia, and Thailand, distinct ecosystems in Southeast Asian rainforests, as well as the UNESCO Buenavista Biosphere Reserve located near its resorts in Cayo Santa Maria. Hence, in order to conserve and protect the biodiversity at these locations, protection and management of these essential habitats are of paramount importance for the future of both mankind and other organisms.
The villas of Banyan Tree Bintan, for example, were raised with stilts and set on hillsides to minimize the impact on the site’s verdant rainforest. The property’s spa even features a century-old tree right in the middle of its premises.
Source: Banyan Tree Group
In the Maldives, the Group’s design decisions are centered on the goal of minimizing harm to the coral reef, which meant choosing not to build villas over the water and instead of using ‘prefabricated’ villas brought in on light boats.
Another key part of safeguarding biodiversity lies in the responsible use of land. Compliance with industry strategies and local regulations on land use and building design can help to promote desirable social and environmental outcomes as well as more efficient use of land and resources. In the context of the tourism industry, for example, requiring hotel owners to obtain a green certification for each project from either Leadership in Energy & Environment Design (LEED), EarthCheck, or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) promotes adherence to local guidelines for site coverage, building height, and gross floor areas.
Monitoring of key habitats
Businesses should also monitor what they manage, which applies not just to financial capital but natural capital as well. Monitoring changes to landscapes and habitats where businesses operate will help them to understand and identify areas where they can make a positive impact.
In 2004, Banyan Tree Group launched its first resort-based research facility in the Maldives to drive research, conservation, and restoration efforts that address both habitats and species. A marine lab at Angsana Velavaru and a Banyan Tree Bintan Conservation Lab in Indonesia followed in 2007. These labs exemplify the Group’s strategic science-based approach to environmental sustainability and marked yet another innovation that would spur many resorts to employ marine biologists in the years to come. In fact, the Maldivian government now requires all resorts to hire in-house marine biologists!
With its team of trained experts, the Group began annual monitoring of sensitive ecosystems. By monitoring the environment in a systematic way, the Group has been able to help detect the change and identify opportunities to make a positive impact. For instance, it’s annual monitoring of 18 coral reef sites in the Maldives and three reef sites in Bintan have now entered their sixth year.
Banyan Tree Group conducts annual monitoring of coral reef sites in the Maldives and Indonesia. Source: Banyan Tree Group
Monitoring efforts during the 2016 global coral bleaching event allowed the Group to identify target areas where they can focus restoration efforts. To assist in natural reef recovery, Banyan Tree Group’s sustainability team transplant almost 5,000 corals sourced from nurseries, and controlled outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish to protect coral reef ecosystems.
This is all detailed in Chapter 3 of the Group’s 25th anniversary commemorative book, Rooted in Sustainability, which highlights its numerous conservation programmes, and the humble faces who contributed to change for the greater good.
Partnerships as a cornerstone for conservation
For businesses that do not yet have the capacity to carry out sustainability efforts, partnerships are a powerful tool to support these initiatives. Indeed, no one organization alone can effectively address the immense challenges facing the environment and, in the race to preserve our earth and its resources, a collective effort is required to make real progress.
For example, Banyan Tree Group curates relationships with universities academics and their students and facilitates access to sensitive areas near its properties to conduct research. Data generated from such collaborations is then reported to stakeholders to support local or regional management, and peer-reviewed to improve global understanding of key habitats and conservation issues.
Inspiring stewardship through education
Finally, consumers can play a key role in conservation efforts. For the tourism industry, beyond giving guests a chance to immerse themselves in beautiful landscapes, industry players should also inspire a sense of stewardship for these precious ecosystems and the life they help to sustain.
Banyan Tree Group invites guests to connect and engage with localized themes through its “Stay for Good” programs. This enriches not only their aesthetic experience of a destination, but also provides a deeper understanding of such experiences where people can engage with culture, communities, or environment through passive learning or active participation. Some of these experiences include snorkeling with a marine biologist in the vibrant coral reefs of Thailand, Mexico, or the Maldives, planting trees amidst the mangroves and rich wetlands of Mauritius, and appreciating the rich artistic influences of the many Chinese dynasties that shaped Xi’an Lintong in Northwest China.
Guests and volunteers are invited to assist the Group in tree planting efforts. Source: Banyan Tree Group
More specifically, one example of the Banyan Tree Group’s success in inspiring stewardship through education would be through environmental presentations and guided snorkels to increase awareness of the threats and impacts to coral reefs at the Maldives properties. Following this exposure, many guests then participated in conservation activities, such as planting corals to help restore reefs or create their own patch reef. They then follow these efforts through social media and often return year-on-year to tend to their corals and assist in other environmental or social efforts, starting a ripple effect.
Educating guests through talks such as this helps them to better understand the environment. Source: Banyan Tree Group
As these educational experiences are growing in popularity among the tourism industry, travelers today are also growing in the desire to engage, learn and interact with a travel destination. Often, the outcome produces a foundation of knowledge and appreciation for our biodiversity and wildlife and should be a key component of guest experiences.
No single model of success
There is much business can do to help conserve biodiversity, and we must understand that there is no single model of success.
Knowing the impact of your business and supply chain, monitoring what you manage, and expanding your company’s efforts through partnerships and engagement with consumers are just some of the ways your business can ensure we pass these historical and natural treasures onto future generations. The bottom line is that action is critical: a sustainable future must start now, and it takes an entire community of businesses, scientists, citizens, and many more to achieve it.
See the infographic below to learn more about how the Banyan Tree Group engages the community through Citizen Science!