In an exclusive interview with Impact4All, Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks and Sumi Soorian, development director of the Phuket Hotels Association, offer a sneak preview of the upcoming regional Tourism Sustainability Summit PHIST (Phuket Hotels for Islands Sustaining Tourism).
Bill and Sumi, what can we expect from this year’s PHIST event?
The one-day event will be held at the JW Marriott Resort Phuket on 24 September and is set to host regional leaders in the travel sector, NGOs and government officials alongside private enterprises aiming to provide solutions for sustainability challenges.
We’re hoping to motivate industry speakers as they get together on a regional level and discuss issues and topics that are important to us all. We’re aiming for a significant amount of ideas that will result in the activation and adoption of more of our proposals moving forward.
The event also provides networking opportunities giving us a platform to work with some of the best sustainable organisations and stakeholders to make this change happen rapidly in Phuket, then we hope to see them take these initiatives to a regional level as we push forward.
Phuket is not alone in this cause and other islands are joining us. It’s an exciting time for us for all the community and business leaders. We believe we have a real opportunity to push for sustainable practices to be adopted quickly that will benefit us all.
What do you see as the greatest environmental challenge facing a resort island such as Phuket in the short and longer term?
Reducing and ultimately eliminating single use plastics. The reality is that plastic is used everywhere, and it’s almost impossible to go 100% plastic free.
The challenge is to continually source alternative sustainable, greener products alongside phasing out single use plastics as soon as possible. In the long term we hope to find a solution for the hotel and tourism industry that is also applicable and adaptable for the local community as well.
Who was behind the idea for PHIST and how did the initiative start?
PHIST started with an idea from the Phuket Hotels Association Environment Working Group, to showcase the overwhelming supply of sustainable solutions now available from private enterprises.
Each of these businesses wants the attention of our 65 hotel general managers. We thought the trade show would allow them to showcase their products without having their turn to present at a more formal series of meetings.
Which hotel groups do you have participating and what percentage of the islands tourist resorts does this represent?
All our hotel members and most non-members are attending this event, we also have people flying in from the region to attend. We elevated the event to a regional one to ensure we were able to cover the high-level topics with seasoned industry leaders and environmental experts, along with the participation of local and national government.
What initiatives have you activated to date?
We’ve recently completed the Embassy Science Fellowship Program. This work involved a two-month assignment with an environmental scientist inspecting our hotels and providing educational workshops and training. They were able to offer solutions for the reduction of single use plastics in daily operations. The collaboration was highly successful and resulted in a positive change across three hotels, which each made significant improvements across a two-month period.
A key victory we have managed to achieve was that due to our PHIST initiative, our hotel members have taken a pledge to ban single use plastic straws and water bottles in all their hotel rooms by 2019, which is a fantastic result.
Further to these significant changes, we have initiated a collaborative campaign with the Central Group of shopping centres to ban single use plastic bags in Phuket and begun discussions with Coca-Cola Thailand, with the aim of them working with us to bring their recycling initiatives and facilities to Phuket.
Finally we will be also continue working with the Worldwide Wildlife Fund towards a MOU for a collaborative sustainable project which is very exciting for us and the Islands local communities as well.
What is the role of the local community in supporting your work?
The community plays a huge part in supporting our work, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we aim to do without the help from our ‘stakeholders’ – that’s everyone involved in keeping our island green and sustainable. Beach clean-up projects across the island are a great example of several partners and institutions within the community supporting each other to help keep our island clean.
How effective do you believe you can be in tackling issues such as plastic pollution and resource management on a local level?
Tackling issues such as plastic pollution seems to be initially be more an emotional decision rather than a logical one.
The willingness to make a change to keep our environment sustainable usually comes with the passion to ensure it’s safe for our children and family and ensuring we protect our lifestyle here on Phuket, our home. It then extends to include economic, rational elements that ensure the economy of the Island continues to grow sustainably.
Do you have the support of the government? How does this relationship work and what role do you see private and public bodies playing?
Phuket is ready now, more than ever before, to be green and sustainable. We are all in for a positive change to protect Phuket from environmental damage caused by pollution.
Many of our green efforts are supported by government bodies such as the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), and the Phuket Government. It is very motivating to know that they are dedicated to combatting the challenges we collectively face. Small groups such as Trash Heroes, Clean the Beach Boot Camp (CBBC), Schools and private organisations are all coming together to work towards one common goal.
Click here for more information on PHIST.