by JJ Harvey, Operations Manager, Reef-World Foundation
The modern traveller is not what they used to be. The game has changed and competition amongst businesses is as high as it has ever been. In a similar situation to people applying for work they need to have a CV that stands above the rest, something that has that wow factor or provides an edge on the competition. The same can be said within the tourism industry, where hotels and resorts need to be more than just current with the latest trends, they need to be thinking ahead and predicting what their guests might like, want or need. Nowadays there are standard facilities which are expected by guests and tourists such as a door key card or WiFi Internet which needs to be fast to prevent disappointment and frustration leading to the modern day phenomenon of what can only be described as ‘buffer face.’
Then there are those businesses that are leading the pack and coming out with innovations and new approaches that provide their business with those all-important reviews to keep those customers returning. When you look at these businesses there is a common theme within those that are leading pack. These are the businesses that are not only reducing their impact on the marine environment but are actually contributing to it in a positive manner. It is not enough to be able to have a digital readout near the check-in desk of the amount of CO2 that has been offset from the photovoltaic panels that adorn the roof top. Leading businesses in the tourism industry need to show, either by involving their guests or somehow exposing to them the ways in which their holiday has helped positively contribute to the very environment in which they have come to see in the first place.
When it is time for guests to check out of their hotel or resort and head home, they want to be able to leave with a sense of fulfilment and feeling like that they have got great value for their money. In addition to this, they want to know that they have not negatively contributed to the demise of the local environment. Nothing could be worse than a holiday maker sitting in their seat on the aeroplane on their flight home and feeling that if they come back it won’t be the same. We have all overheard countless conversations of people on holiday referring to places they have been to in the past and saying “well it isn’t the same now of course.”
This is because many places succumb to overdevelopment, beautiful landscapes that have been cleared to make way for more and more rooms, paths and trails that have been overused bereft of wildlife or perhaps a coastline with beaches that have become full of cigarette butts or empty plastic bottles. The likelihood of that tourists returning to such places is low. This is not a good business plan.
Leading businesses need to have that a wow factor that pulls in guests so that they or their friends come back year on year. This is where being able to positively contribute to the environment can result in the environment giving back to the business. A environment that is thriving can lead to a simple return on their investment such as getting free marketing through social media snaps online promoting your business and location for you. Nothing sells your business better than a smiling tourist with a pristine natural environment on Instagram or Facebook. They not only do it better than you can but it costs you nothing! #thankyouverymuch
The marine tourism industry is a perfect example of this. Divers and snorkelers have high expectations and are easily put off a location on their first trip if they don’t see what they should. They will quite happily go somewhere else with their charged GoPros in their endless pursuit of making their friends jealous. Corals that are teeming with fish, clear waters with no floating plastic and a curious turtle that isn’t afraid of people are the perfect examples of what people have on their holiday tick list.
Hotels and resorts that provide marine tourism attractions such as SCUBA diving and snorkelling excursions are often not aware of the simple things that they could do to ensure they are doing the best they can so that they aren’t negatively harming the very environment that they rely on. A simple example of this is that most managers have never checked what their staff are cleaning their boats with. Marine toilets, the outside hull, on-board sinks, guest seating areas and other areas are often regularly cleaned with household cleaning products that are not designed for the marine environment. Chemical cleaning products that have bleach or anti-bacterial agents in them can have serious consequences for fish and corals. Coastal environments in tourist hotspots are already under a significant level of impact from development and run-off and direct inputs from chemical cleaning agents are an unnecessary addition that leads to fish and other marine life being driven away. This can result in guests who might not even get in the water but instead will just watch from the dry safety of the pontoon or pool edge might not see this free’ wow’ factor. A missed opportunity.
In much the same way that managers and business owners look to educate themselves or their team on how they can get a leading edge in marketing through online tutorials or searching the web for some insider business knowledge to provide them with tips and tricks, there is a unique solution for marine tourism business owners from the Green Fins initiative. Green Fins is on the crest of the wave when it comes to unique approaches to conserving coral reefs. The approach helps to unite politics and marine conservation efforts to ensure the sustainability of popular diving destinations around the world. Established through a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and The Reef-World Foundation, Green Fins uses a proven three-pronged approach; green certifications of dive centres, strengthening regulations, and environmental education for dive staff, divers and governments. Over 450 dive and snorkel operators across eight countries have signed up for free membership, and are using Green Fins as a platform to set examples of sustainable business operations. Participating members are awarded a certificate based on annual assessments that is co-signed by the national government, the United Nations, and The Reef-World Foundation.
To fill the gap for the other countries that do not have a trained national Green Fins team that can provide onsite training and certification of the business, the team behind Green Fins have developed a handbook based on 10 years of experience for businesses to download. The solutions to common issues such as waste management, recycling and how to train your staff to prevent damage to the marine environment have been collated and developed into an online guide. This Dive and Snorkel Centre Operational Handbook has links to short training videos, pictures and downloadable attractive multi-lingual posters that are easily accessed. Using a 15 point Code of Conduct developed by the UN and endorsed by PATA, this step by step guide provides simple tips and tricks that can be implemented at a range of businesses whether it is a large chain with over 100 dive centres or a small business that provides occasional snorkel tours.
This handbook was developed in response to the huge demand from diving and snorkel centre managers and owners who were looking for a comprehensive yet simple and realistic guide on business practices and practical solutions that can help the marine environment cope with the increasing levels of tourists. There is the added benefit that scientific studies have shown such businesses practices that put the environment first before revenue generation lead to destinations that are better equipped to withstand the impacts of climate change. For example, coral reefs that are visited by SCUBA diving businesses that follow best practice are far less likely to bleach or become diseased during extended warm periods.