by Marcus Cotton, Managing Director, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge & Jenefer Bobbin, Managing Director, JUSTreport Global
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What do you see as the main as the main challenges for sustainability in Nepal?
One of the great challenges in tourism is to prevent both unintentional and deliberate ‘green-washing’ (the false presentation of pseudo-environmental policies and practices). All businesses have the ability to make a negative impact; often they are unaware of the detrimental effect their impacts are having, maybe through naivety or misinformation. Some are fully aware of the negative impacts but believe that they can ‘pull the wool’ over the industry’s eyes. Monitoring and reporting promotes transparency and accountability by being published in the public domain and hence businesses are more likely to manage these issues effectively. A sustainability report at best highlights the void between what people say and what people do, and at least shows potential guests that we are prepared to be transparent with our performance.
Another major challenge in Nepal is the relative immaturity of the majority of the travel industry. This might sound odd since tourism started in the 1950s, but reality is that there are a handful of established businesses from around that era and the majority of companies are less than ten years old. The entrepreneurial enterprise of Nepalis is laudable, but it can be characterised as having a strong element of a ‘get rich quick’ psyche! This is inherently not the psyche of sustainability. There are, of course, notable exceptions, such as Social Tours and Explore Nepal Group. However, bringing the awareness, culture and mainstreaming of sustainability into the tourism industry at a wider level is proving a challenge.
Tiger Mountain works closely with JUSTreport to promote the concept of responsible tourism verification to a wider audience. Not just in Nepal too; we are also seeking ways to promote this through a boutique hotel affiliation, Secret Retreats, and have worked with them in their initial efforts to develop a minimum sustainability pledge for all members. We would like to see PATA engage with JUSTreport too – especially through its international chapters and for its smaller member properties and companies, for whom JUST report is probably a more financially viable option than some of the major certification schemes.
Responsible tourism reporting is a great means for Nepal to promote itself as a sustainability-led destination – appropriate for the nature of the country with high mountain, fragile environments and weak legislation/enforcement that can enable exploitation. We will be raising this with PATA Nepal Chapter in the days ahead.
Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge’s role, actions, leadership
Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge (TMPL) has a mission to develop new standards of responsible conservation tourism in the middle hills of Nepal, where the lodge is situated, some 30 minute east of Pokhara. This is in part a legacy inherited from our sister company, Tiger Tops’, pioneering work in this field in the lowland jungles of the Nepal Terai. Tiger Mountain’s staff has worked hard over the past 15 years to forge its own approach and to ensure the business operates in a sustainable manner in the fragile environment in which we operate. It’s very much a bottom up approach which is fundamental to our success. We have created the Sustainable Action Group which is a well-attended, voluntary staff forum to monitor past plans and suggest new ways of improving the sustainability of the lodge – working together to ensure that human nature works to challenge itself and improve results year-on-year. Today, with the glitter of early awards in the showcase, as it were, the lodge staff are more focussed on results than accolades.
How do you communicate sustainability to your guests and business partners?
We thought about joining a certification scheme to help simplify how we communicate our sustainability by giving our achievements a label. The majority of schemes we looked at seemed to be either US or European-centric and none of the criteria really addressed the issues we face here in the middle hills of the Himalayas. That was until we met Jenefer Bobbin, the founder of a new transparent reporting, or verification, service, JUSTreport Global.
JUSTreport turned the whole idea of ticking boxes on its head. We weren’t told what criteria we should report, instead we were asked what was important to our business and our destination. To enable us to monitor our chosen social, economic and environmental impacts we worked closely with Jenefer to design and develop simple, effective and efficient tools which all our staff could use.
JUSTreport provided us with two very different presentations of our data – one designed for our guests and the other for our business partners. For our guests the key data was displayed in a simple and visual infographic allowing them to make sense of some of the more complex information collected. For our business partners we were provided with a more comprehensive report detailing every aspect of our social, economic and environmental impact from our staff salaries to our CO2 emissions per bed night. The report includes more than just the data. We explain how we achieved our successes and also why we missed some of our targets.
All our data is cross-checked and independently verified by JUSTreport giving us the assurance that what we say we do, we actually do, with the metrics to prove it.
Read the reports:
Where do we go forward in 2016 and thereafter? Two areas appear key to raising the bar at the lodge:
Supply chain management – we are eager to engage effectively with our supplier to develop a partnership approach that inculcates sustainability and responsibility throughout our supply-chain. With such a novel concept (for Nepal) this will not be easy or a ‘quick fix,’ but we will work with interested suppliers initially to develop both our confidence and experience to promote the concept of responsible supply chains to our suppliers.
Reduction of carbon footprint – we have done well over the period of our verifications with a reduction of 13% in our carbon footprint over the five years up to 2012/13. This is gratifying, but, as ever, there is more to be achieved. In spite of the property being designed, as it had to be at that time, reliant on diesel back-up generators and kerosene heaters for the rooms (for the two cold months of the year), we feel that there are sufficient improvements in ‘off-grid’ energy supplies for us to contemplate increased use of renewable energy for power supply and water heating. We also are looking to develop grey water recycling facilities using natural, reed-bed filtration. This will enable us to re-use laundry water – a major source of water consumption – and also reduce the recharge of the swimming pool water. If these are successful, then we will look at recycling the kitchen grey water too as a source of water for irrigation of our organic vegetable gardens.
In conclusion, we hope that the lodge is fulfilling its mission to develop higher standards of responsible conservation tourism for the middle hills of Nepal. The foregoing is a small snapshot of a range of activities, actions and ideas that pervade our thinking and provide the ethos for all we do. Through the medium of JUSTreport verification, we hope to encourage the wider Nepal tourism industry to evaluate their impacts and commitment to enshrining responsibility into their individual corporate policies. With a growing trend in sustainability towards destination-level (as opposed to individual property level) management, Nepal has amazing opportunities to go one stage further and become a national sustainability-led tourism destination; but that journey has to start now.