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Travel and tourism have grown immensely and will continue to do so. The travel industry is in a new paradigm where it must be controlled and not just promoted. Examples of extreme environmental degradation, overcrowding, and public outcry among residents are emerging across the world as a tourism backlash.

By David Jacklin

Sunday 7 October 2018, 10:00AM

PHIST Forum 2018

PHIST Forum 2018

However, an increased awareness of travellers, businesses and governments together can work to scale sustainable solutions. In Phuket, as well as other destinations in Thailand and the region, the industry now has a choice. Either exacerbate the negative effects of tourism and risk losing market share, or leverage the opportunity for tourism to contribute to sustainable development, environmental protection, and collective impact for its local communities.

There is a ground swell of support for the latter option, most recently displayed last Monday (Sept 24) at the PHIST Forum 2018 held at the JW Marriott Resort & Spa Phuket. The Phuket Hotels for Islands Sustaining Tourism (PHIST) is a consortium brought together by The Phuket Hotels Association (PHA), which is a non-profit organisation with over 60 member hotels and resorts who have joined together to promote Phuket as a destination whilst overseeing best practices for environmental conservation and sustainable tourism.

PHIST is a significant and innovative event, rallying over 500 delegates from the hotel industry and its stakeholders to discuss environmental sustainability and community benefit.

Throughout the day the exhibit hall offered attendees a mix of short expert panels and quick topical talks, covering areas of destination development, ocean health and impacts, corporate hotel sustainability, community tourism, and global trends on sustainability and mass tourism.

In addition, longer, technical workshops and roundtables were held to convene the wider audience of hotel staff. The event attracted speakers from international organisations and their regional representatives, but all focusing their discussion on how to apply best practice and opportunity within Phuket.

The day explored the challenges and opportunities for hotels to turn the negative into a positive, and was supported by a number of sectors including the Thai Hotels Association, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the US Embassy and corporate industries such as major hotel chains and the Central Group.
Anthony Lark, President of the PHA, opened the press conference detailing his own experience of environmental change from his 31 years on the island, and the negative impact and challenges that come with population and tourism growth. No longer are our surrounding seas teeming with healthy coral reefs, nor turtles laying eggs on our beaches.

The PHA was formed three years ago, bringing together the major hotel groups and family run hotels on the island who wished to make a difference by sharing best practices for sustainable tourism. The growth of the PHA brought together corporate, government, non-government organisations (NGOs) and environmental groups into the campaign to ensure a positive impact on Phuket’s future.

Why ‘now’ is the right time for PHIST?

Anthony Lark, President, PHA
“The time should have been yesterday. The airline and hotel industry use more plastics than most, and we have to change the way we use them. By a coalition of strategic partners we can take our learnings across the community, employ teachers to bring in a green curriculum and change peoples’ mindsets.”

Bernhard Bohnenberger, President, Six Senses Hotels
“We’ve been driving a sustainability campaign for 10 years. It’s only in the past year that it has been taken seriously by wider industry and media. It’s high time to reverse impact trends. We’ve seen some fantastic results in regeneration of our marine environments. We need to ride on that tide to do our best to influence the community and our guests.”

What can companies do to support sustainability?

Wilaiporn Pitimanaaree, SVP, Central Pattana Public Company
“Central is in the retail business, so we use a lot of plastic. We have been driving a ‘no plastic’ campaign across our Tops supermarkets and our 33 Central malls. The campaign had not been working well in some areas, so we introduced a ‘Green Checkout’ in the supermarket with no plastic bags.

Thanyapura Health 360

And all our cashiers are being trained to ask our customers on whether they want a plastic bag. We had been using 1.5 million bags per month. That has now been reduced by 30%, and our aim is to reach 50%. Phuket is the leading province in the kingdom with these initiatives, where both Thai and international people gather together.”

What role does education play and who do we educate?

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, VP & Environmental Chair, Thai Hotels Association
“Policy makers and ministers need to be educated. They often do not understand the importance of sustainability. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) finally reached out and we have joint initiatives launching next year with the Thai Hotels Association.”

Bernhard Bohnenberger, President, Six Senses Hotels
“We introduced a sustainability manager at every resort. There are commercial benefits to good sustainability management including making returns for our investment. The manager is interacting with local communities in terms of beach clean-ups, the benefits of compost and recycling. We also engage with schools. It is essential that these engagements are inspirational, fun and enjoyable. We must provide information and examples where children ‘go into it with their heart’.”

How important is working together to create a sustainable future?

Anthony Lark, President, PHA
“We need to make a dent in people’s mindset. Forming a strong coalition of like-minded people is imperative. Together we have a voice to make an impact and be a vehicle which continues to carry this message. Collectively we can also collect and track critical data to ensure we are making an impact. As an association we have a target to remove all single-use plastics across PHA members by 2020.”

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, VP & Environmental Chair, Thai Hotels Association
“The knowledge sharing of best practices on sustainability within the chain hotels are informing local hotels. We must inspire Thai hotels to change.”

The PHIST event certainly put on a display of muscle on this critical topic, with major stakeholders, who have the power to change Phuket’s sustainable future, firmly standing behind the cause. Let’s hope key events such as this do inform and educate smaller industries and individuals that major efforts are being made, and that complacency on the issue is no longer acceptable.

There is certainly a powerful momentum brewing behind the cause, but there’s a long way to go, as highlighted by David Barrett from The Slate, Phuket, who reminded us all of Kermit the Frog’s plight...
It isn’t easy being green.

PHIST is co-organised by the Phuket Hotels Association, C9 Hotelworks led by Managing Director Bill Barnett and Greenview CEO Eric Ricaurte. Sponsorship and endorsement is from the Ministry of Sports and Tourism, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, Thai Hotel Association, Central Phuket, BMW, Blue Tree Phuket, C9 Hotelworks, Greenview, AmCham, QUO and Delivering Asia Communications.

Join the campaign: #fight4Phuket


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