Fresh produce from Phuket arrives in reusable baskets and ice chests. Some 16 different species of bird, including Klaus the rooster, chatter, cheep and crow. Guests refill their glass and metal bottles with filtered, purified rainwater. And staff support local sea gypsies with educational supplies, weekly lunches and, on International Children’s Day, a full-blown carnival.
The man behind this exemplar of eco-tourism is Florian Hallermann, a hands-on Austrian with 30 years’ experience in the hotel industry across Asia who can often be found wading into the sea by Laem Tong Beach to welcome his guests or collecting ocean plastic on his long-distance kayak trips.
But Zeavola hasn’t always been so green. When Florian took over as custodian and general manager in 2008, the resort was in the hands of a “flamboyantly robed sugar baron” whose penchant for luxury came at the expense of sustainability. The Zeavola you see today is the result of 11 years of hard work and careful efforts to balance both.
To tell the resort’s remarkable story, Florian, with the help of the team at QWERTY PR, has penned Zeavola’s Little Green Book. A versatile piece of work, the e-book sits somewhere between an animal encyclopedia, history book and hotel welcome guide, chronicling the island’s limestone karsts and resident creatures alongside the sustainable journey of the resort in 42 strikingly illustrated pages. Florian’s dry sense of humour shines through and makes it an amusing, honest-to-death read that manages to avoid the trap of dragging the reader down with the weight of environmental responsibility or corporate jargon.
“It’s not my intention to be known. I love to be under the radar. I do these [sustainable] things because it’s the right thing to do,” says Florian. “But I realise that there is a story here and the time is right to tell it. The hotel business has such an impact and I want to say, ‘If a small, fiercely independent hotel can do it, what’s stopping you?’”
Florian’s eco-conscience has its origins in his childhood. Seeing his mother campaign at a grassroots level against farmers infringing on national parks, and his father reuse shopping bags before plastic pollution was even in the public understanding, sowed the seeds that Zeavola gave him the opportunity to cultivate.
And how those seeds have grown. Florian and 150 members of dedicated staff have reduced laundry water consumption by 4,000 litres a day, saved 260 kilograms in plastic food packaging a year, stopped using 120,000 plastic bottles a year and recently implemented a composting machine which will reduce wet waste by a staggering 18 tonnes a year.
The first green change Florian and his team made to the resort back in 2008 – replacing plastic bottled bathroom amenities, such as single-use shampoos, conditioners and shower gels, with refillable ceramic containers dispensing organic, cruelty-free products – alone has saved the resort B4 million in 11 years.
While these statistics, impressive for an independent 53-villa resort, have their place, Florian also marks his success in less tangible ways: his interactions with guests; seeing his daughter, a champion swimmer, open her eyes underwater for the first time in the chlorine-free pool; catching a glimpse of a rare bird species pass through the resort during migration season.
Helpfully, the island has always had a way of telling him when he’s on the wrong course or his eco efforts aren’t in the spirit of the land.
“Whatever I do, I always consider how nature is going to give me a bill for it. Because, in due time, nature will give you a bill and it will be expensive,” says Florian. “You have to balance the spirits of the land. After all, they allow us to be successful. The sea gypsies, Klaus, the wildlife, they’re all part of us being successful.”
A resort’s choice to respect its natural and cultural surrounds is, of course, a correct and moral one, but it comes with economical benefits too. There is profitability in sustainability, says Florian, and hoteliers should not be scared to make the changes they want to see.
As Zeavola’s Little Green Book gains traction in the hospitality industry, Florian’s earlier question becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. Over to you, Phuket resorts and hotels. If a small, fiercely independent hotel can do it, and can even provide you with the very blueprints to do it, what’s stopping you?
Zeavola’s Little Green Book is available as a download for B140 at www.zeavola.com/greenbook with all proceeds being reinvested in green projects at the resort. Florian will be speaking at the Phuket Hotels for Islands Sustaining Tourism 2019 event on Sept 23 at Hilton Arcadia Phuket.
QWERTY PR is the logophile agency obsessed with words that dream up creative content for Asia Lifestyle Magazine, travel, hospitality and tourism businesses around the world. Visit them at www.qwertypr.com