[top photo: The exterior of a three-bedroom villa at Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali]
By Miral Fahmy
SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Who says you can't have it all? An Asian hotelier is offering luxury, boutique resorts at idyllic destinations and their carbon footprint is small, too.
Singapore-based Alila Hotels and Resorts, which has properties in the Maldives, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia, is one of a handful of hoteliers in the Asia Pacific region that are leading in sustainable tourism, according to independent industry environmental advisory group EC3 Global.
Sustainable tourism aims to make travellers aware of their impact on the environment, both natural and cultural, of their destination, and spans everything from hotel design and construction to what is served on the menu.
"We believe in creating something unique that supports the local environment, and on having very little impact on that environment," Sean Brennan, general manager of the Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali, Indonesia, which opened last month.
"Too long, too many hotels have given too much hot air about the environment, but nobody has really made a difference. What we're doing is not limiting the luxury, just using smart design."
The Uluwatu villas was designed and built according to EC3 Global's "Green Globe" benchmark, and is one of three Alila hotels in Bali. The older properties also have green programs.
In Asia Pacific, 39 hotels have Green Globe certification and Andre Russ, EC3 Global's head of global markets, said the region's tourism industry had espoused environmental standards much faster than other parts of the world.
"Many countries in the region really rely on tourism and recently we have seen a shift in the way hoteliers in the Asia Pacific together with tourism destinations address sustainability," he told Reuters.
"This holistic approach, addressing not only the design, but operational performance of an asset is to be applauded."
Alila, which has an in-house environmental adviser and whose headquarters are carbon neutral, is opening a fourth, all-villa luxury resort on Bali, the Alila Villas Soori, in November and says their business from now will only be green.
"We're aware that our planet is dying," said Jessica Siswantoro from Alila. "We have to give something back."
The hotel group is also getting something back -- its Uluwatu property, where rates start at US$725 a night, have seen 87 per ccent occupancy since opening, despite the global recession.
Brennan said a third of all guests were coming to the hotel because of its environmental and social credentials. More than half the staff are locals and the hotel also supports Balinese artists and performers, as well as local charities.
"There are only three items on the menu that are not locally sourced -- the beef, the lamb and the cheese," he said. "We go to the nth degree to make sure everything is environmentally sound."
The Alila hotels are designed to blend in with the local landscape and maximize sea breezes for cooling and the sun for heating. They are constructed largely by hand, using bricks made from local materials and furniture made from wood once used in telegraph poles and railway lines.
Pools are filled with salt, not chlorinated, water and local shrubs form the landscape.
Soo K. Chan, design director of architects SCDA which works with Alila, said it takes at least twice as long to design and build a hotel that meets sustainable tourism requirements, and it is also significantly more expensive.
"But it's also much more challenging and in the long-run, it's cheaper to run because of the efficiency element," he said.
"And it's rewarding," added Brennan. "Much more rewarding than doing the chain or tower hotel approach."
(Editing by Alex Richardson)