Sustainable tourism practices are slowly becoming more common in the global tourism industry and it is GOOD Travel’s hope that this will one day become the standard.
As an organisation, GOOD Travel seeks to partner with tourism businesses who take pro-environment action, support the local community and local economy.
Sustainable businesses are those who measure their social and environmental impact as well as their financial return. They come in all shapes and sizes and there is no single business model to define exactly how a sustainable business organises itself. Examples of sustainable tourism practice can often be found in the most unexpected places - and at GOOD Travel we get quite excited whenever we spot some GOOD!
In this article, we share an international example of social responsibility. Although GOOD Travel normally partners with small-scale, community-owned tourism businesses, we also acknowledge the importance of recognising global companies that are proactively seeking to have a positive impact on the local community, environment and economy.
The JW Marriott is one such group that have a strong focus on corporate social responsibility. So we sent our researcher, Emma Raymond, to visit the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa in Thailand to find out a bit more about what GOOD looks like in a Thai resort.
An international example of social responsibility
Sunset at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa
The Marriott is an international hotel group where the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) informs business decisions in each country where their resorts are. In Thailand, this is quite noticeable at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, located not far from Phuket International Airport. During check-in, each guest is given a welcome bracelet. It reads, “Welcome to the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa. This bracelet is made from natural materials by our local “Sea Gypsy” community as part of our “Spirit to Serve” Program.”
In the past, the Resort gifted each guest a flower lei to wear. "This was messy," explains Sean Panton, the Marriott's Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, "the lobby was often littered with dead flowers. It was a nice idea, but do you know how much water is used to grow those flowers? And only so they can be killed to make a flower lei."
When Sean started in this role, not only did he have his day job, he also had the challenge of helping the associates of the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa to understand exactly what CSR meant. At the Marriott, the workforce are known as ‘associates’ rather than employees or staff. "In Thailand, there is no literal translation for the concept of corporate social responsibility, but this doesn't mean it didn't resonate," Sean explains. "The flower lei was a great example. With the help of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), we identified a local group of underprivileged women to help us make eco-friendly welcome bracelets for arriving guests." These women are members of the local sea gypsy community devastated by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2006.
Locally produced bracelets are welcome gifts for guests of the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa
The IUCN is an international organisation that does routine checks on businesses to ensure their practices are sustainable. The IUCN-Marriott partnership is in place to ensure the resort is purchasing local gifts and souvenirs in a way that is ethical and environmentally friendly. The bracelet project started as a small change four years ago. Now, the sea gypsy community supplies the JW Marriott with 5000 bracelets per week.
The JW Marriott has ten local partnerships that focus on vocational training, supporting children, and reversing plastic pollution. This includes being a title sponsor of the 7% helmet campaign and donating more than 700 crash helmets to local children. This is a nation-wide campaign to address the frightening statistic that only 7% of the 1.3 million Thai children who ride a motorbike to school wear a helmet.
The JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa is located on Mai Khao beach, arguably Phuket's cleanest and quietest beach. This is also the only remaining beach in Phuket where turtles can still lay their eggs. The original nesting beaches, such as Patong Beach, are now crowded with tourists and construction, or have become overfished or polluted. It is impossible to imagine a turtle laying her eggs among the thousands of tourists who visit these beaches each day.
Realising the threat to local turtles, the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa contributed USD $45,000 to safeguard the remaining turtle nesting areas on Mai Khao beach and partnered with the Phuket Marine Biological Center, The Department of Marine and Coastal Resource, The 3rd Royal Navy Command, The National Park and the IUCN to establish the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation (MKMTF) Turtle Shelter and Education Center. The shelter is located inside the resort and is a home for disabled or injured turtles. Resort guests and the public have the unique opportunity to visit the turtles. In 2016 alone, the shelter hosted 15,000 people from ninety different countries and educated them about turtle conservation.
The MKMTF turtle programs set themselves apart from other local turtle projects because they operate in partnership with the government. The MKMTF takes a holistic approach to turtle conservation by doing year-round reef conservation and coastal management including planting mangroves, caring for disabled turtles, baby turtle releases and community education.
One year-old turtle hatchlings are released at Mai Khao beach every year
The use of sustainably sourced seafood is a focal point of the JW Marriott dining scene. Guests can dine at the resort's 11 restaurant and bar options, or enjoy on-site Thai cooking classes at their renowned Ginja Cook culinary school. Executive Sous Chef, David Morrell, can tell you where every ingredient on his menu was sourced.
Marriott Executive Sous Chef David Morrell and Chef Tham have relationships with local seafood suppliers in Phuket
Before each piece of seafood is purchased to be used at the Andaman Grill, it must first receive official approval by the IUCN. This ensures that the Marriott is supporting a seafood market that has a minimal impact on the ecosystem. As customers who purchase seafood, neglecting to check where your seafood comes from lessens the demand for sustainably sourced food. Businesses exploiting the seafood trade are unlikely to advertise how their food is sourced, especially if they are over fishing, or using unsafe fishing methods such as fish bombs and trawling nets. The more we buy from these businesses, the more significant the damage to global fish stocks, the coral reef ecosystem, mangrove areas and ultimately, the land we live on.
“[Corporate social responsibility] is the right thing to do. We do not do this for advertising purposes. Simply, it is the right thing to do.” - Bhatara Amornrattanakij, JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa’s Director of Marketing Communications
The Marriott rarely advertises local partnerships and programmes in their marketing material. When asked why, Bhatara Amornrattanakij, Director of Marketing Communications, paused in a moment of stunned silence, "… because it is the right thing to do. We do not do this for advertising purposes. Simply, it is the right thing to do."