Luxury resorts look to carbon-neutral getaways

By Peter Janssen, DPA

Bangkok : Where do you go nowadays if you're a millionaire looking for an island getaway but you don't want your vacation dampened by global warming guilt?

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You might try the Six Senses Resorts & Spas, a Bangkok-based luxury hotel chain with properties in the Maldives, Thailand and Vietnam that has started to specialise in carbon-cutting getaways for the rich and famous.

Last month, the Six Senses group announced that it would make its flagship property in the Maldives – the Soneva Fushi – into a carbon-neutral resort by the year 2008 and go completely carbon free by 2010.

To reach their carbon-neutral goal, for starters, all visitors to Soneva Fushi are now required to pay a carbon tax for their flight (about $120 for a round-trip flight from Frankfurt), which goes into the Six Senses Carbon Offset Fund.

The fund will be spent on renewable energy projects for villages in Sri Lanka and India, thus offsetting among the poor the carbon emissions caused by jets transporting the rich to the Maldives.

For its own part, Six Senses has invested in redesigning the 65 "residences" at Soneva Fushi by adding more ventilation, better insulation, shifting to coconut-based bio-fuel for the resort's boat fleet and to battery-powered carts and motorbikes to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by next year.

"In 2010 we aim to be carbon free which means we will not generate any carbons on the island where Soneva Fushi is," said Raymond Hall, Bangkok-based chief marketing officer for Six Senses Resorts & Spas.

To reach that ambitious goal, Soneva Fushi, situated on Kunfunadhoo Island near the Maldives North Baa Atoll, will need to switch from diesel-generated electricity to solar, wind and a deep-water cooling system.

"We can bring water from 300 metres off the edge of the atoll, where it is very cold down in the ocean 100 metres, and use it as an alternative cooling system," said Hall.

Similar global-cooling and environment-friendly efforts are under way at the Six Senses' other nine resorts in Asia.

The strategy is starting to pay off in terms of recognition. For instance, Six Senses' Evason Phuket was one of three resorts in Asia to win the Kuala Lumpur-based conservation group Wild Asia's Responsible Tourism Award last year.

Six Senses, founded by Indian businessman Sonu Shivadasani and his wife Eva (hence its brand names Soneva and Evason combining the couple's first names), is looking for renewable energy solutions at all its properties.

For instance, at its Soneva Kiri resort on Koh Kood, an island in the Gulf of Thailand, Six Senses uses many of the energy-saving innovations used in the Maldives, with some modifications.

Although the Soneva Kiri will not be carbon-neutral upon its opening scheduled for June 2008, it is being built to be highly energy efficient and will offer at least one eco-suite that is completely carbon-free using a passive cooling system utilising the island's underground water, said Louis Thompson, Soneva Kiri's deputy project director.

Of course, energy innovations make good economic sense on Koh Kood, which is off Thailand's national electricity grid. The island, Thailand's fourth largest, is 30 km away from the mainland.

Such island getaways are offering a good business opportunity to renewable energy specialists.

For instance, Germany's SunTechnics Energy Systems Company – part of the Conergy AG Group in Germany, opened an office in Bangkok June 5 to offer alternative energy solutions to Thailand's bio-fuel and tourism markets.

"In Thailand our strategy is first to focus on the bio-market and secondly on key accounts for tourism," said Daniel Rosa, SunTechnics business development manager for Asia-Pacific.

SunTechnics has found that the tourism sector may be ahead of Thailand's public sector in recognising that renewable energy is a crucial part of marketing a destination.

"International hotel chains are recognising that by implementing green solutions they are meeting their clients demands to lessen the impact on the environment that travel entails," said Rosa.

Of course, only a certain clientele can afford to be environmentally correct, and even millionaires set limits on the carbon-tax they are willing to pay.

"I have to say that this is not for everybody," said Hall. "We don't like to talk about our guests but we have quite a few who have the ability to drop quite a lot of money."

Even so, Hall acknowledged, there are limits to the guilt trip.

"They will pay up to 10 percent more for accommodation and lodgings if they really think the company is doing the right thing," he concluded.