The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to take a long, hard look at what they need to do to adapt to a changing world and support their stakeholders. There is no question that sustainability is a multi-generational need. We face numerous environmental and social crises; inequality at its greatest, while over exploitation and a lack of waste management have resulted in an urgent need to reduce humanity's footprint on the environment.

Businesses are awakening to this in various degrees, along with activist consumers. Both customers and employees are placing pressure, as they rightly should, on businesses to go beyond the precautionary approach of doing the least harm and become part of the collective solution we need: to make better decisions and support collective action. I often say, the best time for action was yesterday, the second best time is today, but we cannot continually wait until tomorrow.

Brands need to have a social purpose beyond the product value proposition in order to endure. Thirty years ago, we pioneered being a purpose-driven brand and demonstrated an enduring commitment to action that backs up our promise. People trust what we say is what we do, and in today's world that is gold. Today, our mission of leading a better way of living is more relevant than ever – an endeavor that starts with inspiring our guests to 'Stay for Good'.

Purpose as a Compass for Business

The best businesses are vehicles for deeper value creation, and this has been our guiding growth principle since our inception in 1994. Our founders started this business with a deep ethos of harnessing the power of travel for positive transformation.

Tourism is intrinsically dependent on natural and cultural heritage. Areas of high biodiversity often provide a foundation for tourism, which can put an enormous strain on the area. Indeed, the very beauty that attracts visitors to the most bio-diverse habitats on Earth can also imbalance their equilibrium if not managed carefully. Consequently, industry players must act as stewards and nurture stewardship among stakeholders to safeguard and promote a healthy, resilient and sustainable environment.

Over 30 years ago, our Laguna Phuket integrated destination in Thailand was rehabilitated from an abandoned tin mine. Today, it is a thriving environment, community and hub for partnership and international sports. It serves as a guiding example for our resorts worldwide, and for the industry. Purpose is the compass for business, and our original purpose of "Embracing the Environment, Empowering People" is more meaningful than ever as we strive to build back better post-COVID.

But this journey is not one we travel alone. Our Stay for Good program was developed to embed core stewardship values in our operations and guest experience, promoting community engagement and partnership to drive long-term impact where we operate. This framework is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), centered on restoring local ecosystems and contributing to surrounding communities with the help of travelers.

Inspiring Gentle Footprints in Travel

A silver lining to where the world currently finds itself is a heightened commitment to sustainable travel by consumers. According to a 2021 survey by travel company Virtuoso, 82% of travelers said the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future. Almost three-quarters (72%) said travel should support local communities and economies, preserve destinations' cultural heritage and protect the planet.

Our Stay for Good program enables travelers and our associates to do just that. Currently implemented across our portfolio of more than 50 locations worldwide, it sees our properties implementing unique initiatives that each location invests in, such as cultural heritage, biodiversity and climate action.

We also invite guests to contribute via our Green Imperative Fund, established in 2001 as a way to finance worthy environmental action and community-based projects under the direction of Banyan Tree Global Foundation, our Group's non-profit arm. Across all Banyan Tree brands, guests are invited to support these efforts via small contributions of up to US$2 per room night with hotels matching the donations dollar-for-dollar. Properties are allocated an annual budget to carry out sustainability activities with guests, their associates and community members. For example, at Angsana properties, guests can participate in coral planting and tree planting programs, allowing them to contribute positively to the environment and community of each destination they visit.

With our efforts spread across three core pillars of Our Environment, Our Communities and Our Responsibility, we seek to inspire stewardship and partnership among associates, guests and local communities.

Our Environment

Banyan Tree Group deals in exceptional experiences, and this means an experience that is part educational discovery, and part emotional. The emotion that most supports the sustainability message, is simply, awe: that feeling when you realize you are part of an interconnected whole. On the education part, it is about lessons guests find meaningful, part of the discovery of a destination, and are relevant to their daily life.

We are always designing meaningful activities that expose guests to nature and the beautiful natural ecosystems of our destination. Some of these experiences, a few of which began as early as the 1990s, include snorkeling with a marine biologist in the vibrant coral reefs of Thailand or the Maldives, or watching turtles hatch on the shores of Bintan in Indonesia. Guests can also help collect data on fish and bird populations through our Citizen Science program, which will aid in the long-term monitoring and conservation of important species.

Young guests participating in a tree planting initiative

— Photo by Banyan TreeYoung guests participating in a tree planting initiative

— Photo by Banyan Tree
Young guests participating in a tree planting initiative — Photo by Banyan Tree

Beyond that, a key focus of our environmental efforts is framed around the global issues of climate change, resource use, and conservation of endangered species. We employ a science-based approach to detect and track change, implement efficient operations and resource conservation initiatives to mitigate impact, deploy education and awareness programs to support action, and curate partnerships to access domain expertise needed to conserve and restore sensitive ecosystems and threatened species.

In 2004, we launched the first resort-based lab in the Maldives to drive research, conservation, and restoration efforts that address both habitats and species. A second marine lab in the Maldives at Angsana Velavaru and a conservation lab at Banyan Tree Bintan in Indonesia followed in 2007. These labs exemplify our strategic science-based approach to sustainability and marked yet another innovation that would spur many resorts to employ marine biologists in the years to come. In fact, the Maldivian government now requires all resorts to hire in-house marine biologists.

Our labs have grown to carry the banner for Banyan Tree Group's sustainability efforts in these regions, from hosting visiting experts and sharing the message of marine conservation with local schools and communities, to promoting and test piloting sustainable livelihood for communities. We have also published peer-reviewed research as we continue to engage beyond our traditional industry boundary, and push the envelope of understanding of local bio-diverse ecosystems and threatened species.

What is monitored, can be managed. To support conservation of endangered species, our turtle conservation programs at six properties generate awareness among travelers, local communities and fishermen through nest protection and release of hatchlings in partnership with local organizations and research centers in Indonesia, the Maldives, Mexico and Vietnam. While put on hold during the pandemic, our long-term monitoring of shark populations in the Maldives has produced data that is shared with the Ministry of Environment, informing their decision to continue protection for sharks in the Maldives. Adding to these efforts is data collected by guests through Citizen Science, which not only informs and directs our conservation efforts and guest experience, but is also shared with the local government or resource managers.

Lastly, we not only green our environment, but also our operations. By closely monitoring our consumption of resources, energy emissions, water use and waste production through independent audits conducted by our strategic partner EarthCheck, we can manage change and control our inputs and outputs. Quantifying this change helps us to demonstrate best practice and address needs across our properties worldwide.

Our Communities

Tourism has significant generative power with one in ten jobs globally and the livelihoods of millions more depending on the restart of tourism for recovery and growth. Out of crisis comes opportunity: to discover better ways to do business, to mitigate negative impact on lives and generate sustainable, carbon neutral and resilient tourism with people at the centre. A purposeful, sustained and generative recovery is essential to tackle unprecedented global inequality and threats to nature, create shared value for society and support the achievement of the SDGs. Our approach here aims to promote well-being, diversity, satisfaction, health and capacity development to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

When it comes to our associates, we live by the mantra "Better Me, Better You, Better Us." Put simply, we can only genuinely care for our guests if our associates first feel cared for. Beyond ensuring a diverse, safe and sustainable workplace for our associates, a dedicated team regularly engages with associates at every property through discussions and surveys. A bi-annual, group-wide Associate Satisfaction Survey opens up the feedback loop where we listen to our employee's concerns. We also invest in our associates' long-term development by providing several self-paced education courses and Job Swap programs for on-the-ground learning, with associates undergoing a total of 2.4 million hours of training in the last five years. To date, we employ close to 7,000 associates worldwide who, along with their families, benefit from these programs.

Business is a part of society and the wider community, and a lot of what we do brings together our business, community members and travelers. As such, our efforts extends beyond our associates to support the communities where we operate. Community education programs are one way we seek to empower people with the opportunity and tools to succeed. The Seedlings program, for example, was introduced in 2007 to provide at-risk youths with vocational and life skills for a lasting positive community impact. Since then, we have nurtured over 170 youths with educational courses, vocational life skills coaching, mentorship and scholarships, with each youth staying in the program for up to six years.

Our Seedlings program not only provides pathways out of poverty for under-served communities, it also empowers locals to cherish and protect what is rightfully theirs. In 2021, we launched a new Apprenticeship Program in Phuket, Thailand, to provide skills development and job opportunities within the local community to forge careers in the hospitality industry post-COVID. In the last three years, we have implemented 2,004 sustainable events and initiatives, with our associates volunteering almost 100,000 hours to serve communities and environments where we operate.

A group of youth participating in the Seedlings program

— Photo by Banyan TreeA group of youth participating in the Seedlings program

— Photo by Banyan Tree
A group of youth participating in the Seedlings program — Photo by Banyan Tree

Our Responsibility

Tourism can be a platform for peace and shared prosperity, and we have a responsibility to serve society as stewards for long-term sustainability.

Through a multi-stakeholder engagement approach, we ensure accountability, responsible tourism, corporate governance and a sustainable supply chain. Partnerships are key to evangelizing our commitment to sustainability and shared value creation. In 2020, we mandated the Supplier Code of Conduct, which requires a commitment to maximum transparency in operations, set on a long-term goal to map and disclose our supply chain. Food is a primary focus for improving our supply chain, and on World Food Day 2021 under the theme Responsible Food, we committed to offering sustainably-certified native produce with a low carbon footprint, as well as reducing and diverting food waste, which in turn decreases landfill emissions.

The debut of our Greater Good Grants (GGG) program during the pandemic helped us to forge impactful partnerships with like-minded organizations by providing funding for ground-up projects in the countries where we have a presence. The inaugural Greater Good Grants in 2020 saw eight NGOs selected based on their projects that focused on protecting our natural world, including the habitats and ecosystems of Borneo's rainforests, Mahakam Delta in Indonesia, Bach Ma National Park in Vietnam, and Anlung Pring Wetlands in Cambodia.

These partnerships have enabled us to support those with domain expertise in areas where we would otherwise not have access. For example, the Anlung Pring Wetlands project aims to tackle agricultural waste in order to protect a threatened waterbird species known as the Sarus Crane. Within the first three months, at least 990 pieces of toxic waste were diverted for proper disposal after installing dedicated waste storage boxes and active awareness programs with locals.

Other initiatives are people-centric. The water sanitation project in Bumi Indah village, Indonesia by LooLa Adventure Resort changed the lives of approximately 180 villagers. The entire village was cleaned of plastic waste, which was turned into construction material. All 37 households were given access to clean water, upgraded bathroom and kitchen facilities, as well as start-up funds for micro-farming to enhance livelihood.

These projects are just two examples of the good we can do for both people and nature in collaboration with like-minded partners, and we look forward to continuing this ripple effect following a second run in 2021. The GGG has allowed us to create partnerships with NGOs to deliver alternative livelihoods and work with communities to achieve shared sustainability goals.

An associate participates in a beach clean-up initiative to remove plastic waste from our coastline

— Photo by Banyan TreeAn associate participates in a beach clean-up initiative to remove plastic waste from our coastline

— Photo by Banyan Tree
An associate participates in a beach clean-up initiative to remove plastic waste from our coastline — Photo by Banyan Tree

Diversity of Business for a Sustainable Approach

In our mission to build back better post-COVID, Stay for Good embodies our vision for "good growth." Last year, we announced five new concepts as part of our multi-branded ecosystem, including Homm, Garrya, Folio and two brand extensions of the award-winning Banyan Tree brand, Banyan Tree Escape and Banyan Tree Veya. Our new brands were conceived in response to the pandemic-activated evolution of the modern traveler, one who seeks space for restoration, approachable luxury experiences and an array of sustainability-forward accommodations. It is our goal that each new hotel or resort provides a platform "for good" at a destination.

Over the next 18 months, we will launch 20 new openings in seven countries, three of which will be frontier locations such as Africa and Japan. As we expand, we will maintain our stewardship and sustainability standards by:

  • Investing in a sustainably-built planet – All new builds prioritize the vitality of local ecosystems. For example, each Banyan Tree Escape resort is "built into" the existing community by constructing around native trees and water systems. For our other brands, conversion opportunities are opted for where possible given they are the most sustainable method for expansion.
  • Leaving destinations better than they were found – Homm hotels inform guests of endangered local species through origami art, such as the Black Billed Gull installation at Homm Bliss Southbeach Patong, which educates on Phuket's jeopardized native coastal bird.???
  • Connecting with local communities via purposeful stewardship – We will implement Stay for Good community-focused initiatives, such as coral and tree planting, and introduce the Seedlings program to support youths born into disadvantaged sectors of society.
  • Shaping growth for second-tier cities – By anchoring in emerging destinations, Banyan Tree Group helps shape the growth and sustainable development of lesser-traveled locations and leverages strong brand appeal to draw travelers to these destinations.

Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, is built into the existing ecosystem in an effort to disrupt nature as little as possible

— Photo by Banyan TreeBuahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, is built into the existing ecosystem in an effort to disrupt nature as little as possible

— Photo by Banyan Tree
Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, is built into the existing ecosystem in an effort to disrupt nature as little as possible — Photo by Banyan Tree

Well-Being as a Core Component of Sustainability

We cannot be purposeful stewards if we are not well, and achieving sustainability must first start within ourselves.

According to research conducted by McKinsey, consumers today "view wellness through a much broader and more sophisticated lens, encompassing not just fitness and nutrition but also overall physical and mental health and appearance." This trickles down into the tourism industry. A January 2022 TripAdvisor study found that 42% of global respondents shared they will embark on a wellness-centric trip in 2022. It is clear in our post-pandemic world that travelers are investing in their well-being.

While all brands within our Group provide various well-being experiences, our recently launched and most holistic well-being brand is Banyan Tree Veya, which launched this March 2022 in Phuket, Thailand. Banyan Tree Veya aims to address a world with an urgent need for reconnecting mind and body on a daily basis. Chronic stress erodes our natural immunity and regenerative capacity. However, by utilizing Banyan Tree's Eight Pillars of Well-Being, Veya guests are able to travel inwards and become conscious of how their daily actions, thoughts and emotions interact with their physical being.

The Veya journey begins with a private consultation led by a personal well-being host, certified and trained in eastern medicine, naturopathy and life coaching. After an assessment, a personalized itinerary – selected from a menu of 50 well-being activities – is created to align to each guest's needs and priorities centering on embodiment therapies and somatic practices. Workshops include Ocean Breath and Conscious Grounding as well as intuitive forms of dance and yoga, and classes like Balance and Stability focus on internal movement to release chronic tension patterns and calm the nervous system.

In order to achieve holistic well-being, it is important to understand that regenerative practices are as important during our waking hours as they are while our bodies recharge. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, "getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety…The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm over time…Ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn and get along with others."

Our brands strive to provide best-in-class accommodations, not only for comfort but for true restoration. For example, villas at Banyan Tree Veya are designed for optimal rest and feature organic cotton bed linens, choice of pillows, black-out curtains, nightly aromatherapy, light reducers and soothing music. For guests wanting to practice privately, each villa is equipped with amenities such as a well-being mini-bar, yoga mats, sound therapy bowls, exercise stretch bands and more. Our newest brand Garrya approaches well-being through minimalist design, with symmetrical guestrooms that promote restful sleep cycles enhanced with warm LED lighting, aromatherapy diffusers, pillow menus and on-demand well-being kits that appeal to rest, fitness or mindfulness.

In addition to our guests, it is our priority to ensure rejuvenation for our associates as well. As part of our Stay for Good initiative to safeguard our associates' welfare, they are provided a set of complimentary room nights to use within Banyan Tree Group's hotels and resorts, including Spa and food and beverage discounts. This is a two-pronged benefit as it not only allows associates to comprehensively understand the amenities and services we are providing our guests, it also provides a safe space for them to rest and recharge.

To quote Mr. Lee Woon Hoe, our Senior Assistant Vice President and Executive Director of Well-Being: "To be truly well, you have to be truly happy." It is our hope as leaders to create environments and experiences for associates and guests that make them happy, and ultimately, well.

Sustainability and Well-Being are the New Norm

As we move forward in our post-pandemic world, it will be vital for hospitality brands to prioritize sustainability initiatives that involve associates, guests and communities. Having a structured framework like Stay for Good identifies a company's main goals and helps put in place actionable steps in order to achieve them. Banyan Tree Group has found our framework to be instrumental in restoring the environments and areas we currently operate in and has provided us a clear roadmap of how to achieve success as we grow. Additionally, amenities and services that go beyond spa treatments to provide 360-degree well-being will be regularly sought out by travelers, and truly appreciated by associates, to combat the lasting effects of fatigue and unhappiness that were amplified over the last two years.

We are thankful that more organizations are making concerted efforts to do their part in the sustainability revolution, and consumers should be proud of the pressure they have put on the larger tourism industry by demanding travel options that prioritize sustainability. These demands are the new norm, and at Banyan Tree Group, we are confident in reassuring our guests that each visit to any of our global locations creates a Stay for Good.

We are continually building on our efforts from almost 30 years ago, learning from ourselves and others on a journey of discovery to ensure a sustainable, resilient and inclusive future for people that safeguards the planet.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com