ALILA is a luxury boutique hotel brand, managed by a skilled local and global team that embraces the values of passion, innovation, authenticity, social responsibility and community engagement. In support of sustainable tourism, Alila hotels integrate the natural, physical and cultural elements of their environments. We asked Mark Edleson, the founder, visionary, heart and soul of Alila for his thoughts on sustainability and how he ‘walks the talk’.
Do travellers care about sustainability?
I wish they cared more! While some developers and some operators make efforts to incorporate sustainable elements into their activities, major changes will only come when travellers express their concerns vocally and with their buying power. It is clear that not enough travellers care enough to pressure change. When I stay in a hotel, I carefully hang my morning bath towel hoping it will be usable in the evening and for another day. I am upset when I return to find a clean towel knowing the water, energy and chemicals that are required to clean each towel. While I appreciate drinking water in the room, I would prefer refillable bottles to plastic ones. These are simple but concrete actions the industry can take but only travellers can make those changes happen.
Is the hotel industry really serious about addressing sustainability?
I think the industry is becoming more serious over time about issues of sustainability because its customers are getting serious about it. There is, indeed, some “green-washing” that takes place where hotels indicate concern without really doing much to address the issue but I do see more genuine concern. There is very little information available through traditional booking channels to help inform the traveler about environmental issues but as that information does become more widely made available it will influence travel decisions.
What do you see as the leading trends in sustainability for the hotel industry?
The leading trends are the easiest that involve operating issues with little capital cost such as more careful waste management, water conservation and energy reduction. These can be done with rather simple solutions like converting to LED lights, controlling air conditioning, segregating organic and inorganic waste, ensuring pools and water features are not leaking. All of these solutions immediately lead to savings in operating costs.
What are the 3 biggest challenges for the hotel industry in the next decade and how is sustainability a part of the solution?
I am not sure what the 3 biggest challenges are but there is massive disruption going on in the industry now with the likes of OTAs, alternative lodging and social media. The hotel industry requires massive fixed capital and the ability to make a return on capital is becoming an ever greater challenge. Sustainability might be part of the solution if it can help lower operating expenses and play its part in preserving deteriorating environments that so many hotels, and particularly resorts, depend on for their very existence.
What bothers you most within the sustainability discussion?
I am bothered by the fact that one of the biggest components of the discussion, the airline industry which delivers our guests to us in most cases, is not in our control and we cannot do much about it.
What do you see as the biggest urgency for the planet?
The biggest urgencies are to create peace among people and to make greater efforts to limit environmental degradation leading to climate change. If people cannot live in peace they will not travel and if climate change continues at the current pace, some of our best destinations for travel like Miami, the Maldives and many other coastal cities and resorts will disappear.
What legacy would you like to leave behind from your leadership?
I would hope to have raised the level of discussion and awareness of the need for environmental stewardship in the hospitality industry in Asia.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m still not sure of what I want to be when I grow up!
Which is your favorite hotel, apart from your own, and why?
I have always loved Amanjiwo in Central Java, Indonesia. The setting among the volcanoes and religious and political history of Java is stunning and fascinating and the proximity to Borobudur gives it a sacredness and calmness that is always rejuvenating (Confession: I was one of the developers of the property but am no longer involved).
Give us an example of how you, in your personal life, walk the sustainability talk?
I divide my home life between my apartment in Singapore and my villa in Bali. In Singapore, I am fortunate to be able to walk everywhere and when I am tired of walking or hurried, I can take public transportation. In Bali, we grow most of our own food and get most of our energy from the solar panels on the roof.
Alila adopts the EarthCheck Certification – the world’s leading programme used by the travel and tourism industry to assess environmental sustainability. Alila Seminyak, Alila Villas Uluwatu and Alila Manggis have achieved EarthCheck Gold and Alila Jakarta is scheduled to achieve this level in late 2017.
Many of Alila’s newer resorts are designed and built in accordance with strict EarthCheck standards, leading the way in sustainable hotel development. These are Alila Seminyak and Alila Uluwatu in Bali, and Alila Anji in China. Alila SCBD will open in Jakarta in Q4 2017.