300 Seconds with Arnaud Girodon General Manager of The Datai in Lankawi

300 Seconds with Arnaud Girodon


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Arnaud Girodon is the General Manager of The Datai in Lankawi island’s glorious wilderness, a UNESCO geopark created by forces of nature half a billion years ago off the coast of west Malaysia. He leads an inspired team and serves as Board Trustee to The Datai Pledge which funds the research, conservation and sustainability efforts of NGOs and social enterprise partners. Together, they are attaining their earnest goals for carbon reduction, zero waste to landfill targets, supporting marginalised Indigenous communities, and forging resilience and hope for a better future.  The Datai Langkawi is the first organisation in the world to join the EarthCheck ECO Certification Program, for terrestrial (land based) tourism projects.

One word that describes you? 

What is your personal indulgence? 
Enjoying a good dining experience accompanied by a selection of ‘rich reds’ from my home country of France.

Is the world better off because your company is in it? Why?
Well, it is our aim to humbly contribute in a local manner to participate in leaving the world a better place. To this end, we have created The Datai Pledge, a private trust dedicated to improving the well-being of the environment, wildlife and local community of Langkawi. This initiative will be extended to any future property we may own or operate to ensure our business will always be a force for good and will positively impact the environment and communities around any of our hotel locations.

The dire UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 6th Assessment Report released on April 6 has been described as a litany of broken climate promises and made it clear that rising carbon emissions must stop “before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030” to limit global warming to around 1.5C (2.7°F) when the effects of climate breakdown will become irreversible. Will we make it?
Even though my sincerest hope would be that we will, sadly, I doubt that we will be able to reach these goals. It is admirable how many grassroot and youth movements have sprung up over the last few years to push for action on climate change, however, most of our societies are still too slow in implementing meaningful change, either because they have other more pressing matters to attend to or they lack the necessary will to take hard decisions that might be unpopular. That said, I have to admit that the general mindset to favour ‘green’ actions has changed in a more profound manner than most would have expected.

What is luxury travel to you? 
For me, luxury travel is all about experiences set in authentic and well-designed properties, complemented by a very attentive service with strong attention to details but at the same time not pretentious and with genuine care. Obviously, it is also critical for me to eat and drink well!

In your property and destination, how can travellers leave the place better than they find it?
Our guests can choose from a range of options to contribute to sustainability initiatives on location. Beyond monetary contributions, guests can get involved in hands-on experiences such as the coral rehabilitation, where we collect distressed coral fragments from our beach and replant them in our coral nursery until they are healthy and strong enough to be transferred to one of our artificial reefs in the bay. This enriches the biosphere within Datai Bay, providing safe havens for fish to shelter and feed, as well as settlement sites for coral larvae to grow. We also involve our guests in regular tree planting activities – through our partnership with the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia, we have already received 1,000 out of 5,000 pledged tree saplings, and planted 320 trees in the resort’s grounds. In addition, guests can join our team to collect seeds from around the resort – these seeds are then nurtured in our Native Tree Nursery until they are mature enough to be planted into the rainforest. Finally, at our “Lab”, which was purpose-built using upcycled materials from our hotel, workshops are conducted by local artisans demonstrating to our guests how to reuse waste for either arts and crafts or everyday items. 

Today, there is greater expectation for business to lead and demonstrate commitment to a sustainable future for all stakeholders with accountability and transparency. More hotel leaders want to do the right thing on issues of climate and sustainability, but we are not yet seeing the deep transformation, systems change and carbon reduction that is urgently needed. It’s time to reset ambitions.

– As a leader in sustainability, what would your advice be to other GM operators who need to reset ambitions?
It must be NOW that we act for the benefit of the environment and communities around us. Nothing can be taken for granted. Being adaptable and flexible in our approach to life, while aiming for the highest level of harmony with nature can be our saving grace. It must be NOW, as now is the time to show strong determination and will to achieve ambitious goals.

– How can we make the industry more accountable and transparent?
I believe in transparency in all our operations and especially for anything that is geared towards enhancing, and by this, I mean minimising, our carbon footprint. In the framework of The Datai Pledge, we issue an annual Impact Report, which details all our achievements, including our income as well as expenses, all based on figures and statistics that have been audited by independent third parties.

A great reset is anticipated during this pandemic. What do you personally need to reset?  
Personally, I have gone through a few resets during the last few years, the most impactful I would say was the realisation that what informed our decisions yesterday might be completely irrelevant tomorrow. I believe the entire world felt like the rug was pulled from under their feet, and it also made a lot of people realise that we live in a fragile world, so the need to protect it has become even more apparent and urgent.

What ‘cause’ are you personally passionate about outside work? What drives your passion?
I live my passions through my work in a very intense manner, where I have the privilege to be involved in many causes I really care about, such as environment protection, helping communities in need, educating local youth and getting our guests to discover the many local talents Malaysia has to offer. So, frankly, outside of work, I use the time to enrich myself through reading, exercising and having nice dinners with good red wines!

Who is your greatest influence? Best advice you have been given? 
The best and most memorable advice ever given to me, and something I still live by today, was by my late grandmother who passed away last year at the age of 100. When I was a child, she told me: “Respect is a two-way street. If you want to get it. You must give it first.” This has become my guiding principle in relationships, both personal and professional, and I believe it has served me well so far.

Your best advice to young generations concerned about their future?
Stay positive always and act, as the famous French philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, wrote in his book titled, “Existentialism Is A Humanism” which can be very broadly summarised as: “You are as good as your actions”. 

What legacy would you like to leave behind from your leadership?
I would be honoured if colleagues who worked with me as well as partners who collaborated with me said that they were inspired by our work together and that their life, in whatever form or shape, was enriched by their encounter with the principles and causes I represent and am passionate about.

Note from NOW Founder – Alexa Poortier

At this most urgent of times, it is vital to travel consciously and support inspiring properties that use the power of business to do good to communities and the environment.  

The newly published travel book – THIS MUST BE PARADISE … Conscious Travel Inspirations -features The Datai.  Retreat to ancient nature and be inspired.

NOW Travel Diaries

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