While many hotels like to involve themselves in CSR activities, one example to follow is that set by Laguna Phuket – part of the Banyan Tree Group – whose projects can truly claim to be standing the test of time, having delivered long-term benefits to local communities over the past quarter of a century. Ravi Chandran, Managing Director of Laguna Phuket, agreed to tell Hotelintel.co more about the wide range of CSR initiatives his hotel oversees.

What kind of CSR initiatives has Laguna Phuket introduced?

From the group’s perspective, Banyan Tree have been aligning their efforts with UN Sustainable Development Goals to combat poverty and to tackle climate change. Specific priorities and targets depend on the destination where each Banyan Tree property is located.

At Laguna Phuket, the destination resort’s community relations and CSR initiatives are divided up to focus on cultural diversity (Buddhist Lent, Vegetarian Festival, Sart Duen Sib, and Loy Krathong), social equity (Seedlings Phuket social-enterprise restaurant, Associate Savings Cooperative, Children’s Day and the Children First Fund), educational empowerment (Laguna Phuket Kindergarten, Community Learning Centre, Fully Booked! Mobile Learning Centre, Scholarships, and Sustainable School Development), health and sports promotion (International Marathon, Triathlon, Survival Swim, Associate Running Club and Red Cross Blood Donation), and finally environmental preservation (EarthCheck, Sea Turtle Conservation, Beach Clean-up, and Mangrove Planting).

Why is CSR important for the brand and for your business?

As a brand in the service industry, we aspire to be globally recognized as a company that inspires exceptional experiences among our guests, instills pride and integrity in our associates, and enhances both the physical and human environment in which we operate. These core values are vital in ensuring best-possible service touch points, guests experience, and ultimately, brand perception and loyalty.

As an operator in the tourism industry, we are fully aware of our key role in the ever-changing world. Sustainable tourism is, therefore, a positive instrument with which we align our business conduct. We make it a point to educate and engage our guests and associates to conserve and safeguard cultural and natural heritage. For example, guests are encouraged to bring their children to Laguna Phuket sea turtle conservation activities where age-appropriate edutainment sessions will instill compassion towards wildlife in their young minds. Laguna Phuket has also participated in forums by local trade organizations such as the Phuket Hotel Association and Phuket Tourist Association to share its sustainable stories and milestones.

What's the annual investment in all of your CSR initiatives?

Each year we spend around 15 million baht on all of our sustainability efforts. There are four main financing mechanisms supporting the long-term sustainability of these initiatives. First is the Laguna Phuket Community Programme at around 4.4 million baht. Then the Laguna Phuket Foundation organizes fundraising activities at Laguna Phuket’s sporting and CSR events which provide another 2.5 million baht per year. The Laguna Phuket Kindergarten Fund receives a direct contribution of 8 million baht by Laguna Resorts & Hotels and the Thai government, and the Banyan Tree Global Foundation accounts for 1 million baht in supporting funds from Laguna Phuket’s parent company for Seedlings Phuket.

Some people see CSR as a marketing tool, and too often companies use CSR programs to deflect attention from socially irresponsible practices in their core operations. How do you manage to be perceived differently?

The unique beginning of Laguna Phuket Resort might have set us apart from common resort development. Instead of cutting down trees and removing topsoil for construction, we have had to transform a 1000-acre tract of ravaged tin mine, written off by the United Nations Development Programme in 1977 as “impossible to rehabilitate”, by bringing in high-quality topsoil and planting numerous new trees to rehabilitate the land until its quality improved.
Given that the resort is based on the reclamation of what was utterly degraded land, the whole complex has been environment friendly from the start. The founders went beyond their original inspiration to design something that is respectful of the natural ecosystem and local culture. The open, airy architecture itself is more than a culturally harmonious design – it also saves energy by minimizing the need for air-conditioning, especially in public areas.

In 1992, LRH received the prestigious International Hotel Association and American Express Environmental Award for its achievements as an international resort and hotel development project with a proven record of environmental conservation, and in 2015, Laguna Phuket Resort became the first tourism operator in Asia to achieve EarthCheck Silver Certification on a precinct level.

Today, you have the sense of having stumbled upon a hidden world, an exotic hideaway within what is already the tropical island retreat of Phuket. A road lined with casuarinas and palms opens up to green expanses, fields of yellow allamanda blossoms, and stands of lofty coconut trees against a backdrop of wooded hills. Then you see the lagoons, the tiled, Thai-style roofs, and the blue waters of Bang Tao Bay and beyond.

Laguna Phuket Kindergarten is another initiative that reflects our long-term commitment. It was established in 1992 as a free child care centre to address the need for a safe place for construction workers’ children back in the days of the resort’s development. Registered as a kindergarten in 2008, it continues to provide free education to children of associates and underprivileged children.

What are the outcomes from your CSR?

From the outset, the resort has been conscious of its responsibility to the community. A dedicated team oversees the company’s roles and responsibilities within the local Phuket community, and close to 20 long-term community relations and CSR initiatives have been strategically planned and implemented throughout the resort’s 31-year history.

The Laguna Phuket Kindergarten has to date enrolled 3,598 children in its 26 years. The Laguna Phuket Scholarship Programme has provided 749 students with educational support from primary to higher education levels over the past 24 years. Our Fully Booked! Mobile Learning Centre has been running for 4 years, and has served more than 7,500 students and 350 teachers in Phuket and Phang-Nga with the aim of boosting literacy rates.

The Seedlings Programme is in tis fourth year, and is a 12-month paid training and mentoring programme focusing on career and personal development for marginalized local young adults. To date, 75 interns have participated, mostly employed in tourism, with 8 currently working at Laguna Phuket. The Sea Turtle Conservation projects has been running for 24 years in collaboration with Phuket Marine Biological Centre and the Royal Thai Navy. To date, 2,105 sea turtles have been released, with 7 million baht raised for the cause.

Our Greening Community Initiative has seen 30,000 mangrove saplings planted in Phuket and neighboring provinces by almost 2,000 volunteers from Laguna Phuket and local communities over the last 11 years. Finally, the Associate Saving Cooperative has been running for 9 years, and provides secure, reliable, profitable and fair financial services to associate members, enabling social equity and benefitting the community to which its members belong.

What's the future of CSR in hotels?

In CSR and sustainability, we often use the term “for the greater good”. I think this is the way forward for the hotel and tourism industry. Sustainable tourism and responsible travel are mandatory, not something to pick and choose.

Stakeholder engagement has to be an essential part of the efforts. Regular dialogue through formal and informal channels with associates, guests, investors, partners, suppliers and communities is important to guide and implement the initiatives. This has proved successful at Laguna Phuket with activities such as hotel guests being invited to read or serve lunch for Laguna Phuket kindergarteners, associates encouraged to volunteer in community events, and business units asked to take part in CSR funding.

In addition to international bodies like the United Nations and its Sustainable Development Goals, national and local organizations must come together to encourage integrated efforts among hotels and tourism operators. The success of the Phuket Hotel Association’s and Phuket Tourist Association’s recent forums with regard to sustainable tourism are good examples.

With continuous engagement and awareness raising, long-term sustainability goals can be achieved.