With its warm, turquoise waters, gently undulating palm trees and sunny climate, it’s not hard to see why Fiji is such a popular travel destination. This group of islands in the South Pacific encapsulates the idea of tropical paradise and today over a quarter of the economy stems from travel. While the economic benefits of such booming tourism are great, the ecological drawbacks can be even greater.
Guest rooms are made in the traditional Fijian style with natural, sustainable materials.Selene Nelson
Increased tourism means increased greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and waste management. Climate change is having a palpable effect on Fiji and other South Pacific islands, where the seasons have become unpredictable and rising sea levels create noticeably higher tides. Dismissal of globing warming just doesn’t wash in a country where you can literally see it happening.
Hotels and resorts are some of the worst environmental offenders due to the fact that each guest room requires its own energy and water supply, even when the room is empty. Reducing these quantities is becoming a necessary duty in the travel industry. Thankfully, Fiji is showcasing some of the best examples of sustainable tourism in the world—not just the South Pacific.
Leading the charge is Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, an island resort that’s been a pioneer in green tourism since its opening in the 1990s. Rather than just throwing around a few words like “eco” and “sustainable” like other supposedly green hotels I’ve visited, almost every feature of Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is designed to reduce its carbon footprint.
All furniture is made from sustainably harvested materials and using traditional construction techniques.Selene Nelson
But this is, undeniably, a luxury resort—so how can a big, luxury resort manage to be so green? And perhaps more importantly, which of their green initiatives are shaping sustainable travel in the South Pacific and across the globe?
Green Grounds, Eco Rooms
Modeled after a traditional Fijian village, guest rooms (“bures”) are made from natural and sustainably harvested materials and with traditional construction techniques. Most unusually for a five star resort in a tropical climate, the rooms possess no air conditioning; the tall ceilings have been designed to let hot air rise and the louvered windows allow for ventilation. This means that, with the help of a ceiling fan, the rooms stay cool even in the hottest months.
There are no TVs or radios in the rooms (the only electronic appliances are energy-efficient lights and a kettle) and several of the bures have had solar panels installed on water heaters, an expanding initiative across the resort. There is a filtration process for wastewater, where it’s moved to a lily pond, treated, then filtered and used to irrigate the grounds (in filters made from coconut husks!).
In the grounds there’s an organic garden that provides fruit, vegetables and herbs for the kitchen.Selene Nelson
In the grounds themselves there’s an organic garden that provides fruit, vegetables and herbs year round. Almost all the tropical fruit on the menu is from the gardens and any food that can’t be grown on site is sourced from local organic farmers. Only sustainably caught fish are used in the menu (no farmed prawns or reef fish), which has created a competitive sustainable fishing market in the area.
Flowers used for decoration in the resort come from the flower nursery.Selene Nelson
A resort in Fiji can’t be considered luxury without its very own spa. Rather than using processed products full of chemicals (which create considerable waste from its packaging), the resort only uses natural ingredients like coconut milk and oil, husks, brown sugar and nuts in the spa treatments. Even the complimentary shampoos and soaps in the guest rooms are biodegradable.
The resort spa uses only natural ingredients and biodegradable packaging for treatments.Selene Nelson
The clear waters surrounding the islands of Fiji are one of its main draws, and so protecting it is paramount to the local people. The front of Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is now a marine reserve and a program has been implemented to preserve the natural ocean habitat. There’s also a coral farm to protect corals that have broken off from their colony; without this help the coral has little chance of survival.
Back when the resort was a coconut plantation, the mangroves that grew on the shores were removed. Mangroves are integral to preserving the natural eco-system and help prevent shoreline erosion. The resort has now developed a mangrove reforestation program, the brainchild of Johnny Singh, the resort’s own onsite marine biologist.
A mangrove reforestation program has been developed to help preserve the natural eco-system.Selene Nelson
Singh is one of the resort’s greatest assets, running a host of eco activities for guests, such as rainforest walks, snorkeling trips and a clam restoration project and giving slide presentations on local marine life that delight the children and inspire them to participate. Getting children involved with protecting the environment is important to the resort and kids are encouraged to help out with projects like the mangrove reforestation.
Aside from aiding the immediate area, the effects these efforts have had on the island as a whole have been considerable. This was the first resort in Fiji to recycle paper and plastic, resulting in the implementation of a recycling program in the nearby town. As the resort’s popularity and reputation grew, so did knowledge of its green initiatives, which have been instrumental in promoting ecotourism in the luxury travel arena.
In Fiji and around there has been an outcrop of new eco-resorts emulating this eco-conscious culture, but it isn’t just in the South Pacific that this influence can be felt. As the TripAdvisor top ranked eco resort in the world, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort has proven that a five star luxury resort cannot only avoid damaging the environment, but can actually rectify past mistakes as well.