Golden Buddha Beach Resort in Thailand’s view of Responsible Tourism

At Golden Buddha Beach Resort we have lived and breathed ecological and community sensitive hospitality for the last 18 years. Initially this was as much by necessity as by design. Located on a remote island with no electrical mains, no scheduled boat service and the only village one hour away has ensured that Golden Buddha has become acutely aware of its environment and its importance. At Golden Buddha we pride ourselves on our approach to responsible tourism. Put simply we define this as: To maximize the positive impacts and minimise the negative impacts of tourism on the local community and environment. Importantly we do not view responsible tourism with the mindset that once we have achieved the badge, stamp or accreditation that we are there. Instead we believe it is an ongoing process of improvement and development whilst finely balancing the objectives of business and responsibility.

The definition of an Eco Resort is generally left up to marketing geniuses. For instance, Blue Bamboo Eco Lodge might say, “Only organic soaps and shampoos are used in our facilities.” All the while consuming huge amounts of energy on air conditioning, water features and paying staff below the minimum legal wages and firing them with a day’s notice. At Golden Buddha we have a period of 6 months with little rain and a lot of sunshine that brings strong interest from international visitors followed by 6 months of the southwest monsoon with lots of rain and storms. These characteristics lead Golden Buddha Beach to use simple, low impact construction for its 25 individual houses and all communal buildings. The luxury must to be provided by nature, not man. Buildings are spaced apart and permitted to comprise no more than 12.5% of any one-rai plot. Building heights are restricted to maintain the spacious feel and emphasise the surrounding rain forests. All buildings are constructed predominantly with plantation sourced tropical hardwoods using local Thai craftsmen. As all power has to be generated on site, it was obvious that big generators and daily transport of large quantities of fuel were going to be both wasteful and expensive. Thus, the decision was made to rule out the use of air conditioning and hot water showers and excessive electricity. This policy continues to this day.

Golden Buddha hires locally wherever possible. This policy is both practical and necessary. Who else knows how the island’s community life works? What is acceptable and what is not? Who else knows the local environment and wildlife better? Furthermore, most people on the mainland think it is a bit peculiar to live in such an isolated environment with few urban conveniences. Currently all the staff at Golden Buddha are from Thailand and 90% are fromthe island or the nearby coastal villages. In addition, where services are available by local businesses, large or small, we use local. The head of the island’s TahPaeYoi village provides all boat services to and from the resort using energy efficient longtail boats powered by 14 hp engines. Small business operators in Kuraburi town provide ground transportation services for our guests. The closest accountant is in Takuapa and we use her services. It is a symbiotic relationship. Yet simply hiring local does not mean one is building responsible tourism on Koh Phra Thong. It takes much more. All of our staff are paid significantly above the legal minimum and we pay their taxes and social insurance. They all get paid legal holidays and vacation pay. Unlike many Thai hotel operators, we try to provide year around employment to staff that want it. When we are not busy with guests, they take their holidays and visit family, and at the resort do maintenance, plant trees and carry out other rainy season tasks. Training is another important contribution to the local staff on the island. Our training is heavy on skills for the hospitality industry and English language. Other training is more specialised such as food management, hygiene, carpentry, diesel engine maintenance, computer usage and sustainable gardening.

Our environmental policies continue to evolve. They are based on 1) good science, 2) practicality, and 3) guest acceptability.We lose a lot of business by not having air conditioning and hot water, but there are plenty of places for those tourists. Instead, we provide healthy food made with fresh, local ingredients. Electric power is provided from 6pm to 11pm in the houses, which is acceptable for most people. We have two generators of different sizes. Except when the resort is at full capacity with guests we use the smaller one at 2 litres per hours of fuel consumption. That saves 4 litres/hour over the larger one, which is generally only used 20 or so days/year, or as a backup. We don’t power water pumps for swimming pools; rather we provide miles of un-spoiled oceanfront beaches and a calm bay for guests to enjoy in just about any weather condition. What works in some places doesn’t work in others. Waste material is a problem everywhere. We would like to see everything that comes on the island go off again. Whereas in some communities’ glass beer and soda bottles are recycled, that is not possible here. As recently as 2 years ago the glass bottles were simply being buried after crushing. In 2008 we realised that beer and sodas in aluminium cans would actually solve an environmental problem for us. Aluminium has commercial value and is purchased locally. We no longer buy any bottles and only get beverages in cans. The result is that our staff collect these from any place they can; from the bar, the houses or those left carelessly on the beach and take them to Kuraburi to sell for some extra money. Another simple waste management problem has been plastic packaging. Two years ago a businesswoman in Kuraburi that sourced all our vegetables, fruits and meat was using a massive number of disposable plastic bags. We cannot recycle them and the only practical thing to do with them is burn them. We don’t have the complete solution, but we have made great strides. We have reusable plastic boxes and coolers, which go back and forth to her business. She packs them up and sends them to the pier and they return to the island. What plastic packaging does come to the island now goes back to the mainland for proper disposal. Since our island is virtually all sand and poor in biological carbon, we are able to benefit by saving all food scraps which are composted along with grass clippings, coconut branches and other natural trash. During the rainy season our staff utilise the compost in our gardens. These vegetables and fish they catch after work make a substantial contribution to wholesome staff meals for almost six months each year.

At Golden Buddha we do care about the environment, our staff and the local community. And, of course,we care about our guests. After all, we are in the hospitality business. Guests want to relax and enjoy the local surrounding without hardship. We are believers in science. It can have bad uses or good uses. Wewill continue to explore ways to use wastewater for our gardens, solar for power and lower energy techniques to purifywater.We are not too sanguine about making ice in the resort. The laws of thermodynamics are not very forgiving and it simply takes a lot of energy to cool water from 25 C to -4 C with current technology. We continue to look for improvements and we welcome all feedback, suggestions and potential partnerships.

For more information contact: com or go to Golden Buddha Beach Resort