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Tuesday April 16th, 2024

Driving Change: A Journey Towards Community Empowerment through Sustainable Tourism

Johan Aschan – Area Vice President, Sri Lanka Resorts, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, and General Manager of Cinnamon Bentota Beach

Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts’ Johan Aschan, Area Vice President, Sri Lanka Resorts, and General Manager of Cinnamon Bentota Beach, shares insights into the Sri Lanka Resorts of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts deep commitment to integrating sustainability into its operations, with a focus on environmental stewardship and community empowerment.

Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts has been at the forefront of integrating sustainability into its operations. Could you highlight some of the key sustainability projects that have been implemented across your Sri Lankan resorts, and how these initiatives reflect your commitment to environmental stewardship?

At Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, sustainability is not just a buzzword; it’s ingrained in our DNA. Our commitment to environmental stewardship is evident through a robust Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework, which revolves around three key pillars: safeguarding the health of our planet, fostering the well-being of our people and communities, and promoting sustainable development for all.

Across our eight exquisite resorts in Sri Lanka—Cinnamon Bentota Beach, Cinnamon Bey Beruwala, Cinnamon Citadel Kandy, Cinnamon Wild Yala, Cinnamon Lodge Habarana, Habarana Village by Cinnamon, Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon, and Trinco Blu by Cinnamon—we’ve implemented a myriad of sustainability projects that not only serve our local communities but also conserve and protect the surrounding environment.

Through collaborative efforts like the Cinnamon Rainforest Project, in partnership with the John Keells Foundation, we’ve been actively involved in conservation endeavours such as Pasal Diriya and initiatives like the Elephant Fencing Project (Live and Let Live) in Badiwewa, Elephant Gathering Conservation, Elephant Collaring Project, Leopard Conservation Project, GAP Farming, Hikka Batiks Project, and Bees that Sustain Life – each aimed at preserving local ecosystems and empowering communities.

Moreover, we’re spearheading greenhouse projects, supporting home gardening initiatives, advocating for the employment of people with disabilities, pioneering ocean strainer projects, and raising awareness on child protection within the communities where we operate.

Transparency is key to our approach, and we’re committed to sharing our ESG strategy openly, fostering trust, and nurturing relationships with all stakeholders, including our colleagues and the communities we serve. At Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, sustainability isn’t just a box to tick; it’s a way of life, deeply embedded in everything we do.

Sustainable tourism is vital for preserving the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. What specific steps has Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts taken to ensure that your operations contribute to sustainable tourism practices?

Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts recognizes the pivotal role of sustainable tourism in safeguarding Sri Lanka’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. Our commitment to this cause is evident through concrete steps taken to ensure that our operations align with sustainable tourism practices.

Since 2020, we’ve embarked on a journey to eliminate single-use guest-facing plastics, driven by our profound concern for environmental issues such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and microplastic contamination. By 2030, our goal is to eradicate all such plastics from guest spaces. Our latest partnership with NORDAQ, featuring internationally patented water filtration technology, marks a significant milestone. It positions two of our properties as the first in Sri Lanka to provide mineral water through an in-house purification and bottling facility, thereby reducing plastic usage.

Our efforts to reduce plastic extends beyond mere rhetoric. We’ve implemented simple yet impactful changes, such as transitioning to glass water bottles, ceramic ramekins, and glass jars to replace condiment sachets, installing water filling stations, and utilizing wooden cutlery, cloth laundry bags, and ceramic dispensers for bathroom amenities. We’re actively scrutinizing other single-use plastic items utilized behind the scenes in our operations.

Moreover, our in-house team of naturalists, Cinnamon Nature Trails, has conducted extensive biodiversity mapping initiatives for several of our resorts, including Cinnamon Lodge Habarana, Habarana Village by Cinnamon, Trinco Blu by Cinnamon, and Cinnamon Wild Yala. Through scientific mapping, we’ve identified threatened species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), invasive species, and the diverse range of fauna and flora within these areas. This thorough assessment has empowered us to develop targeted mitigation strategies tailored to each resort, fostering ecological balance and promoting sustainable practices throughout our operations.

Efficient use of energy and water and the reduction of emissions are critical components of sustainability. Can you elaborate on the measures Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts have put in place to manage these resources efficiently and mitigate your environmental impact?

Efficient management of energy and water resources, along with the reduction of emissions, forms the cornerstone of our sustainability efforts at Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts. Through a multifaceted approach, we’ve implemented measures to mitigate our environmental impact while ensuring operational excellence.

Our journey towards adopting clean energy practices commenced with an internal assessment of our energy consumption, which enabled us to establish specific local targets. To further enhance our efforts, we partnered with EarthCheck Pte Ltd. for a comprehensive analysis aimed at systematically reducing our carbon footprint, benchmarking against industry standards and regional leaders.

To reduce our energy consumption, we’ve implemented various efficiency measures. Significant changes include replacing all filament bulbs with energy-efficient LED lighting, installing inverter air conditioners, and deploying sensor-based lighting systems. Moreover, our resorts are intelligently designed to optimize natural lighting and ventilation, minimizing electricity usage. We actively engage our guests in energy-saving practices through gentle reminders in common areas.

At several of our Sri Lankan resorts, we’ve installed solar panels on rooftops to harness solar energy for heating water in guest rooms, thereby reducing reliance on conventional power sources during the daytime.

Ensuring the quality of treated wastewater before release into the environment is paramount. Each resort equipped with sewage treatment plants undergoes rigorous testing of wastewater every quarter. To contribute positively to the environment, we strategically release treated water into man-made tanks at Yala and a natural lagoon at Trincomalee during the dry season, serving as a vital water source for wildlife and groundwater replenishment.

Water conservation is equally prioritized through various initiatives. These include the installation of low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets, as well as the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems and water recycling for non-potable uses like irrigation. We conduct regular water conservation awareness programmes for our staff and diligently monitor water usage for leak detection, promptly addressing any issues detected through consumption meters.

At Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, our commitment to efficient resource management underscores our dedication to sustainable practices and environmental stewardship.

Your resorts have been recognized with various certifications and awards for sustainability efforts. Can you share more about these accolades and how they motivate your team to continue pushing the boundaries of sustainable tourism?

The recognition our resorts have received through various certifications and awards serves as a potent catalyst for our team to continually push the boundaries of sustainable tourism. Achieving Travelife Gold certification for accommodation sustainability from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council sets a lofty standard that we proudly maintain across all our properties.

Moreover, accolades like the SATA Gold Award for Cinnamon Wild Yala as the Leading Wildlife Lodge/Tented Camp, and the Silver Award for Best River Front Hotel for Cinnamon Citadel Kandy, underscore our commitment to excellence in diverse facets of hospitality.

Our dedication to occupational safety and health, as evidenced by accolades such as the National Occupational Safety and Health Excellence Awards 2022, reinforces our responsibility towards our staff and guests alike.

Additionally, we’re honoured to have received recognition from esteemed platforms like TripAdvisor, Booking.com, and ISO certifications for food safety, environmental management, and occupational health and safety standards.

Globally, our commitment to sustainability has been acknowledged through achievements like Platinum LEED certification for Cinnamon Bentota Beach and Gold LEED certification for Cinnamon Bey, along with awards from Environmental Finance and ACCA Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, accolades such as our 10th ranking in Transparency in Corporate Reporting Assessment by Transparency International Sri Lanka and awards like the TAGS Awards 2023 validate our efforts towards transparency and accountability.

These awards not only celebrate our accomplishments but also fuel our drive to innovate and elevate the standards of sustainable tourism practices. They inspire us to create memorable experiences for our guests while preserving and protecting the environment and communities where we operate.

Community building is a significant aspect of sustainability. How do Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts engage with and support the local communities around your resorts, particularly in terms of employment and sourcing suppliers?

Community building is indeed a vital aspect of sustainability, and at Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, we actively engage with and support the local communities surrounding our resorts, particularly in terms of employment and sourcing suppliers.

We prioritize local sourcing whenever possible, not only to directly benefit the community but also to mitigate supply chain disruptions, enriching our guests’ experiences with unique offerings. Currently, nearly 77% of our suppliers come from nearby communities, with 80% being Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Our suppliers undergo a transparent tender process that considers documented social, environmental, and financial criteria. By prioritizing suppliers from local communities, we contribute to the economic upliftment of these regions. Through continuous audits, visits, and impact assessments, we identify and address social and environmental risks within our supply chain. Additionally, we provide necessary training to uplift their practices, reinforcing our commitment to community development.

In collaboration with the Vocational Training Authority (VTA), we nurture industry talent by offering students on-the-job training at Cinnamon Wild. This partnership enhances students’ skills while elevating VTA facilities and curriculum standards. Moreover, our colleagues have the opportunity to attain NVQA certification for prior learning, enhancing the overall quality of industry talent.

The Hikka Batiks Project at Hikka Tranz is a prime example of our dedication to community empowerment and business innovation. Launched in 2019, this project involves repurposing discarded hotel linen into batik tote bags by a group of 12 empowered women from Hikkaduwa. Led by the John Keells Foundation and supported by the Hikka Tranz team, this initiative aims to sustain local women artisans, improve their skills, and expand their markets. Through this collaborative effort, we create shared value by upcycling linen into various products, enriching the guest experience, and fostering community empowerment.

Similarly, the Bees that Sustain Life project at Cinnamon Lodge Habarana & Cinnamon Citadel Kandy underscores the crucial significance of beekeeping in promoting sustainable agriculture and preserving ecosystems. Through comprehensive training sessions led by field experts and the distribution of beekeeping equipment to deserving individuals, we aim to support local livelihoods and promote sustainable practices, ultimately fostering thriving communities and flourishing ecosystems.

Looking ahead, what are Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts’ plans for advancing your sustainability initiatives? Are there any upcoming projects or goals you are particularly excited about in the realm of ESG efforts?

Looking ahead, our commitment to advancing sustainability at Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts remains steadfast, aligning closely with our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) objectives. Here’s an overview of some exciting projects and goals we’re eagerly pursuing:

Our journey begins with a strong focus on renewable energy sources, particularly solar power. Embracing these sustainable alternatives will not only reduce our carbon footprint but also decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, paving the way for a cleaner, greener future.

Water conservation stands as another vital pillar of our sustainability efforts. Through innovative water-saving technologies and community-focused initiatives, we’re striving to minimize water usage across our properties. Our long-term vision includes achieving water neutrality by 2040 and becoming water-positive by 2050, ensuring sustainable water access for future generations.

Furthermore, enhancing waste management and recycling programmes is a priority. By implementing robust systems and increasing recycling rates, we’re working towards a future with zero waste to landfill by 2030. Additionally, our dedication to achieving plastic neutrality by the same year underscores our commitment to mitigating the harmful impact of plastic pollution on our environment.

In our endeavour to engage and uplift local communities, we’re expanding our community engagement programmes and social initiatives. These efforts aim to support livelihoods, empower women and children, and promote sustainable tourism practices, to positively impact the lives of 250,000 beneficiaries by 2030.

Biodiversity conservation remains a key focus area for us. We’re committed to preserving and protecting biodiversity in the regions where our properties are situated, collaborating on conservation projects and forging partnerships with environmental organizations. Our medium-term goal is to achieve net positive biodiversity across selected properties by 2030.

Through these initiatives, we’re not only advancing our sustainability goals but also contributing to a more responsible and resilient future for our communities and the planet.