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Local in the spotlight: Ewald Biemans

Ewald has long been one of the leading eco-entrepreneurs on our One happy island.

Here are some pressing questions about his completely climate neutral Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort and his vision for sustainability and Aruba.

How and when did you decide to become a sustainable entrepreneur?

I first came to Aruba in the mid-1960s before moving there in the 1970s. Back then, the population was considerably smaller and there were a lot fewer visitors. Aruba was untouched and underdeveloped. After that, development came at a rapid pace, which brought challenges. Especially in the field of waste management. As the tourism sector grew steadily, I read about the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the prospects of climate change if no action was taken. This struck a chord with me because I saw that the Aruban economy was and is heavily dependent on nature and that the island could not and cannot afford massive global warming and rising sea levels. This would result in the sector we heavily depend on, tourism, being compromised. Therefore, I decided to take action and do sustainable business and encourage colleagues on the island and in the region to do the same.

You are often seen as an 'eco-pioneer' on the island. How have you used your influence to motivate and inspire others?

Science has already shown us the consequences of not taking action to combat global warming. I myself have not waited a moment to take action both at home and in my business. I have managed to drastically reduce my impact on the environment. It all started by seeking knowledge from the Green Globe Organisation, the organisation that created various certifications after the UN Earth Summit in 1992. Their advice and the certification process led to our hotel being fully Green Globe Platinum certified, holding ISO 14001, Travellife Gold and LEED Gold certificates, highlighting various aspects of sustainable business. The Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort holds the two highest Green Globe Platinum ratings in the world with a 99/100 score. Green Globe focuses not only on sustainable business, but also on local culture, quality of life, language skills and the use of local products and services. LEED focuses on sustainable buildings to ensure that the materials used, and the construction process have minimal environmental impact and emissions. ISO focuses on management structures and processes and procedures. Travellife focuses on the operational side of the travel industry and how we can operate and tell travelers how to travel as sustainably as possible. All this knowledge and the implementation of various technologies, policy standards and procedures aimed at significantly reducing our footprint have resulted in us operating completely climate neutral. It took us seven years and we achieved this result in 2018. We are the first fully climate neutral hotel in the Caribbean. The United Nations awarded us with the Climate Action Award because we have created a scalable and achievable model and really invested to promote our model globally. I continue to speak at many conferences such as CHTA & WTTC to help my colleagues get started and convince them that you can operate climate neutrally and at the same time be awarded for providing high quality and service. Many believe you have to compromise on the latter when you decide to operate completely climate neutral, but you should always strive to do both.

How do you substantiate that people can experience a guilt-free holiday at Bucuti when they have to fly to Aruba?

  • Aruba is completely dependent on long-haul flights to welcome visitors. We understand that aviation creates challenges, but the island's economy depends on tourism. This is why we focus on the following:
  • We offer guests in Aruba a completely climate-neutral environment where, unlike at home, they do not create emissions with their car, heating/cooling their house, cooking, leaving all the lights on, constantly charging their electronic devices. So, this is how we offer people savings.
  • Our concierge team recommends activities that cause zero to low emissions. We have EV taxis here in Aruba, 20% of the island consists of a protected nature reserve with great infrastructure consisting of hiking trails, educational programs, lots of information about local flora and fauna and hike possibilities with or without a guide. For example, by mountain biking, taking part in water sports, sailing and other similar activities, you can fill an entire holiday in Aruba with special experiences that produce virtually no emissions.
  • The Aruban government is increasingly active with the goal of being completely climate neutral as an island by 2050 and already has the largest amount of solar energy in the Caribbean. In addition, the government is also contributing to wind energy, with a 30% contribution of renewable energy sources. If wind and solar energy are not available, you cannot completely stop using fossil fuels, but it is important to get as much as possible from renewable sources.
  • With our Carbon Neutrality Concierge Service, the first in the world, we also help guests offset their emissions when they book a trip.
  • If you book a holiday to a tropical destination, you simply cannot take the train. You have to fly. When you consider what a two-week stay at our climate-neutral resort will create even if you fly, because you don't do all the activities that create emissions for a fortnight, it's fair to say that you have holidayed responsibly. The point is that we talk a lot about distant flights, while other things are even worse. Ultimately, it is important to be more conscious about your flying behaviour.

How do you see Bucuti's future in terms of innovations and sustainability?

Together with a good friend of mine, I have donated 12 hectares of private land in the beating heart of tourism, North, to make it a nature reserve, with the main aim of preventing construction on this piece of land. We are also reforesting so that this piece of land draws carbon from the environment. Hundreds of trees have already been planted and we are going to plant hundreds more. We are doing this together with our local partner Ban Lanta y Planta. Last year, we invested 1.5 million Aruban guilders in new technologies and equipment to further reduce the hotel's footprint. With this, we have already saved 25% in energy.  We have done this by installing new, efficient solar water heating systems. We have used a special paint from German brand MIG for the new Bucuti wing, which provides good insulation, reducing your reliance on cooling systems such as air conditioning. We have implemented an efficient HVAC system throughout the hotel. We give partners green loans to live more sustainably at home and, for example, install solar panels, use energy-efficient appliances, buy an EV bike or car, etc. We facilitate energy audits at their homes, so we know exactly what to invest in. We have much less beef on the menu and the staff menu no longer includes beef at all. Instead, people can choose from sustainably produced chicken, turkey, and fish. We operate almost entirely paperless and, of course, we continue to explore ways to lower our impact even more.

Bucuti & Tara - 35th Anniversary

How do you envision the future of sustainable travel?

  • I think it is promising, as people are increasingly aware of the impact travel has on nature and local communities. We therefore see a number of trends emerging.
  • There is increasing demand for sustainable alternatives because travelers really want to prioritize this. So that also means more demand for eco-friendly accommodation, transport options and tours. This includes looking at electric and hybrid modes of transport that are becoming more accessible and affordable. This trend is sure to continue, with travelers also choosing low emission means of transport more often.
  • Technology plays an important role in being able to make sustainable choices. Mobile apps allow you to find sustainable accommodation more and more quickly, as well as programs to offset your co2.
  • Sustainable tourism with the aim of making a positive impact on both nature and local communities is growing steadily. To accelerate this process, undertake initiatives such as reforestation, re-wilding, and other conservation efforts.
  • Conscious consumption and conscious use of products and services while travelling is also essential. So, support your local entrepreneur and buy sustainable products as much as possible. Avoid disposable plastic and other forms of waste.

Overall, I do see a growing movement where sustainable travel is concerned. A movement in which innovation and creativity are central. Travelers and the travel industry are working together to make sustainable travel future-proof.

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