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Integrating biodiversity considerations in planning and operational decisions for hotel and resort is important not only for the continued viability and conservation of the ecosystems, but also for the long-term financial success of the hotels and resorts. The tourism industry, including the hospitality sector, depends strongly on healthy ecosystems, because those ecosystems – and the wildlife, habitats, landscapes and natural attractions that comprise them – are often the very thing that draws tourists to the destination in the first place. 

Biodiversity is essential for human life. It provides human society with many important benefits and services: for instance, insects pollinate our crops, birds disperse seeds, and fungi, worms and micro-organisms produce nutrients and fertile soils. Interactions between organisms and the physical environment influence our climate, water supplies and air quality, and help protect us from extreme weather, including mitigation of natural disasters. These benefits are collectively known as ecosystem services (The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment).

It is therefore not surprising that biodiversity plays an important role in the day-to-day life of a hotel: from the food in the restaurant and wood in furniture and fittings, to the amenities in the spa, the products of biodiversity are everywhere inside hotels. Outside, plants and animals make a hotel’s public areas and gardens attractive for guests, while beyond the hotel gate, national parks, green spaces, coasts and natural habitats provide guests with opportunities for recreation and enjoyment.

Despite their dependence on and interconnectedness with biodiversity, hotels and resorts can have significant negative impacts on ecosystems and natural resources.
A hotel impacts biodiversity at each stage of its life cycle, from planning through to closure:

  • At the planning stage, the most important issue in determining the level of impact that a hotel will have relates to choices about its siting and design. Choices about the materials that will be used to construct the hotel, where those materials will come from and the total physical footprint of the hotel will also influence how significant its impacts will be in the operational stage.
  • At the construction stage, impact is determined by the size and location of the area cleared for development and where construction activities are taking place; the choice of construction methods; the sources and amount and type of materials, water and energy used to build the hotel; the location of temporary camps for construction workers; inadequate storage facilities for construction materials; the amount of construction waste that has to be disposed of; and other types of damage, such as surface soil erosion or compaction caused by construction activities or disruption of natural water flows and drainage patterns.
  • In the operational stage, a hotel’s impact comes mainly from the energy, water, food and other resources that are consumed in running the hotel; by the solid and liquid wastes it produces; by the way its grounds are managed and by the direct impacts of its guests. In addition, regular renovation and replacement of furniture, appliances and facilities can cause impacts through purchasing choices and increased waste generation. Using energy and water more efficiently; using organic and sustainably produced food; reducing, treating and disposing of waste appropriately; making sustainable purchasing decisions and managing gardens with natural-style plantings can all help a hotel to reduce its adverse impacts on biodiversity. Similarly, a hotel’s relationship with host communities not only affects the sustainable operations of the hotel but also the use of environmental resources by communities themselves.
  • At the closure stage, a hotel’s impacts come from the disposal of materials removed from the hotel to refurbish it, convert it for other uses, or demolish it, and from the work involved in these activities. It may be possible to reuse and recycle some materials, but there may also be some toxic materials, particularly from older buildings, which will require careful handling and management. A responsible hotel operator should also foresee supporting activities of ecological restoration as required.

Soneva Fushi - Maldives
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