The inspiration for a successful, environmentally friendly luxury resort on Aruba’s Eagle Beach started from a love of nature and animals.
Ewald Biemans, originally from Austria, founded Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts 25 years ago on the island paradise. With only 104 rooms, the eco-friendly hotel is situated away from the loud hotspots and high rise buildings on Aruba, but restaurants and shopping areas are accessible in the nearby capital of Oranjestad.
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts sits on 14 acres of white sand and has been called one of the few “Dream Beaches of the World.” This romantic, boutique-style hotel caters to adults only. It offers beach weddings, a professional wedding planner, and “green” weddings.
A Natural Resource
“I arrived in Aruba when it was pristine and clean,” says Biemans, who came to the island in the early 1970s. Since his arrival, there has been a huge influx of people on the now populous island.
“More people equals more garbage,” says Ewald, explaining how the island paradise began to degrade. Vacationers flock to Aruba all year because of the dry, Arizona-like climate; sunny weather; and calm, white beaches. Since tourism is Aruba’s only natural resource and accounts for a large portion of the nation’s income, it is especially important to keep the island clean.
“I thought, We need to do something about this,” says Biemans. Now, local authorities are enforcing rules to keep the island in order, which has resulted in improvements to the ecosystem. Hotels are encouraged to participate in programs to improve the local environment.
“We’re slowly getting there,” he explains, as he points out that everything on the island has to be imported.
An Innovative Ecopreneur
Biemans takes great steps to make the resort a better place for the island, its employees, and its guests through a variety of inventive means. “We are very happy and proud,” he says.
Some of Biemans’ initiatives at the resort include the following:
- Only organic cleaning products are used
- Employees carpool to work
- Motorized sports are discouraged and low-energy sports like windsurfing are promoted
- Air conditioners have sensors that adjust the temperature depending on if people are in the room
- Employees separate garbage, and 60 percent ends up recycled or reused
- Local beers are sold, and the bottles are returned to companies, who wash and reuse them
- Products are bought in five-gallon buckets and dispensers in the rooms for shampoo and soap are refilled
- Instead of plastic laundry bags, the resort supplies pillowcases
- Biodegradable cups and plates in the dining areas are made from sugar cane
- Sheets aren’t changed every day unless specified by the guest
- All paint is non VOC
“The only plastics in the hotel are the straws,” Biemans states proudly. In the future, he hopes to incorporate the use of solar power for public lighting and to control room temperatures on a central computer.
Since 1997, the resort has been honored with nearly 30 awards and recognition for environmental stewardship, sustainable tourism, beach cleanups, and environmental hotel management.
The resort was the first in the Americas and Caribbean to obtain ISO 14001 certification, which indicates that the hotel’s environmental management systems can identify and control its environmental impact. Additionally, the business is a charter member of the Green Hotels Association.
“People choose our hotel because of sustainability,” Biemans says. “They feel guilty about flying all the way to Aruba, but they feel better that they are staying at a sustainable hotel.”
The website also allows guests to purchase renewable energy credits to offset their carbon use. “It gives them a good feeling about staying in a resort,” he says. “They are conserving as much as they can.”
Biemans believes that guests consume less energy at the resort than they would be consuming at home because of the sustainable measures in place. And, for most guests, they stay in a room that is smaller than their house.
The resort is Green Globe Certified, a recognized mark for sustainable tourism. Eco-conscious visitors interested in the natural wildlife and native cuisine can purchase the green vacation package, which includes an outdoor view room, dinner prepared by local chefs, a guided hike, and a tour of the aloe factory.
Biemans preaches the importance of local involvement because items won’t be transported thousands of miles, local jobs are created, and local arts and crafts are promoted.
“We did a lot of things before ‘green’ was a common thing,” he says. “We’re going back 20 years. Now it’s the fashion to talk about it, but we started when it was unheard of.”
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Most of us who care already know that traveling and environmentalism are best kept on different conscious levels. If the draw of foreign cultures is strong enough to get you on an airplane across the ocean, then you might be interested in ways to travel without a heavy environmental impact. Aside from the “offset carbon emissions” check box that airlines now provide at a small charge, you can take a more active approach to eco-traveling.
Contrary to what you might expect, traveling can be an ideal way to live in harmony with your environment. The goal of traveling, after all, is to experience a new culture. You can achieve this by traveling light, both physically and mentally. While drifting from city to city, or country to country, it is easier to see if you are not preoccupied with luggage, cameras, or a voracious appetite. Being open minded is a key to “sustainable” traveling. What follows is advice based on my observations from traveling in Europe during a year of study at University of Lille III, in France.
The key necessities are lodging, eating, and transportation. For lodging, the greenest is usually the cheapest. If the weather permits, consider planning your trip around camping locations. If you’ve done this before, you don’t need my help finding campsites. Check with tourist centers to find out where to camp inside or outside of a city. This way you eliminate the need for hotels, and have a better chance of meeting interesting people.
Another option for free lodging is an organization called CouchSurfing. Since few things are as beneficial to humans and the environment as sharing, the website allows members to get in touch and arrange stays with natives who live wherever they want to travel. For the spunky or the young, it’s one of the best ways to have an inside peek at the culture you’re visiting. If the idea of spending the night at a stranger’s house is too intimidating for you, then you might skip the next paragraph.
Youth hostels are about as cheap as you can get without being free. Of course, you have to be young enough, and it would help to bring ear plugs. Sharing a room with three to seven other strangers can be difficult, but you never know, maybe your bunkmates will get lost in the Venetian canals, and you’ll have the whole room to yourself for only 20 euros. If not, you might make a few friends, and you can share your advice and experiences while getting some good advice from fellow travelers.
I have avoided mentioning hotels until now. Clearly hotels are the obvious and most popular choice, but they are not the most efficient. And besides, some of the ugliest sights of tourism are hotels lining the Mediterranean Sea. For many people, however, it is the only option. In that case, my advice is to find someplace quaint. Avoid fake siding, and look for the place that’s hard to find. A guidebook like Let’s Go will help you find an affordable and cozy place run by a “mom-and-pop” business.
Since eating is one of the main cultural points of traveling, I advise you to follow your gut. If you want to save money, you can munch on snacks from small grocery stores, which you’ll find downtown in any city. Great staples include peanuts, apples, cheese, and bread. These foods will stay fresh and can be eaten on any old park bench. Eventually, however, you’ll want to eat something more substantial, and you’ll have a bit of extra cash in your pocket because you didn’t buy the 16-euro gelato that everyone else is walking around with.
The best places to eat are usually the most difficult to find. By spending time searching for your own spot, you’ll get away from the tourist attitude, and hopefully find a nook or cranny you can call your own for an hour or two. If you’re a vegetarian and are worried about not having many options in Europe, I say, have no fear. From kebab stands to gourmet restaurants, there is always at least one vegetarian option around.
My dad and I found a restaurant that served Swiss raclette just by walking around what seemed like the same cobblestone square for half an hour. Think of it like you’re hunting for your food. A guidebook can be helpful, too, but try to keep your eyes on the sights while you walk. Sometimes you can eat with your eyes.
As for the last subject, transportation is probably the most expensive category. If you want to be green, you should take the train or a bus. The data on CO2 emissions vary, and some show that taking a car pollutes the same, or even less. Planes emit between 50 to 300 percent more pollutants than transportation that rolls, so keep that in mind. Although trains and buses are slower, and often more expensive than planes, I find them to be more comfortable. These are low-stress modes of transportation, where you can see the countryside, sleep, or talk with your neighbor, who happens to be a gorgeous French high school teacher.
Unlike in the States, you can get nearly anywhere without a car. Once you arrive at the station, you’ll be able to use public transportation to reach your destination. Metro and bus systems are convenient and affordable. They are also a great place to check fashion trends. You’ll see some interesting people on public transportation, and hopefully won’t be too preoccupied with the headache you got on the plane ride.
Don’t forget about bike rentals, either. From Amsterdam to Paris, you can give your feet a break and pedal to your destination. Whether you want to find a place in the country, or risk your neck in the busy streets, bicycles have always been a speedy and energy efficient way to get around. Fees range from .5 to 6 euro per hour, with deals depending on how long you’re away from the station.
Green traveling is about taking it slow and easy. Take your time to realize where you are, what’s different, and what you can share with the people back home. And when you get back, you might just plant a tree to offset some of that carbon you generated in your travels.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)