Sustainable tourism and hotel design

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BUILDINGS are by far the biggest energy-consumers in the world. They consume about forty percent of the world’s total energy. The construction and operation of buildings approximately generate forty percent of the world’s Greenhouse Gas emissions and solid waste generation. In the Philippines, according to the Department of Energy, about 70 percent of energy is used to power air-conditioning units during the afternoon. Imagine, if all buildings will just change their old air-conditioning units, how much energy will be more available? How much energy will be saved?

According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, the Philippines is listed as the 9th most vulnerable – under the “extreme” category. All acts to curb gas emissions and environmental degradation, including the simplest ones, go a long way to promote a more sustainable future. Even in the tourism sector, there could be strategies toward more sustainable practices.

Sustainable design
For the Philippines, tourism is a billion dollar industry. People from all over the world, and even in the nearby provinces within the country, get to enjoy the nation’s environmental treasures by staying in resorts and hotels. But the environment is fragile. Whenever developments are not properly built or designed, it destroys it. For example, island resorts should have a proper sewage system to ensure that the ocean is protected from wastes.

The biggest chunk of carbon emissions comes from the construction of a building. Worst, if an old building needs to be demolished and removed to give way for a new one. If buildings are already prone to collapse and pose a probable danger to people, then it becomes proper to demolish it. However, this should not be a first option.


Retrofitting
Commonly, historical buildings all over the world are converted to hotels. An example would be the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. It is an old post office converted into a luxury hotel. On the other hand, the Jose Rizal University campus in the Philippines used to be a factory converted into a university. Malacañang as well used to be a summer house, retrofitted to become the office of then gobernador general and today’s presidential office.

In old Manila, specifically Binondo and Quiapo, there are numerous buildings that were built before World War II that can be converted into other uses. Instead of remaking the buildings of Manila, it should be retrofitted to restore back its original beauty. With a bit of road re-orientation and placing more emphasis on walking and biking, we will be surprised of its beauty.

Conversion of brownfields
Brownfields are land previously used for industrial purposes. A brownfield may be contaminated by concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution, but has the potential to be reused once it is cleaned up. The best example for this is the conversion of an old power plant into the Rockwell Center. The message is simple: Old buildings and old sites will always have the potential to become something else. Putting a sense of mission can help make land usage more sustainable.

Energy efficiency
Let’s say that a new hotel is being built in Palawan. One of the challenges is to find the source of energy that can meet the expected consumption of the building. A standard today in tropical design is making sure that the building has passive lighting and cooling. Not necessarily placing a plethora of wide windows, as this is may be counter-productive because of the heat it allows, but strategically placing enough windows for morning and afternoon light. A good architect can light up the building naturally while keeping heat at a comfortable level. With passive cooling, on the other hand, the wind flows naturally throughout the building.

Material selection
The standard today is to use LED lights to conserve vast amounts of energy. Before, an incandescent bulb uses as much as 40 watts to give the same amount of light of eight watts of LED. In short, incandescent bulbs should no longer be used. With new technology, a hybrid solar power and grid power can also conserve at least 20 percent of energy cost annually. Inverter air-conditioning, on the other hand, uses 30 percent to 40 percent less energy than regular air-conditioning.

An inexpensive way for dengue prevention, especially in tropical climate, is to fill the surroundings of the building with tanglad/lemongrass and citronella to repel mosquitoes.

Instead of using fresh water to water plants and flushing for toilets, use a greywater system. It collects and filters water for such use.

Sustainability in tourism is not just a responsibility of the developers, hotel owners, architects, planners, and government officials. We, as tourists, should always respect the environment. For example, we should not leave any wastes behind when we hike or go to the beach. In some tourist destinations, one can even take part of clean-up drives for oceans or the mountains as part of the tour activities.

We must understand that we are merely borrowing today’s resources from future generations. Our generation should do as much as we can to preserve nature for the enjoyment of our sons and daughters, our grandchildren, and so forth.

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