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Sustainability pioneers: Interview with Florian Hallermann from Zeavola Resort

May 20, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

In the 12th part of our series “Pioneers of Sustainability” we like to introduce you to Florian Hallermann, the General Manager of the Zeavola Resort located on Koh Phi Phi. In the interview he allows an insight into his green engagement and the challenges of the Thai Luxus-Eco-Resort. His first book about the process of developing Zeavola into a sustainable resort will soon be published.

Short introduction about you and Zeavola

My Name is Florian Hallermann, I’m originally from Vienna, Austria and am enjoying my 30thyear in Asia. I made Thailand my home, with my incredible wife and children. I was appointed custodian and general manager of Zeavola Resort in 2008, so now in my 11thyear.

Zeavola is very different as the concept was a matter of heart for the previous owner of the hotel. I have been involved in opening eight hotels in the region and I’ve decided that this is the right place for me to make a stand. Zeavola Resort is based on a traditional southern Thai village. Our tag-line is “Back to Simplicity”. We provide barefoot luxury with personalized service delivery. The hotel is rated number one on Tripadvisor on Phi Phi Island and is a member of Luxe collection, and one of the founding members of Green Pearls. We strive to create the space and the time for guests to re-discover themselves in their own terms so that they can return to their daily life refreshed and strengthened, to conquer their world a new.

Why and when did you decide to go this extra mile and convert Zeavola in an eco-friendly resort?

I grew up in an eco friendly family so in the moment I arrived on Phi Phi island as the new general manager I looked for opportunities to make a difference. One of my pet peeves is the usage of plastic shampoo and amenity bottles, particularly when they bear the logo of the hotel. It’s bad practice and has a negative marketing effect. We changed to locally sourced ceramic bottles within the four months. This resulted in tremendous operational savings. In the last 11 years we prevented almost half a million plastic bottles being dumped. This was just the start since then I listen to nature. She gives a keen operator many hints on how to save expenses, increase profits and be grateful to nature now and for future generations

Could you please describe shortly how you started?

Zeavola is in a very remote and beautiful location. Due to the fragile nature of its location, we all must really listen to the environment around us and allow nature to be our guide. Whenever something is mindlessly implemented, nature will present us a bill within 6- 9 months. Those bills turn out to be more expensive and counterproductive to the well being of the resort and it staff members. Also, it is vital that our team members have a fair and conducive work environment so they can reach their full potential. Its not only nature which is important, but also the staff and local community needs to be taken care off as well. I was asked by the current hotel owner to create excellent working conditions, to be recognized as the leading employer in the region. Only content staff members will reach their full potential. They are individually respected for their contributions and will ensure the guest experiences are outstanding. With a world wide guest satisfaction of 93% as collected through the internationally used Review Pro software system, I think the team proved this point

What is the most interesting part about your role?

I’m very lucky to have such accepting owners and autonomy at the resort. We have created so many changes and there are many more to come. I’ve met some inspiring guests at the hotel who are also very passionate about the environment, they have made some incredible contributions to Zeavola. In my younger years, I studied engineering, so heading up some challenging sustainable technology projects is incredibly rewarding. I enjoy finding feasible solutions to improve our operation reduce expenses and increase profits and most importantly to reduce the impact we have on nature.

Could you tell us about a recent challenge you faced while working on a sustainability project? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge in those projects is a lack of exposure to the newest technology and practices. Since we are a single, fiercely independent resort we don’t have a head office with a technical director. To keep up to date and find those technologies is difficult and requires an open mind and determination. Thankfully we have a extremely skilled engineering team, that just builds whatever we need.

Sometimes it’s also pure luck. A returning guests Mr. Alexander Auer, a swiss environmental business consultant saw the challenges that I faced with the waste water system and kindly provided all of the necessary technical plans from Europe. We built the system in line with local capabilities. The waste water is now so clean it hosts many fish.

Did you ever start a project that did not work out or you had to postpone because time was not yet right for this step?

In July 2018 we were finally able to implement homemade drinking water in reusable glass bottles. The period from planning to implementation was more than three years. In the first year we were too fast in building the bottle wash and refill station. Only afterwards we discovered that our water production capacity was not big enough. So, with a year delay and a huge investment of EUR 250,000 our reverse osmosis plant finally had the capacity to produce enough water. We discovered that we needed a secondary plant to ensure that the water has drinking quality. That was another year added to the time line. Finally we rated the system through one dry season as a trial, to ensure that we had enough water. We did in the fourth year. With a huge learning curve, setbacks, and large bills we succeeded.

How do you train your employees and how do you overcome the challenge of implementing sustainability in a country that is mostly not acting green?

We involve all staff members in the process. We do not use single use plastic bottles and have gifted to each team member metal drink cups. s. We installed drinking water fountains in the back of the house and in the staff housing area. Whilst there are still plastic bottles around, they are always refilled thus saving expenses. And we also share pictures of the staff with their new bottles and drinking cups on social media. By giving them education and the tools and by creating fun moments the adoption process is quite encouraging and gives them a sense of pride.

Did you ever start a project that did not work out or you had to postpone because time was not yet right for this step?

In July 2018 we were finally able to implement homemade drinking water in reusable glass bottles. The period from planning to implementation was more than three years. In the first year we were too fast in building the bottle wash and refill station. Only afterwards we discovered that our water production capacity was not big enough. So, with a year delay and a huge investment of EUR 250,000 our reverse osmosis plant finally had the capacity to produce enough water. We discovered that we needed a secondary plant to ensure that the water has drinking quality. That was another year added to the time line. Finally we rated the system through one dry season as a trial, to ensure that we had enough water. We did in the fourth year. With a huge learning curve, setbacks, and large bills we succeeded.

How do you train your employees and how do you overcome the challenge of implementing sustainability in a country that is mostly not acting green?

We involve all staff members in the process. We do not use single use plastic bottles and have gifted to each team member metal drink cups. s. We installed drinking water fountains in the back of the house and in the staff housing area. Whilst there are still plastic bottles around, they are always refilled thus saving expenses. And we also share pictures of the staff with their new bottles and drinking cups on social media. By giving them education and the tools and by creating fun moments the adoption process is quite encouraging and gives them a sense of pride.

What does sustainability imply for you personally?

A very important Buddhist word is “ Enough”. I think many western cultures have reached the point that enough is enough. It is now or never, if humanity wants to create a future, in which our kids can prosper safely and sustainably. While a small hotel, a small family or a single person can have a tremendous impact then larger corporations can do it too, and having a bigger impact.

How do you personally implement green and environmental initiatives in your life?

I use cotton shopping bags and carry around reusable plastic containers when I buy take-out food in my favorite restaurants to avoid Styrofoam containers. I try to create zones in my garden so that birds can breed in safety. I’m also a keen kayaker and can often travel long distances, when I return, I’m looking like a garbage truck. My wife and I teach our children these very important life lessons. Help them to open their eyes and train them to do things right.

Where to you aim to be in 5 years in regards to sustainability?

I’m tremendously lucky to have hotel owners supporting all our efforts in regards to sustainability. We visit exhibitions and conventions to find new technologies. If they make financial sense we will implement them. While the growth of improvements is important I would like to be more involved in public speaking and use our activities to motivate big corporations and individual hotels to change their operational philosophies into green philosophies. Its not enough that one hotel or one company is doing something. We all need to do the right thing, before it is too late.

Do you think that sustainable tourism is important and why?

It is more than important, it is essential. If humanity plans to be around for a while we all should start immediately. The times of sustainability being the hobby of the affluent countries are over. These affluent countries need stop polluting. They need to assist other countries with technologies, with targeted investment, without having profit as the constant motivator on their mind.

Last Words:

Nature does not need humanity. Humanity needs nature. There is no Planet B.

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