We caught up with Anchalika Kijkanakorn Founder and Managing Director of AKARYN Hotel Group to discuss the rise of sustainable luxury.
Anchalika can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your current role at AKARYN Hotel Group (AHG)?
I am the Managing Director and Founder of Thailand’s AKARYN Hotel Group (AHG), as well as the first female Chairperson of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), serving on their Board of Directors. Prior to this, I spent 10 years with GE Capital in various financial leadership roles, having studied at Harvard Business School in the U.S.A. I now live in Bangkok with my two young sons, and I have developed a passion for eco-luxury hotels and hospitality.
Climate change is something that has been noticeable to all of us, due to extreme weather conditions around the world. Litter, especially plastic litter is something I hate to see, as these plastics will outlive me for thousands of years I and if we don’t do something about it now, we will be drown in them soon…literally. That is why I’m so passionate about ensuring our hotels are as sustainable as possible.
Luxury Sustainable travel is on the rise, what are the initiatives you have been taking at AHG in regard to sustainability?
We are trying to implement everything we can to make our resorts more sustainable. This began with akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok last year, which launched as Asia’s first single-use plastic free hotel. This was a huge success, and since then we slowly began making eco-friendly choices in all of our hotels, and as of this month, all 6 hotels within the AHG group are now single-use plastic free.
One of my favourite initiatives that we implemented are the new Train & Sustain retreats at akyra Beach Club Phuket. This retreat combines beach yoga and Pilates with beach clean-ups and educational talks on the importance of cutting back on plastic, which has been a great way to involve guests of all ages in our environmental protection pledge. Children have particularly enjoyed helping to clear the beaches of rubbish after being educated on the effect this is having on our planet.
Another way that our guests can get involved is on the Elephant Day Care Package excursions offered through akyra manor Chiang Mai, where guests can interact with the elephants and contribute to their conservation and welfare. At Aleenta Hua Hin, we have also just launched a mangrove tree planting programme in the nearby Hao Sam Roi Yot National Park, encouraging guests to offset their carbon footprint.
I also helped to launch the Pure Blue Foundation charity through AHG in 2010, which helps to raise funds for marine conservation through turtle release programmes for example, and charity projects throughout Thailand.
Have you seen a shift when it comes to luxury travel and from your experience, have guests become more aware of sustainability and the environment?
The issue of plastic is no longer something we can ignore in the travel industry or in the world in general, and as the founder of AHG, I felt it was absolutely imperative to ensure our hotels were not contributing negatively towards the issue but instead raising awareness of It and doing all we can to help protect the environment and its life. Guests are definitely more aware of sustainability and seem to be increasingly choosing their holiday destinations based on what that resort can offer back to the environment, and younger travellers (millennials) seem to be particularly influenced by this. Whilst sustainable travel used to be a niche concept, now there has been a positive shift as the luxury market is bringing sustainable luxury travel to the forefront of the industry.
You have rolled out a fantastic initiative where you have set a goal of becoming completely single-use plastic free by June this year, can you tell us a bit more about the project
This began with the opening of akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok last year, followed by akyra Manor Chiang Mai and now I’m proud that we have achieved making all 6 of our hotels and resorts in Bangkok, Phuket, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai plastic free. We offer all guests stylish stainless-steel, refillable water bottles on arrival, as well as refillable, organic toiletries and amenities using essential oil products, with biodegradable packaging. We even encourage guests to think of the environment outside of the hotels, with reusable shopping totes offered in every room, and no single-use plastic is used in the bars or restaurants.
What has the response been so far from guests as well as the travel industry?
The initiative from the luxury travel industry has been great so far. We actually received the ‘Green Steps’ award for responsible tourism in the Responsible Thailand awards, and we have seen an abundance of positive feedback on our sustainability initiatives, from both press and guests.
The Secretary of State from the Netherlands has visited us, and she complimented our effort. Ever since then, we have seen an impressive number of visitors from the EU visiting us even though we have very done very little promotion there. Many travel partners have contacted us and want to know how we did it. We are always happy to share best practice. If we can save one plastic bottle a day from being used, it’s one win for all of us.
What can guests do when staying at your hotels to make their stay as environmentally friendly as possible?
Guests can participate in things such as turtle release programmes, beach clean-ups, mangrove tree planting, eat food grown on the two Aleenta resorts very own farm, use refillable water bottles and refillable toiletries and go on an educational elephant conservation excursion. Additionally, guests can get involved in community outreach projects at Sangwan Wittaya School or marine conservation projects with the Pure Blue Foundation charity.
For more information visit https://www.akarynhotelgroup.com