A ground up, industry-led responsible tourism movement is picking up in Bali. Mallika Naguran speaks to the founder or 'Chief Alchemist' of Book Greener, Alex Tsuk, about this special group of operators and the role they play in dealing with crisis as volcanic Agung continues to disrupt tourism in this island of paradise.
SINGAPORE 11 January 2018. In Bali, there is a growing community of tourism operators who come together as often as once a month to learn from one another, discuss the issues of the day and listen to the sales pitch by new entrepreneurs as well as their challenges. The BookGreener community even offers advice to one another and training without selfish thought of competition; instead it is a cooperative stance among market competitors and the willingness to embrace responsible practices that propel the group to continue what they do, and to grow.
Gaia Discovery’s Mallika Naguran who resides in Singapore was fortunate enough to be in Bali against a rumbling and restless Mt Agung to join a BookGreener meeting session in Ubud to see for herself just how motivated the group is in practising responsible tourism and sustainability in nearly every thing they deal with, even food and drink. Naguran poses questions to Alex Tsuk who continues, with his team at BookGreener and the members of the community, to invent and re-invent ways to stay relevant during changing travel trends, misconceptions and industry crisis.
Tell us more about this special group of people at BookGreener – the sustainability community in the tourism and hospitality sector of Bali.
I believe that sustainability = community and that we are the ones we have been waiting for. No need to look outside for solutions, we have it all inside - so if we want to make a change, we can start with ourselves. Based on these principles, I gathered like-minded business owners, humans who care about their destination and understand that we need to preserve the very reason people come to Bali. The members are natural givers and I don't really mind what kind of businesses they run and how sustainable they are, their intention and commitment is way more important to me.
The members are all in the tourism industry: resorts, restaurants, travel agents, yoga centers, shops, suppliers, NGOs. About 60 amazing organisations that meet once a month physically to draft how they can support each other, solve each other's practical challenges (recruitment, social media, supply) and make a positive impact on their destination.
What progress and developments have you seen as a result of this group getting together?
In our meetings we have four committees on water, waste, education and soil and the idea is to act as a thinktank shaping the future of Bali.
We initiated many environmental initiatives: Precious Plastic Bali makes shredders to process plastic waste and shift the mindset of people; by getting them to see waste as a valuable resource they can monetise, we can inspire change in habits.
With www.refillmybottle.com we list all the places where people can refill their water bottles. The aim is to reduce the amount of single use plastic bottles. At the same time, it is an opportunity to identify and then gather like-minded business owners who aim at minimising their impact. Currently there are over 250 RefillStations in Bali and the surrounding islands, and other communities are able to use the technology to map their local areas (email email@example.com for more information on becoming a local ambassador).
We gather the station owners regularly and get them to brainstorm solutions to their local challenges, not necessary related to plastic waste. Recently we launched #iaminBaliNOW a social media campaign aimed at inspiring travelers to come to Bali.
What makes the BookGreener group tick?
We share the same values and vision for Bali. From the beginning it was clear that we were a pro business organisation and we honour that by getting the members to send business to each other. The fact that they get tangible personal benefits is important as they feel they receive a lot and are inclined to give back to the community.
How has the volcanic activity of Mt Agung affected the lives of Balinese living within the 10km range? What are the challenges? How is the BookGreener group helping with the situation on the ground?
The average tourism business in Bali is losing thousands of income dollars each day, thanks to a volcano that may not erupt for months. The social media campaign #iaminBaliNOW is modelled after a similar very successful scheme, trialled and tested in Nepal. It is a crowd-sourced, social media campaign to advise friends and visitors that Bali is open for business and tourism as usual. The campaign showcases Bali as it is now, with reliable, up-to-date information, facts, photos and stories. The #iaminBaliNOW campaign is the brainchild of the members of BookGreener and it has the support of tourism experts and special input and guidance from our friends in Nepal.
But #IaminBaliNOW isn’t just a social media campaign. We also have created a comprehensive webpage dedicated to providing facts and advice for travellers in relation to a possible eruption of Mount Agung. All the answers to questions you may have on what can travellers do, who they can call on, and so forth, are on https://www.bookgreener.com/volcano/
Finally we aim at inspiring the future of Bali so we created a think tank for the industry to brainstorm how they wanted to shape the future!
What can the public do to help including those outside of Bali or Indonesia?
When in Bali, print and laminate a #iaminBaliNOW poster available on our Facebook page. Then take selfies at beautiful locations and share them on social media using the hashtag #iaminBaliNOW
If you are outside Bali, you may post using the #iwishiwasinBaliNOW and #iamgoingtoBALI to inspire others to do the same.
Refill My Bottle project - everyone in Bali or any country is welcome to join this or support it -www.RefillMyBottle.com
Traveller information, myths dispelled and help sources in Bali including complimentary stays with BookGreener community operators in the event of flight disruption https://www.bookgreener.com/volcano/