Stories > An Oasis of Calm

2018 • Issue 2

An Oasis of Calm

Claire Chiang, chairperson of Banyan Tree Global Foundation, the Banyan Tree Group’s sustainability arm, shares her views on doing good in business.



he Banyan Tree sustainability journey began in 1983, when we remediated an abandoned tin mine site in Phuket, Thailand. It had been written off by the United Nations Development Programme in 1977 as “impossible to rehabilitate”. It took years to transform it into Asia’s first integrated resort – our flagship, Banyan Tree Phuket, opened in 1994.

Our ethos – “Embrace The Environment, Empower People” – highlights the relevance and importance of sustainability. It set us on a journey of stewardship. Back then, we made a series of rational business decisions towards good governance, and they have become the foundation of our successful sustainable-community development programmes.

Over time, as we saw how positive the outcomes were, through various examples in the 134 international communities we support, I became convinced that sustainability is about more than that. Today, I define it as the right thing to do, and a key measure of a business’ success. It is about doing good and creating value – not just about wealth.

In 2003, Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru launched a marine research facility called the Banyan Tree Maldives Marine Lab. It was the first of its kind in the country. One impact it has made is in the reduction of the coral predator known as crown-of-thorns starfish (Cots), one of the biggest threats to Indo-Pacific reefs. In 2017, it removed 1,419 Cots from over 90km of reef with the help of 766 volunteers. A total of 9,172 Cots have been removed since 2008.

“...I Define [sustainability] As The Right Thing To Do, And A Key Measure Of A Businessʼ Success. It Is About Doing Good, And Creating Value – Not Just About Wealth.”

The Lab has gone on to plant coral gardens and monitor 10 reefs in the North Male Atoll. It also participates in green sea turtle conservation. Its success is reflected in the Maldivian government’s new mandate – that every resort built in the country henceforth must have a similar facility where scientists and conservationists can help save marine wildlife.

We also believe in helping local communities break the poverty cycle. In 2007, we launched the Seedlings Mentorships programme, targeted at youth aged 12 to 18. One of its offshoots is the Seedlings Cafe, a social enterprise in Phuket that leverages Banyan Tree’s F&B expertise. Young adults in the programme undergo vocational training and gain work experience. When I visited the cafe early last year, I met a cook who asked me if I recognised him. His parents had enrolled him, at age 3, at the kindergarten we set up at Laguna Phuket. Since then, he has always been part of the Banyan Tree family.

There is also Chi Phan, a 24-year-old Vietnamese working at Angsana Fuxian Lake in China as Director, Recreation when I met her. She suggested that we enter the Vietnamese market and said that, if we did, she would “go home” to work for us.

True enough, when we opened Banyan Tree Lang Co, she happily did just that. She is now based in Ho Chi Minh City doing business development for us as an Assistant Vice-President. Chi Phan has been with the company for 11 years, and is a very driven and energetic associate of ours.

Banyan Tree also practises sustainability through partnership with like-minded organisations. One of these is the Chi Heng Foundation, which helps children in central China who are affected by Aids by paying for their education and living expenses. Former investment banker Chung To is the man behind it.

Every year, he gathers a group at a resort and organises a philanthropic talk to share about the work he does at his foundation. He has been partnering Banyan Tree – we extend a discounted room rate for his meetings – to do this, with the most recent one being held at our property at Banyan Tree Yangshuo in Guilin, China, in November 2017.

As I recount these anecdotes, I feel what we have done so far has paid off, despite the pain and money invested in it. The satisfaction gained makes it worthwhile. You can also see feedback from our guests online that authenticates what we do. I hope we can share good practices to improve the industry’s sustainability journey. Tourism should be built on long-term sustainable development because it has an impact on multiple communities.

Looking ahead, we are going to make food supply our focus for the next five years. We are placing an emphasis on the provenance of the ingredients we use at our resorts to counter irresponsible sourcing. We are even looking at hydroponics, and seeing how we can implement it at the property level.

Banyan Tree Group was founded with the core value of driving sustainable development. It sparks a journey in nurturing stewardship care based on understanding the ecology and community. To us, sustainability is a passion and an ongoing journey to creating greater impact for a better world.

Claire Chiang is co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, senior vice-president of Banyan Tree Holdings Ltd, an author and a social activist. She co-chairs the ACCORD Family & Community Council set up by Singaporeʼs Ministry of Defence, and is also Director of the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund, Mandai Park Holdings and Singapore Art Museum. She is also a member of the Singapore Biennale 2019 Steering Committee.

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