Hotels have a unique opportunity and responsibility to be contributors in even a greater capacity in their local communities. To be a good neighbor, hotels should embrace opportunities to positively impact and engage with their local community. This can range from supporting local schools and charities to sustainability efforts. From my vantage point managing a hotel in St. Barths, I see areas where the hospitality industry can do more and contribute meaningfully. My hope is this insight will be helpful to other hotels in the Caribbean.
Supporting the Community Through Hardship
Besides its beauty, Caribbean countries share their vulnerability to frequent and costly natural disasters and rank among the 25 most vulnerable nations globally. As such, the hurricane season always raises high concern, as hurricanes have intensified with climate change. No one forgets Hurricane Maria, Irma and others that have had a high impact.
While it was six years ago, we had a personal experience on September 6, 2017, when Hurricane Irma devastated St. Barths, and destroyed our hotel, Le Barthélemy. Irma gave us a crash course on climate change and how to be a caring part of the community during a catastrophic situation. Our role in helping the island rebuild was clear.
At first, we took care of immediate needs, like assuring our employees they still had jobs. We also arranged a safe place for them to stay, welcomed families, and invited locals who needed help. We donated clean water from the hotel’s desalination and water recovery system to help neighbors and planted trees to regrow local flora and fauna. As the first hotel to rebuild and reopen following the hurricane, we committed to employ local artisans and craftsmen to do the work and keep as many people as possible employed.
It was an eye-opening experience to see the relationship between resilience and sustainability. It has informed how we think about our projects going forward and our place in helping combat climate change. Sustainability became more central to our mission, and we urge hotels to take responsibility for supporting their community in being more resilient.
Responsible Hospitality Means Environmental Conservation
To be a good community partner, hotels must be mindful of their impact on the region’s natural resources. This includes investing in clean infrastructure like solar energy and water desalination to remove the burden on the island. It also means discontinuing single-use items, composting, and using non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning products.
Since our hotel’s opening and then again, stimulated by Hurricane Irma, the staff pulled together on their own inclination and formed the B. Green Team, with each member deeply committed to tackling the preservation and protection of our environment. The team is the creative force behind many of the “green” activities the hotel does, for example, pushing forth a no-plastic goal, using only products in the hotel that have a low environmental impact —including linens, creating a primarily locally-sourced ethical kitchen, and working with local artists and organizations like Coral Restoration and Island Nature Experiences.
The team also gets together on a regular basis for beach cleanups—and was even behind the idea of donating a portion bookings during Earth Month to the Environmental Territorial Agency (ATE) to help with sea turtle preservation, protection and maintenance of the Grand Cul de Sac’s turtle nursery. In addition to taking action, the team also receives training every year by local environmental experts to learn best practices, so they can lead by example and raise awareness amongst all guests and visitors. The team has been the inspiration behind dozens of new initiatives. They donate their time and effort because of their love for and desire to give back to the island.
Taking our commitment to being a good partner and slowing climate change to a higher level yet, the hotel management has explored bioclimatic design and low impact architecture, which includes using local building materials and looking into case a vents cross-ventilation that cools buildings naturally and can reduce air conditioning usage. We have implemented practices other Caribbean hotels can adopt for sustainability including zero-waste kitchens, going plastic-free, using natural linens and more.
Partnering with local organizations is an excellent way to be an outstanding community member—but involving guests in the effort takes it a step further. As mentioned, the hotel contributes to Le Coral Restoration to regenerate the island’s reefs, but taking it to the next level, guests are invited to participate in snorkeling or diving sessions with conservationists to help to replant coral. By bringing guests under the sea to help rehabilitate the coral reefs, we are making a small improvement in the local environment.
Another example of allowing guests to be part of the journey is when St. Barths became a runway for philanthropy and high fashion during the prestigious UNICEF gala. A-list celebrities gathered for an unforgettable evening, lending their support to a noble cause: children. But our guests were also moved by their exposure to St Barth’s coral reef and the responsibility we have to the health of reefs everywhere. So on the coattails of the gala, we encouraged them to donate along with us to St. Barth’s Coral Reef Restoration Association. These donations have been put into work to renew the nursery table where coral is grown. They like to know their vacation money is being put to good use, and we believe they will carry forward the message and continue supporting both UNICEF and the reefs on their own, paying it forward.
Supporting Education on the Island
Education is the gateway to progress, and schools are the gatekeepers. Hotels can contribute to community education by establishing strong ties with local schools, offering educational experiences, and sponsoring meaningful field trips. For example, Le Barthélemy hosts school groups for a zero-waste breakfast and a special ecology program in the property’s gardens and sponsored a field trip for St. Barth’s students to visit France. It’s often a first travel experience for these local children and introduces them to what’s possible for their future.
The hospitality industry holds a collective responsibility to support our Caribbean communities not only during easy times but also in the hard ones—there is so much we can do. Hotels can—and should—actively support and contribute to the welfare and development of the communities they are a part of.
Sébastien Maingourd is the regional general manager at Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa
in St. Barths and Le Barth Villa Rental. He is deeply committed to integrating sustainability and community engagement into the hotel’s mission.