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Energy conservation - tourism’s social responsibility?

Energy conservation - tourism’s social responsibility?


Khun Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s Prime Minister recently endorsed a series of measures to help reduce the country’s growing energy bill, including a plan to shut down all TV stations at midnight. This on top of an existing social reform program that enforces early closing of entertainment places, puts yet further strain on the already stressed tourism sector.

Certainly not the right message to be sending around the world to potential holidaymakers? Recent reports, from hoteliers based in Phuket, of police raids and enforced urine tests for tourists visiting clubs and bars in the resort also add to the misery of the post tsunami fall out.

However, should one blame the PM for these enforcements, after all he has only the best interests of the country at heart?

Most engineers agree that it will have little impact on energy saving, as other forms of entertainment will be sought and the energy consumption minimal when compared to heating and cooling costs. However, it will help a little.

It just seems to me that the industry, credited with so much pressure to produce foreign currency, has little in the way of powerful lobbyists to make a case for restraint and to explore alternatives. What of the TAT, THA and other industry bodies to make ‘noise’ to protect our interests? Certainly it would appear they are quiet, but then public confrontation is not a natural attribute of the Thai tourism industry’s profile - we are after all, a Land of Smiles.

My personal fear is that further austerity measures, that are to be reviewed in September, following the failure of the current measures, will be even harder, and will continue to hurt tourism.

Is it right for the PM to enforce these measures ... or are we ourselves to blame?

Well the short answer is yes ... and no. Yes, certainly as oil prices make daily headlines, with limited supply and demand so strong, one can only guess where it will end. $100 a barrel?

For years, the environmentalists have forewarned on the dangers of heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Global warming and damaging pollutions add to the economic woes. Add to that the rising demand from highly populated countries, such as China and India, and it really does not take a genius to work out that a “Giga-sized” problem lies ahead.

So it’s serious, and most businesses, including hoteliers are becoming acutely aware how rises in energy costs are having worrying impacts on the bottom line. The pressure by agents to hold rates year in and year out add to the worry.

Take a medium sized hotel in Asia of 350-500 rooms. Electricity will be the single largest portion of the energy bill, of which air conditioning will account for up to 80 percent. Here in Thailand expect that to be in the region of Bt1.6-Bt2.5 million ($40,000 to $62,000) per month or 10-15 percent of the cost of running a hotel. Then add in other fuel costs, such as oil for heating water and gas for cooking, and don’t forget to include the cost of water. For those hotels that have them (most do) - the laundry takes up a large portion of the hot water bill along with guest’s bathing and showers.

So what if we were able to get free hot water and free air conditioning? Yes please ... but isn’t that just a dream?

No. Many large buildings are now investing in heat pumps that give ‘free’ hot (60 degrees C) water, and as a by-product, a small amount of chilled air. They work very much like an air conditioning unit, only in reverse. The bad news is that whilst they are cheap to run, they cost about 10 times more than an equivalent sized air conditioning unit.

It is the tropical warm air that makes heat pumps efficient and they are particularly effective in Asia. If governments were serious about reducing their reliance on imported oil, then this must be one measure to consider. Most new buildings are installing them as standard.

If governments could help to reduce their purchase cost, with reduced import duties, or even special tax incentives to have heat pumps built locally and offer grants for older buildings we could then replace inefficient oil burning boilers. I believe the savings would be significant.

So yes, the blame is partly shared. Both the private sector and governments have to take a responsible lead.

And what of other energy saving ideas? Solar panels are well tried and tested, but so far are little used throughout Asia. Scandinavian countries, with little daily sunshine, have been using them successfully, however, for decades for both power and hot water.

Ozone is another option, which avoids the need for high temperature hot water, in hotel laundries and hospitals.

Wind power and wave power are also other alternative forms of power producers. The problem, however, lies in their cost. But what if oil reaches $100 a barrel; what if the oil producing countries stop producing; what if, as most fear, oil will eventually be too expensive to burn?

Yes, hotels and the tourism industry do have a social responsibility ... but my guess is that of the many different types of industries, the hospitality sector is probably at the forefront of energy conservation. Where more help is needed is through education, access to cheaper equipment and provisions of loans for older buildings. Most studies show that in the case of heat pumps, the returns on investment are less than 2 years. The potential savings for one of my hotels ... 20,000 litres of fuel oil per month. Worth a thought Prime Minister?

It is clear what our social responsibility is, but as with everything, is there the political will and conviction to make it happen? After all, it’s easier just to switch off the TV - isn’t it?
Andrew J Wood,
General Manager
Chaophya Park Hotel, Bangkok