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December, 11, 2017

The Hotels of Baikal Are Fighting for Environment, or Why We Need Ecological Rating

The first meeting of environmental consultants and participants in the environmental rating of tourism infrastructure at Lake Baikal has been held in Irkutsk.

The tourism at Lake Baikal has become so “wildlife” that the modern age raises global questions about what to do about it and requires large-scale practical solutions, without any peddling. How should we reorganize the “workers’ and peasants’ inspection”, that is, the tourism business? How should we cultivate the culture of tourist behavior? How to create the most environmentally friendly system of recreation at Lake Baikal? These questions have been answered by “Eco-rating”- the partner project of the “Friends of Baikal” Association, “En +” company and Irkutsk Regional Tourism Agency with the support of the “Ecological Union of St. Petersburg” non-profit partnership - the operator of the “Vitality Leaf” rating. The key entry point was chosen the work with tour operators, namely, those who are the first to meet the tourist flow. An unexpected method has been chosen: a system of ecological rating of hotels will be created. This will be done by the people with a new occupation: ecological auditors. But first things first.

About three dozen people of different sex, age and appearance are sitting in the huge conference hall of the Baikal Business Centre, putting three round tables in a triangle. The communication starts, as each of them stands up and presents himself or herself:

- My name is Maria Orlova, I am a participant in the “My Baikal” project, I see my mission as helping to achieve general harmony between the man and nature.

These are future ecological auditors, representatives of a new profession that does not actually exist yet, but is already an extremely topical one. The logic of its creators was simple and reasonable. The main places where tourists gather at Lake Baikal are hotels and tourist centres. It is useless to conduct educational and motivational work with the tourists who were there yesterday, are here today, and will be somewhere else tomorrow. Therefore, you need to invent a way to motivate the owners of the tourism businesses to improve the environmental conditions of their hotels. Ecological rating should be the right way: a system for evaluating hotels implementing standards and systems for environmental safety: using electricity-saving lamps, collecting garbage separately, saving water, bringing products from farms.

- A lot has been said about the anthropogenic load at the Baikal nowadays, about what to do and how to cope with uncontrolled tourism, how to work with tourists who do not know how to behave. The first place where tourists come is a hotel. We decided to start working with hotels. It's called “ecological rating” or “environmental audit”, but we already understand that this looks a lot more like consulting” - Anastasia Savelieva, Project Manager of the Managers Association explains. Tour operators are the main customers whose hotels will be audited by independent experts.

This profession is not taught anywhere yet, and the project is the first step towards creating a new profession. A contest for recruiting candidates has already been held in late autumn. The first requirement is that these people should be independent and show social activism, preferably (but not necessarily) with some previous experience of employment at any public environmental projects. As a result, 23 candidates have been selected.

-The “Friends of Baikal” Association and its leader Elena Tvorogova helped us to select the first candidates. The association consists of many environmental organizations, each of them could offer its own candidates. This was a prerequisite: a recommendation of one of the members of the Association. People were given questionnaires with the list of experts’ desired qualities. People decided for themselves if this work suited them or not - Anastasia tells.

The most important thing is independence, that is, a person should not be associated with any of large companies and tourism business. The experience of communication with representatives of big business is desirable: the ability to negotiate and just talk will be needed. The ethics of communication with hotels is also important, because the auditor’s job is not a “Revizorro” show, an auditor comes not in order to blame and denounce, such experts give advice on how to make a hotel better.

- My name is Ksenia Popova, I am the Head of the “Odin” catering company, an expert of the environmental entrepreneurship school. I thought that it would be interesting to get involved in a new crazy project.

- The word “audit” does not cause any positive emotions on the part of hoteliers, and “ecological auditor” sounds really threatening, - Anastasia Savelieva explains.

 - It is clearly important that an expert should be able to build relationships. So, it can be successfully done by former project managers, sales managers or PR specialists. Some professional skills are required, that’s why these are environmentalists, people engaged in scientific projects. We have applicants from food-related companies, for example, a catering company that introduced some environmental improvements in its production. There are experts in “green” construction and landscape design.

How will the hotels be assessed?

The criteria for checking the environmental friendliness of hotels was the basic topic of the training. The main preliminary parameters are clear, these include the assessment of the use of certain types of detergents, the way the water is saved, electricity is used, sewerage is arranged, catering is organized, communication with clients goes, the way they work with the personnel, the fact of presence or absence of any own environmental projects. The first advice came from the Environmental Union of St. Petersburg which already has some experience in assessing hotels, including international ones.

- My name is Elena Smirnova, I am an HR Officer at the “Rodnik” plant. I want to be able to show Baikal not only in pictures, I want people to come here and see that something is being done.

The start was a little rocky: not all European assessment standards can be actually transferred to Baikal. For example, processing of food waste. Experts ask: “Where do you export them?” And they get an answer: “We are recycling on the spot. Do you see a fold with the sheep in the corner of the yard? All the waste is used to feed them.” Experts who have never seen such recycling methods before are confused about how to assess them. Or experts ask: “Do you save water? Show me the water meters.” And people lead the experts to the well and ask: “Where should we put the meter?”. Therefore, practice is the best experience.

The check of hotels will not have a compulsorily and mandatory principle, but an application principle: hotels will be invited to participate in the project. The first several hotels have already given their consent; so future experts will undergo the theoretical training stage and come to Olkhon, to train “in the field”. No one will be forced to do it, it’s a paid service, but “pilot” hotels will receive it free of charge: the hotel owners will receive feedback from customers, employees and experts.

- I am Svetlana Bystrova, I have worked as a biologist, a laboratory assistant, and have just recently moved from Tashkent. When I was offered to participate, the first intuitive thought was: “It’s nice, it’s interesting”.

The main result will be not a rating itself, but recommendations. Some hotels already introduce separate garbage collection, some specialize in nutrition, build up logistics chains, use farm products. One of the first steps will be the collection of such “cases”, then they will be reported to tour operators, and the recommendations will be given to potential travelers via the Internet. On the other hand, some tips on how to make hotels better will be elaborated.

So that to make this rating work, it should obtain a certain status, we need status aggregators to support it. This issue is currently being negotiated, they also discuss whether it is possible for each hotel in Russia to be assessed in this ecological rating, so that travelers know if a hotel is “environmentally friendly” or not at the stage of hotel selection.

- Elena Komissarova, I am a volunteer of the “My Baikal” organization. I have been engaged in the hotel business for a long time, now I work in the sphere of cleaning, so cleanliness and cleaning are in tune with my life. I would like to build bridges between environmentalists and hoteliers.

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