This story was originally covered by PRI's Living on Earth. For more, listen to the audio above.
Aruba is stepping up, trying to lead the way in eco-conscious tourism. The Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela is a near-barren rock about twenty miles long, lacking even a river for fresh water. The beaches, though, attract vacationers from around the planet. Tourism has recently grown so fast in Aruba that authorities are a putting a moratorium on new hotel construction while they develop an environmental impact plan.
Some eco-tourist destinations are already established on the island, the most successful of which is Bucuti Beach. The resort caters specifically to wealthy and environmentally conscious tourists. Visitors are asked to volunteer to help clean the beach even though they're paying at least $260 a night for their plush accommodations.
The 104-room hotel goes to great lengths to be green. Hotel facilities are powered by solar panels and housekeepers use vinegar and baking soda as cleaning products, avoiding industrial cleaners. Bathrooms are designed to use about a quarter of the water consumed in most hotel toilets, sinks and showers. The water is then recycled and used to maintain the lawns and gardens on the hotel grounds.
The eco-friendly amenities have also paid off in costs, according to hotel proprietor Ewald Beimans. When energy rates rose significantly on the island a few years back, Bucuti Beach was the only resort there that didn't have to charge its visitors an energy surcharge as a result. Beimans says that for many island resorts such as his own, investments in solar and water technologies could pay for themselves in 3 or 4 years.
Some establishments have started taking notice. In the last 3 years, the Hyatt, the Westin and 5 other hotels on Aruba have all become Green Globe Certified, satisfying 21 conditions created for the hotel industry at the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit.
Hotels still consume about 60 percent of the island's resources, which may be motivating the moratorium on new hotel construction. The government is also considering a law mandating that a percentage of hotel profits go to funding alternative energy and infrastructure.
Things in Aruba may be getting greener regardless of governmental intervention, though. The Bucuti Beach resort has sustained the island's highest occupancy rate for ten years, and other hotels on the island are catching on.
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