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“With over 60 percent of the world’s reefs under immediate threat, Outrigger has made it our mission to work with conservation partners to protect coral reef systems in tropical destinations around the world,” explained David Carey, President and CEO of Outrigger Enterprises Group, a privately-held hospitality company. In an interview tied to World Ocean Day, we discussed Outrigger’s conservation efforts, impact and ambitions tied to environmental stewardship and sustainability.
Tell me a little bit about the founding of the OZONE initiative in June 2015, and how are you thinking about social and environmental responsibility within the company more broadly?
Outrigger’s entire corporate culture, from how we treat our guests and communities, to how we treat one another, is shaped by our core values, by The Outrigger Way. It’s about being authentic, being true to the spirit, culture and, of course, the place where each of our Outrigger hotels and resorts is located.
We strongly believe in being socially and environmentally responsible where ever we are; and like many other hospitality companies, Outrigger has programs in place at its global properties that focus on conserving energy, reducing water usage, preventing pollution and diverting waste from landfills. However, we wanted to do more so I asked Bitsy Kelley, a third generation member of Outrigger’s family owned and operated company and one of our VPs, to see what more we could do.
Bitsy is a lifelong surfer, swimmer and snorkeler, and has a personal passion for preserving ocean health. And with all of our premier beachfront resorts located on iconic islands around the globe, ocean health and sustainability also is of prime importance to Outrigger and to the communities in which we live.
So the introduction of OZONE, or Outrigger’s ZONE, our global conservation initiative centered on coral health and resiliency in the waters surrounding the beautiful beach destinations of Outrigger Resorts, was a natural path for us to take.
Coral is one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, yet it still faces serious danger with the negative impact of climate change, unsustainable fishing and land-based pollution. With over 60 percent of the world’s reefs under immediate threat, Outrigger has made it our mission to work with conservation partners to protect coral reef systems in tropical destinations around the world.
Outrigger recognizes that we’re not the scientists, we’re not the experts in this field, so we have identified and partnered with key organizations around the world to provide education and awareness to our guests, our communities and our hosts – our employees – to ensure we can all help to make a positive impact on saving and protecting the coral reefs and overall ocean health.
One year into the program, what kind of impact have you had thus far?
Outrigger set a goal of planting, growing and protecting a football field worth of coral at participating resorts over the next decade. After just one year, our teams have already planted approximately 37% (21,450 square feet) of our target in coral. In addition to planting and protecting this ecosystem, Outrigger also provides on-property activities to raise awareness among guests through authentic interaction and education, while encourage them to join the conservation efforts.
We have seen a tremendous guest response to our OZONE program, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise as OZONE aligns perfectly with our values-based process of The Outrigger Way, which we see as a triangle that intricately connects the three core elements of our company: the guest, the host (or employees) and the place.
All are interconnected and with this continuous interaction, we look forward to seeing how OZONE evolves and continues to make a significant contribution to preserve the environment for future generations to enjoy.
How can guests learn about and contribute to these efforts at your properties?
OZONE simultaneously generates awareness surrounding the status of coral reef systems and enhances the Outrigger Resorts guest experience through learning and authentic interaction. This year, in celebration of our one year anniversary, guests can participate in a variety of on-property events and activities at any of the nine iconic beachfront properties within the Asia Pacific, Oceania and Indian Ocean regions.
For example, Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort in Thailand is spearheading a “Mega Beach Clean” for all Outrigger hosts and guests, as well as guests from surrounding properties, who wish to participate in the cleanup effort. In Fiji, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort is inviting visitors to join in sinking “fish houses” made of transplanted coral, which will become a coral nursery and attract a number of fish and other marine life over time. The Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort is holding special activities in partnership with Best Dives Maldives, including a snorkeling clean-up of the lagoon with a local marine biologist, tree planting, and unique presentations on the impact of the environment on marine life. This property is also hosting a unique “Dive for the Ocean” underwater vows ceremony, where guests can take the oath to protect the environment as they dive under the sea together.
We are not able to do any of these things without our partners, who include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, (U.S.), Polynesian Voyaging Society (Hawaii), Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (Hawaii), Waikiki Aquarium (Hawaii), Underwater World (Guam), Mamanuca Environment Society (Fiji), Reef Conservation Mauritius, Best Dives Maldives and The Phuket Marine Conservation Biological Center (Thailand)
In Hawaii we have just introduced the OZONE Eco Adventure Package at our two Waikiki beachfront properties to encourage guests to get in and experience the beautiful water, while also demonstrating green practices. The OZONE Eco Adventure Package includes a Snorkel Eco-Adventure Sail Tour voucher, an in-room welcome gift that includes reef-friendly sunscreen that won’t harm coral, swim goggles to provide swimmers a clear underwater view, a mesh dive bag to help with collecting litter found in the ocean or on the beach, and more.
In addition to these activations to celebrate our milestone achievements, guests always have the opportunity to learn more about the platform via in-room OZONE videos and on-property lectures. Participating resorts work with the local environmental organizations to enable guests to be part of the solution by planting and protecting coral.
What are some of the leadership lessons you've learned in putting together this program now that it's been up and running for a year?
The importance of communication and relationships with each and every community we are a part of has been imperative to the success of OZONE. Our partners, hosts and locals have embraced the OZONE’s global effort and each individual’s dedication to this initiative has lent to its success. I’ve also learned, like many projects and programs, it is my responsibility to communicate the significance of this program onward and ensure each person involved has a true understanding of the negative impacts of this global issue, and the precise action items that we are putting into place to help positively impact the environment and be a part of the solution. It’s truly about ensuring that the next generation becomes involved and passionate to carry on this very important effort.
Looking ahead, how would you like to see the OZONE initiative evolve and expand in the coming years?
Outrigger plans to continue making waves to champion oceans health in order to ultimately provide our future generations the chance to enjoy the natural resources provided within our ecosystem. I am confident that we are going to meet our original goal of planting, growing and preserving a football field worth of coral – likely sooner than anticipated – and I look forward to working with the team to expand OZONE even further. That means going beyond just our own properties but inviting neighboring resorts, local schools, other tourism organizations to join the effort.
With the number of preventative and conservation efforts in place at our global properties, I firmly believe the brand’s collective efforts will continue to make positive contributions to preserve ocean health and the resources our planet provides us.