The time is now

With the official launch of APOLA (Asia Pacific Outdoor Lodging Association) in January 2024, Tim Sargeant, founding member and co-founder & CMO Explorar Hotels & Resorts, shares how the new association will support the Asia-Pacific outdoor hospitality scene in enhancing local communities and championing the cause for sustainable environmental practices throughout the region

The group had its official launch in January. Why now?
The decision to officially launch APOLA in January was strategic, marking the beginning of a new year with a fresh vision for the future of outdoor lodging in the Asia-Pacific region. This timing reflects our readiness to address the growing demand for sustainable and responsible tourism, leveraging a period of recovery and transformation in the travel industry post-lockdown. It’s a pivotal moment to influence how people travel, emphasising outdoor experiences that respect and preserve the natural beauty of our destinations.

This year, our immediate priorities include establishing a solid foundation for APOLA by expanding our network of members, developing sustainable tourism guidelines, and launching initiatives that support local communities and conservation efforts.

Over the next five years, our vision is to position the Asia-Pacific region as a global leader in sustainable outdoor lodging. This includes advocating for policy changes, driving innovation in eco-friendly accommodations, and fostering a culture of responsible travel among tourists and industry stakeholders alike.

However, we do face some significant hurdles. The main challenges include navigating diverse regulations across countries, balancing growth with sustainability, and changing the perception of outdoor lodging from niche to mainstream while maintaining environmental integrity. Additionally, we must work on educating and engaging local communities and stakeholders about the benefits of sustainable tourism, ensuring they are active participants in this journey.

Why do you think interest in outdoor lodging has grown in the region?
Interest has surged due to growing awareness of the need for sustainable travel options and a desire among travellers to connect with nature on a deeper level. The region’s rich natural landscapes and cultural diversity make it an ideal setting for outdoor lodging experiences that offer escape, adventure, and immersion in local environments.

The most pressing issues include habitat destruction, water scarcity, and waste management. APOLA is committed to addressing these challenges by promoting best practices in eco-friendly construction, water conservation, and waste reduction among our members. We will also support initiatives that contribute to habitat restoration and encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources to minimise the environmental footprint of outdoor lodging sites.

APOLA has a great selection of characters within its founding members. How did this evolve, and who put the team together?
The development of APOLA’s founding team emerged organically from a collective enthusiasm and shared aspirations for advancing outdoor lodging in the Asia-Pacific, recognising both the sector’s growth potential and its distinct challenges. The team was brought together by Paul Dean, principal of Dean & Associates; Robert Hecker, managing director for Asia-Pacific at Horwath HTL Singapore; and Bill Barnett from C9 Hotelworks in Phuket, who each saw the opportunity to unite their knowledge and expertise to steer the outdoor lodging industry towards a sustainable future.

You are based on Samui. If you could change one thing right now that would immediately impact the island’s sustainability, what would that be and why?
It would be to implement a comprehensive waste management system that includes recycling and composting, significantly reducing the island’s waste footprint. Effective waste management is crucial for protecting the island’s natural beauty and marine life, ensuring Samui remains a sustainable and attractive destination for future generations.

For Thailand, I would advocate for a nation-wide shift towards sustainable tourism practices. This includes not only improving waste management and conservation efforts but also investing in sustainable infrastructure and education programmes that empower local communities. By prioritising sustainability, Thailand can safeguard its natural and cultural heritage, ensuring it remains a vibrant destination for responsible travellers.

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