Sriram Kailasam

Sriram Kailasam

17 January, 2013
Giving back
General Manager, Banyan Tree Phuket
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It is not surprising to see the rapid growth of the Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts from a boutique resort in Phuket back in 1994 to the multi-business operator it is today with over 30 hotels and resorts and over 60 spas in 27 countries when you see how dedicated and loyal Banyan Tree staff are.  It is easy to feel a sense of community when staying at Banyan Tree because the hotel is like a big family for its employees and their local community.  During our recent stay at the Banyan Tree Phuket, where Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts all began, we chatted with General Manager Sriram Kailasam, who went from being a chef nine years ago to the position he is now in.  Sriram shared about the hotel’s long history of environmental and social initiatives to support families living around the hotel, the once deemed inhabitable land the hotel sits on and what it’s like to be working at a hotel where giving back is as important as generating profits.
 
Ecozine: Please share more about Banyan Tree Phuket.
 
Sriram: We have a total of 600 staff here who have been here a lot longer than I have.  Community is a big part of Banyan Tree.  Laguna Phuket used to be a mining site and most people who work here are from villages nearby and many are third generation miners’ kids who are not hotel school trained.  The land here was written off by the UN as land that nothing can grow on and here we are today-we just celebrated 25 years of the Laguna where there is now a lot of greenery and wildlife.  When these families realized they couldn’t mine any more, they started working in the hospitality industry, and Thai people, being hospitable people, it came naturally to them.  When Banyan Tree’s chairman and his wife bought this inhabitable land, they had the vision for possibilities.  We still have pictures of the way it was back then when it looked like moonscape and there was nothing.  When you look at then and now, it is a very stark reminder that everything is possible if you are committed.  Banyan Tree is continuously committed to this vision and we work together with our guests on this vision, which is part of why we are successful. 
 
Ecozine: What are some of the community giving back projects that guests and staff have been involved in?
 
Sriram: We involve guests and associates, our partners and suppliers on our projects whether it be treeplanting or volunteering at orphanages.  Guests staying with us can find out about them through the daily activity calendar and we welcome them to join because it is a great way to orient guests in the local culture.  Also, for every night a guest spends here, we ask them for a two dollar donation and we match that contribution.  The donations all go towards our Green Imperative Fund which funds projects like our turtle restoration program.  Guests don’t hesitate and we also do this very subtly by giving out a small sandbag turtle as a turn down gift and a simple token of reminder.  Our turtle restoration program is especially strong in the Maldives, where it used to be an ad-hoc program.  In the past 10 years, it has become more regimented and one of our core programs.  But each hotel still has a certain latitude to do what it feels is relevant to its location.  For example, every Wednesday, especially during the rainy season which starts in April, we go out to clean beaches as there is a lot of natural debris that come from coastal areas onto the beach.  Some of the most common debris are cigarette lighters and plastic.  We got a comment from a guest about the terrible condition of the beach and we realized that it would be a great opportunity to involve staff and we started doing a team clean of about two kilometers and finish with an 8 to 20 kilometre “walk and talk”.
 
Ecozine: Can you highlight some of the eco-friendly architectural and structural elements at Banyan Tree Phuket?
 
Sriram: You’ll notice that we have no air-conditioned spaces in most of the public areas here, such as the lobby.  The architecture here uses a lot of Thai salas, which are found at the end of every house, and are essentially open decks with roofs.  They are great for natural ventilation, sunlight, and making use of what nature has given us.  During warm and rainy seasons, we use shutters.  You can just imagine how expensive it would be air condition our structures here with such high ceilings.  In our lobby for example, we have a central water court with four blown up versions of salas and is basically a large square with water in the middle.  The sound of water and birds chirping make it a fantastic setting.  Using local architectural elements is part of the design philosophy for Banyan Tree and the company has its own architectural firm, Architrape, to design or advise on architectural elements of its hotels.
 
Ecozine: Can you share more about the energy conservation initiatives at Banyan Tree Phuket?
 
Sriram: Like many hotels, we have key card system, but we do not have typical hotel rooms.  Our villas are like large houses with some reaching 300sq. m. and the smallest being120-150 sq. m. Housekeeping staff tend to switch on everything, so we’ve been experimenting with an eco key pad, which doesn’t switch on everything, but just enough to make work pleasant.  Also, for water irrigation, we use recycled water from our own waste water treatment plant.  The lagoon here is also great for rain catchment.  We produce our own water, which is purified and circulated in the Laguna area.  Of course, guests are encouraged to avoid washing their towels every day as well to conserve water.  A new project I’m working on with our chief engineer is to change old fashioned incandescent light bulbs to LEDs, which have lower heat and are longer lasting, but expensive.  We’ve been working with manufacturers to see if we could do a turnkey project where we give back the savings from the LEDs to the manufacturer to pay for the light bulbs.  It is quite a large expense to change all the light bulbs in our villas, but this way we don’t need to spend money upfront, because we can pay through our savings.  I was able to implement this in Bangkok and want to see if it could work here in Phuket.  We have an energy conservation committee because utilities are expensive, so we are driven to manage expenses better.  When we work on energy conservation, it is not just about cost, but we want to do what is practical and doable.  Our owners also see the long term advantages of investing in these projects as there is payback.
 
Ecozine: Please share more about social community projects Banyan Tree Phuket is involved in.
 
Sriram: Our biggest project is the Seedlings community project where we take children potentially in a position to be taken advantage of to help them get the right level of education.  They’re mostly 12 to14 year olds because this is the crucial time and some can easily be going down the wrong path.  Laguna has its own kindergarten which is open to children of all employees of Laguna. This opened 15 years ago, but kids at that age are still less at risk.  We found that 12 to 14 years old are the most at risk because they are very impressionable at this age.  We assist with not only scholarships and funding but also through a mentorship program where we appoint someone in middle management, a graduate from college, to teach them values and the importance of pursuing education, and eventually, for slightly older children, they can enter our apprenticeship program as trainees, and many end up as new staff members here at Banyan Tree. 
 
Another popular program is our Swim Survival program.  One of the most common causes of deaths for children in the Laguna area is drowning because kids don’t know how to swim.  Last year, we started doing  swim survival training for children where our recreation team, many of them certified swim trainers, would teach kids who have no access to pools to come and train.
 
We do a lot of treeplanting here.  Our target is to plant more trees to offset and beat the carbon emissions we emit.  We had a goal of planting 999 trees this year, but we’ve surpassed that already,  We have a dedicated CSR manager here who is constantly pushing me to do more.  As the general manager, my job is not just to make the hotel financially viable, but also to make our associates happy.  Only 30% of my key performance indicators are financial, and 15% is dedicated to CSR, so some of my performance targets include a minimum number of participants in our Seedlings project, whether I’ve planted enough trees, and it is also critical to participate in enough programs that are localized, such as blood donation drives, “walk and talks”, and energy conservation.  These are all things that I have to deliver as performance parameters.
 
Banyan Tree staff really enjoy these activities because they are part and parcel to them so these activities are things they do as a way of having fun and they are taking part in them as activities that are outside of their core competence.  A chef can share with a kid who aspires to be chef how fun and challenging it is to be a chef and for someone to plant trees in swamp land and get bitten by mosquitoes, it is also a day out to have fun.  Staff participate in these community projects not so much as a chore or project  or a number, but because we continuously feel the need to do more.  We recently collected funds for a women’s prison where the women there didn’t have basic sanitation and we wanted to support it.  It was an ad-hoc project and we often participate in projects that people bring up.  Between April and September when it is less busy at the hotel, we dedicate ourselves in many activities towards a good cause.  When people enjoy doing something even when they are not told, these activities are the ones that are truly sustainable.
 
For more information about Banyan Tree Phuket, visit: http://www.banyantree.com/en/phuket/
 

By: Ecozine Staff
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