FROM THE GROUND-UP: HOW BAWAH ISLAND IS SETTING THE BAR FOR ECO-TOURISM

June 13, 2018

When it comes to sustainability, Bawah – a private-island resort that opened in Indonesia last year – is going the extra mile. Part of a government-led conservation programme, Bawah Island’s lies in the Anambas Islands archipelago, across a handful of forest-canopied islands, several lagoons, and 13 beaches.

Bawah Island

Bawah Island

And from the get-go, eco-minded methods were put in place. “At the start, a decision was made to build with no heavy machinery”, architect Sim Boon Yang says. “The resort was built in a very medieval way, with the hand-breaking of rocks and stone. It explains why the vegetation is so lush on the island now – using machinery would have made it quick to build, but also it would have killed off a lot of the vegetation.”

Birdseye of Bawah Island

Birdseye of Bawah Island

The resort took six years to complete, and rather than using a contractor (none were interested, as the island is too far from the mainland), the whole process was overseen by the owners, architects and management team. “This came to be the right decision, as we had full control over the construction process”, recalls General Manager Tom Blachere. The 35 villas are made from natural materials such as bamboo, driftwood and recycled teak. “We decided not to pursue a design that would be seen on resorts in Southeast Asia such as a Balinese structure or a wooden pavilion. The solution was to design in bamboo. It has a craft modernity, but also something very exotic, which makes for a very interesting combination”, Boon Yang continues.

Bamboo-led design at Bawah Island – photos are via Vacations & Travel Magazine

Bamboo-led design at Bawah Island – photos are via Vacations & Travel Magazine

That’s not all, though. Conservation regulations mean that anchoring and fishing are forbidden up to 500 metres from the house reef. The collection of shells, coral and turtle eggs is also banned. There are three systems that, between them, involve collecting fresh sea and rain water and recycling waste water. No harsh chemicals are used in the laundry products or amenities, and there are plans in place to train local farmers from a nearby island to start permaculture farming. The idea is that Bawah will provide training, seeds and supervision while guaranteeing purchase of 100 per cent of the production in order to help local communities manage their waste and rehabilitate some reef areas.

“The picture is much bigger than just having an eco-minded resort island. It is about educating our staff (43 per cent are from the local islands); the environment; and how we need to become sustainably minded”, says Blachere. His advice to others in the industry is to have a long-term vision, and be passionate about achieving it. “Soon, hotel ratings will include more sustainability components. The luxury trend is clearly shifting away from the ostentatious and scripted, to the natural, genuine experience and vibe. ‘Sustainability’ is not only about doing good for the environment, but it very often leads to other possibilities to do good socially and economically. As the General Manager, it is crucial for me to demonstrate to staff and guests that sustainable practices can actually provide a better and more pleasant environment to live in.”


London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.