Following our previous story on pioneering Las Casas de EA Astei, Agroturismo Arkaia is another example of best practice in the Basque Country, excelling in accessible tourism. Just outside the city borders of Vitoria-Gasteiz and part of the city’s impressive Anillo Verde (Green Belt), the skillfully renovated farmhouse Agroturismo Arkaia is the work of Ángeles Arroyo Sánchez and her family.
The village of Arkaia is conveniently located only five minutes from the center of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the history-rich capital of the Basque Country, and only a few steps from the green trail along the Basque-Navarra railway, the Salburua wetlands, and the Camino de Santiago (St James Way) route through Álava.
- How this rural house managed to rehabilitate an old building, respecting its heritage and at the same time making it sustainable and accessible to people with differing levels of mobility;
- Agroturismo Arkaia’s experience of gaining EU Ecolabel certification;
- The benefits of obtaining eco-certification;
- Which aspects are the most challenging, regarding hotel sustainability;
- How Agroturismo Arkaia communicates its sustainability initiatives.
Ángeles, what does sustainable tourism mean to you personally?
It’s tourism that respects the natural, cultural and social environment, extolling the values of the region and, at the same time, allows you to enjoy the essence and authenticity of a place and its people. Sustainable tourism also means that the people visiting us do so with an attitude of integration and respect for the environment.
When was Agroturismo Arkaia built?
Eight years ago, we acquired the property, and the family that owned it asked that we, in as much as possible, respect the essence of the house of their ancestors. And so, using a 200-year-old building in the traditional rural Alavesa architecture, we started a rehabilitation project. We had to integrate a philosophy of sustainability and inclusion, respecting the personality of the house and, at the same time, achieving a functional result with adapted rooms and a reduced environmental impact.
Not long ago, you were awarded the EU Ecolabel. How was the application process and implementation?
The Basque Government made us the proposition through a best practices program that we were doing in collaboration with the City of Vitoria-Gasteiz. These institutions knew of our sustainable practices, and when they proposed it we didn’t have to think about it for long. We believed we would be able to achieve the distinction with little effort based on the work we had already done.
From the opening of the farmhouse, we had implemented systems of continuous improvement of the touristic quality and our specialization in sustainable rural tourism gave us the necessary ingredients for the EU Ecolabel certification process.
Because we had already done some of the required work – but not as part of the certification process – we would have liked more exchange and collaboration between the different certification systems, to avoid duplication and contradictions in procedures.
Basically, the changes that we applied to qualify for the EU Ecolabel consisted of small adjustments in the consumption of water and energy, and the substitution of disposable courtesy products for ones that were more sustainable.
We highly recommend sustainability certification such as the EU Ecolabel. It benefits everyone dealing with questions that directly affect the environment and our surroundings. And, incidentally, the implementation process required us to do an internal review of our own business philosophy.
In your view, which are the most innovative sustainability initiatives at Agroturismo Arkaia?
We believe that it is the combination of steps we have taken from the beginning of the project. From the reuse of materials during the rehabilitation process and decoration through to the biomass boiler that can burn cereal seeds, pellets, almond shells, olive pits…and all the actions to reduce the consumption of energy and water, the promotion of local and/or ecological products, and the “immersion” we encourage in the people who visit us to “soak up” the rural world and the culture of the region.
What areas are most difficult to manage in terms of sustainability?
The variables that don’t depend on us. We do everything we can to encourage our visitors to use resources responsibly and respect the environment. In general, our guests appreciate this and support our commitment to sustainability.
The challenge that we need to address is energetic self-sufficiency, which at the moment is unattainable due to legal restrictions in Spain.
Agroturismo Arkaia is specialized in accessible tourism. What have been the main challenges and initiatives implemented for this purpose? And the main benefits?
Regarding providing accommodation for accessible tourism, the main challenge was the significant investment needed to implement those requirements and lack of financial support.
In terms of operations, we have had to make sure the house was fully adapted to the needs of persons with any kind of functional disability and to integrate the various solutions in a way so they don’t attract attention, to avoid a “geriatric hospital” feel.
As for benefits, we gain much satisfaction from happy clients who have enjoyed the comfort of our establishment. Some even found our hostel more comfortable than their own homes!
How do you communicate your sustainability initiatives to your guests?
All the information is available on our website, in our brochures and in the documentation that we leave in the house when it is rented to our guests. We also communicate our initiatives through our social media accounts and our blog: we try to convey the philosophy and commitment that defines us.
In this way, we get our guests to appreciate the efforts made and the initiatives taken to protect the environment, and we encourage them to contribute to reduce the ecological footprint of their time spent at Arkaia.
Thank you, Ángeles.
Our thanks to Basquetour – the Basque Tourism Agency for facilitating our destination visit of the Basque Country in November 2015.
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