Lanzarote has been on my wishlist of places to visit for quite some time. Not just because of its very unique volcanic landscape, laid-back culture and brilliant wines. Also because Lanzarote has made itself a name as a destination which cares about sustainability and has – to a large degree – managed to sustain its character and community identity, unlike so many other sun and sea destinations.
This January I had the opportunity to find out first hand, following an invitation to visit the very intriguing Finca de Arrieta Eco Village in the north of the island. It was the first time I slept in a yurt. What a great start for SLP on TOUR 2020.
The very welcoming and hospitable Tila Braddock and his family & team took good care of me during the four days I had on Lanzarote, showing me around the eco village, and some of the other properties by Lanzarote Retreats. Together with Angie and Ainara from the Retreats team, we even went on a day-long trip around Lanzarote, in an electric car (of course).
Read about Tila’s entrepreneurial experiences in this short interview – including his thoughts on Lanzarote as sustainable destination and how adhering to environmental best practice has allowed him to save good money.
Tila, Lanzarote Retreats’ Eco Village Finca de Arrieta has become the place to stay when exploring the volcanic island. Do you remember what first got you interested in the tourism business, and sustainability?
Yes, it was when I first stayed in Tarifa (in 2003), windsurfing with my brother. I stayed at a beach-side chic resort and that was the moment I was inspired to create something similar in Lanzarote, but with a sustainable angle: an eco-retreat with lower impact structures, using minimal materials to construct!
Why did you establish Lanzarote Retreats, together with your wife Michelle?
After buying the 30 000 meters of land in front of Arrieta beach, we converted a huge water tank into what is now called the Eco Luxury Villa. It was an amazing family home for us, but feeling the recession in 2007, we decided it was too big a project to have just for the family. Hence, we thought it would be worth trying to rent out a sustainable, Mongolian Yurt!
The strong interest from many visitors, looking for a different way to experience Lanzarote and its magical North – away from the hotel resorts and mass tourism – motivated us to expand.
How do you “live” sustainability at the eco village – what makes it special, unique?
Finca de Arrieta runs off-grid, exclusively on the many hours of Lanzarote sunshine, using tracking solar panels (that rotate based on the sun’s position) and some small wind turbines. It’s a powerful twin 48v system running seventeen properties (all with fridges, lights), two swimming pools with pumps, the all-important salt chlorinators and water desalination plant, that makes 3 tonnes of fresh water daily. The system has never gone wrong in 12 years!
Some of the day to day activities at the Eco Village that are aimed at making the space more environmentally friendly are reducing the number of plastic water bottles needing recycling (by providing a refill station for guests in the honesty shop).
Rain water is scarce in Lanzarote, so guests use eco-products which allows us to re-use waste water for the trees/cacti in the Finca. We reuse the salty bi-product from the desalination plant (to top up our pools) and of course the use of electric/hybrid cars by staff and guests.
Also, the kitchen food waste gets fed to the Finca animal residents… ducks, donkeys and chickens (in return you can pick up your fresh eggs for breakfast). There are many other examples and we keep looking for new ways.
What kind of traveller are you targeting?
The concept has attracted numerous amounts of different travellers from around the world, with or without knowledge on sustainability.
We would be happy to keep welcoming more open-minded professionals or retired couples, those looking for a quiet place to work while away (e.g. writers), the many families who are keen to educate their children on all the advantages and joys of off-grid living and want to enjoy a more intimate family time. And of course we love to have the active sport-loving travellers come and stay.
What they all end up having in common, is a need to be in a tranquil place, in touch with nature, to be able to switch off from everyday life and stresses… away from the busy tourist resorts in the south!
Which are the economic benefits of environmental sustainability, for a hotel?
There are strong economic benefits, as well in that we are continually looking on where to consume less, recycle & re-use and save in a way beneficial to all.
The most evident one is the amount we save on the electricity and water bills! For example, the electricity bill for 17 properties would probably be about 100€ each a month (not including on grid amenities). So that’s a monthly saving of about 1700€ for the Finca.
We make our own water, saving three truckloads (ca. 13000L per truck) a week at 110€ each = 330€ = a month 1320€! … and the quality of water is better now than before!
The Guests in the Finca have the option to use Toyota Prius hybrid/electric cars (which probably is the most economical car for a family holiday).
Some of the staff, cleaners & maintenance use electric cars to get tasks done in different properties, throughout the island, saving approx. 140€ a week.
We also save by re-using the salty bi-product from our desalination plant to top up our pools and by using waste water for the plants. So just in energy, water and petrol there’s a saving of approximately 3500€ a month. So that’s over 40000€ a year!
Which are the main challenges you’ve encountered in developing and managing Finca de Arrieta eco village?
The authorities weren’t as enthusiastic at the start and tried to create bureaucratic obstacles. Any project of this kind presents its hurdles, one of which was trying to finance it. I’m lucky that I’ve managed to work closely with my suppliers, who have been very patient as well as enthusiastic over this project!
Having spent more than 30 years on Lanzarote, would you consider the island a good destination for sustainability-conscious travellers?
Lanzarote is the ideal island for sustainable projects, with its unspoilt, as-mother-nature-intended landscape, its hours of great sun, wind, waves and even geothermal activity!
The island was among the first in the world to become a UNESCO Protected Biosphere Reserve, in 1993, and signed up for the Biosphere Responsible Tourism program in 2015.
The impressive collaboration between nature and man is continuously demonstrated and lived, especially through the legacy of the artist/architect/ecological pioneer, Cesar Manrique, who helped shape and mould Lanzarote (setting it aside from other Canary Islands, which is very visible in the striking unchanged landscape and lack of over-development).
Which are the main topics and concerns linked to tourism sustainability at the moment, in the Canary Islands?
The other Canary Islands haven’t benefited from the likes of activists such as Cesar Manrique, to help maintain the environment by developing a tourism product that is based on sustainability. Hence, they have, to fit in with the rapidly growing tourism to the islands, ended up over-developing their coastlines and have rapidly changed their landscape.
Each business in the Canaries (not only in the tourism sector), needs to be more aware of the negative impact on the Environment and cultural heritage of the Archipelago. Awareness/responsibility needs to be more widespread amongst all (businesses, staff, locals, as well as visitor to the islands), assisting to minimise the impact caused by waste, emissions and consumption. This of course without affecting the quality of service or the experience offered to the sun seekers to this stunning, most southern part of Europe.
Over the years you’ve hosted many celebrities and influencers at the eco village. If you had to choose just one encounter, which one would it be?
We have attracted a lot of journalist/press attention with our project over the years, welcoming everything from Europe’s most popular magazines/newspapers, to even the modern social media influencers!
Who really stood out for me: the McEwan sisters, Caitlin (8) and Ella (10), the ‘Plastic free youth pioneers’, that came back for another visit to the Eco Village after a successful petition on Change.org, to get Burger King UK (and almost McDonalds), to stop giving away plastic toys with children’s meals.
The sisters decided to start the petition after learning what a serious harm plastic waste does and even won the first ever Youth Pioneer Plastic free award! These young environmentalists have given us hope and are an example to all of us, especially in moments when we feel that by ourselves we cannot make a difference!
How do you market and communicate your sustainability features to potential visitors – and how do you engage them once they’re at the eco village?
All our guests are invited to go to see the Eco Village and learn more about off grid living, even if they stay in our holiday homes outside of the Eco Village.
The environment at the finca, encourages our guests of all ages, to connect and communicate more between each other, to be social outdoors in the communal spaces.
30% of our new guests come through word of mouth recommendations. At Lanzarote Retreats we try to communicate our brand and ideas through social media too. We do a monthly newsletter to our client base which has proved to be both informative and effective. As these newsletters also get shared, more and more people are aware of our existence.
We believe that, if we keep giving the best service while at the same not time not jeopardising on the sustainability aspect, we will have the guest revisiting and sharing their positive experiences of sustainable tourism!
Now over 40% of our business comes from returning clients. That’s why we have never felt the need to pay to advertise, if it can still somewhat work in the old-fashioned way.
You take pride in creating a warm and inspiring culture at Lanzarote Retreats as a workplace. What role does social sustainability play nowadays in the context of sustainable tourism?
There are many ways that we try to share the concept of sustainability, with staff, guests and even local University of Tourism students, that come to learn about the benefits of sustainable tourism.
We rely on our guest feedback forms, that we get from every visit and we try to act on feedback where possible. We work on the same principle with all our team/staff. We listen to them and hopefully empower them in their role. We believe we are as successful as the team we build around us. That is why it’s important we show them gratitude and invest in them!
Anything else you’d like to mention?
We are lucky to operate on a small, tourism-dependent island that has miraculously managed to avoid the fate of so many other holiday spots. Lanzarote is what it is today, because they managed to create an amazing destination for tourists but maintained the traditional way…which is a blend of man and the stunning nature here!
The diverse people that live here, have a great quality of life. They have opportunities and live the tranquil Lanzarote outdoor lifestyle, in one way or another connecting with nature (for example by catching some waves after work).
The Island offers the best climate/landscape to train and compete throughout the year, hence it has become Europe’s number 1 sporting destination. Countless international sporting events and competitions are held here throughout the year, meaning we have a lot of visitors that come out here to be active, so like the locals, making the most of the relaxing environment, climate and the landscape that Lanzarote has to offer!
There are many ways we can all share what we know about sustainability with our community or work. The Sustainability Leaders Project’ helps us to highlight the possibilities, shows where others are on the scale of sustainability and how we can all live this way if we choose to.
Thank you, Tila.
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