UN Environment ProgrammeGlobal Tourism Plastics InitiativeUN World Tourism OrganisationEllen Macarthur Foundation
Jaya House River Park

Christian Deboer, Managing Director at Jaya House Interview with the United Nations

Q: What is the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative?

A: In Cambodia, the tourism industry alone uses 4.6 million single-use plastic water bottles a month. Each of those bottles and plastic bags eventually ends up in the river, landfills, rice fields or oceans, contributing to the changing climate. The side effects are already visible here in Cambodia; hence I believe it is up to all of us to start to try to make a more aggressive difference.

Being in charge of Jaya House River Park gave me the opportunity to make a few policy decisions, such as being single-use plastic free. The inspiration came after long chats with industry peers ranging from the owner of Little Red Fox Espresso to the GM of the Treeline Urban Resort, Joni Aker, and indeed, many others. Years ago, we continued the talks and conversations with like-minded, progressive Tour operators like Easia Travel, Khiri Travel, Phare, the Cambodian Circus, and others to try to make a more consistent difference amongst a wider range of issues facing the tourism industry.

In 2021, there are now viable alternatives available, and it’s rather easy to make the switch with similar-thinking industry partners. It’s time to make a real effort, an effort that could be checked and verified.

Q: What are the benefits of including your commitment to sustainability and, more specifically, the circular economy of plastics when communicating with potential visitors?

A: Our guests here at Jaya House (perhaps surprisingly) adore the initiative and have always been wholeheartedly involved with it. We haven’t received any negative feedback about this. In fact, numerous guests have decided to book their stay with us at Jaya House River Park because of our single-use plastic free approach. The best side-effect of our efforts is the fact that many guests have stated that they had never really thought about this issue until their stay with us. As a direct result, they now make much more informed decisions about where they stay and with whom they book their well-earned holiday.

Q: How did you manage to become plastic-free? Could you share specific examples with us that could inspire others?

A: That was an easy process. In fact, it was far easier than I expected: all it took was a meeting with our delivery companies and explaining our philosophy. Once explained, they were instantly on board. The 2nd meeting was with our complete staff to explain the decision, and they were also supportive about it. The 107 team members are now making big efforts also in their home and private lives by cleaning, reducing plastic, and planting trees.

Training: The single-use plastic approach was included in our numerous staff trainings. A long-standing partnership with Possibilities World, a regional training centre, ensured that the complete team fully understood the dangers of plastic and the actions they could take to reduce it in their work and home environment. Important life lessons were learned, and the changes were received from the staff members in a positive way.

Suppliers: We give each supplier a batch of linen bags which, when delivered to us full, is being replaced with an empty one ready for the next delivery. Fresh meat/fish suppliers have been given re-usable & sealable multi-use containers to transport their produce. After use, good cleaning protocols ensure that the containers are ready for their next usage.

In-room amenities: In our bathrooms, we use our handmade Jaya Organics products in glass bottles. These in-room amenities are all handmade in Siem Reap and provide jobs for the local community. The additional benefit is that all products are vegan and have reduced the journey it takes them to get to Jaya House River Park.

Bamboo – miracle stuff: We use bamboo straws and bamboo toothbrushes, amongst many other items. Each of those items is a big hit with our guests, who often decide to buy them to bring them home. Jaya House (indirectly) employs two families residing north of the Angkorian Temple Complex. All our straws are made and sold by those two families, and they are the sole source of income for them. Just before the pandemic, we held many discussions with a toothpaste tablet supplier to create an even bigger impact. Our coffee capsules in each of the rooms are also plastic-free because of the meeting that we held with our supplier.

Front of House and Kitchen areas: In the kitchen, we adopted a multi-faceted approach to eliminate single-use plastic in various areas. Many items have been replaced with multiple-use containers. We also integrated products from Only One Planet, which are usable for multiple years. Once tourism is back to normal, I hope that we will be able to start working with “Bees Wax” as a replacement. One of our fellow Hotels in Siem Reap (Babel Guesthouse) has used their products for many years, and they had positive results.

Q: How do you measure the impact of these changes? What main changes in demand and activity have you noticed since becoming plastic-free?

A: The result of being plastic-free and being outspoken about it is that our space is now much cleaner. Our staff is making big efforts in their personal homes and many other hotels are following our example. In fact, there are now nine different single-use plastic free hotels in Siem Reap, ranging from 5 stars deluxe to guesthouses. I adore the fact that the team of Jaya House River Park has been able to inspire others and support industry partners to work together with the aim of making a sincere and measurable difference. As an industry, we simply cannot wait until 2025 before making major changes, and I believe and we have proven that these changes can (and should) take place much faster.

Q: How do you involve the community in your engagement against plastic pollution?

A: In partnership with our local government and other hotels, bars, and businesses, we co-organise city-wide clean-ups. Here, in Siem Reap, we are lucky to have a government that understands the issues and is actively dealing with the problem of single-use plastic.

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative has the objective to tackle plastic pollution by promoting a shift towards circular economy of plastics in tourism operations where plastics never become waste, rather than to completely eliminate plastics from all tourism operations. It is a systemic approach to plastic pollution where we eliminate (all problematic and unnecessary plastic items), innovate (to ensure that all other plastics are reusable, recyclable or compostable) and circulate (to keep plastic in the economy).

Q: What challenges have you been confronted with in your implementation/promotion of a circular economy of plastics, and how did you manage to overcome them?

A: We have had no problems whatsoever. Jaya House River Park, as a single-use plastic free hotel, has been voted as the world's 19th top hotel on TripAdvisor, which I believe is proof of the fact that the world is ready for a more environmentally aware approach.

Q: What challenges have you been confronted with in your implementation/promotion of a circular economy of plastics, and how did you manage to overcome them?

A: Unfortunately, the hotel is currently closed (we are hoping to re-open in the near future). However, since we still have a substantial amount of staff, the efforts of cleaning up have continued.

The guests will have changed in their demands and wishes. We have used the current downtime to prepare ourselves for the after Covid-19 era, which will see a rather different type of guest - a guest that is far more aware and likely demands a plastic-free environment, a guest that demands more space and (amongst many other items) a far more vegan focused menu instead of just one salad bowl. In fact, in recent months, we have employed the specialist, Veganfoodquest, in the field of vegan Food to help us completely change our menu offerings with a substantially larger amount of vegan dishes in combination with the more traditional meat and fish dishes.

We have also used this time to create a 2nd open-air lobby area and grow many more trees and plants with fragrant flowers. The future tourist will demand a more sincere approach to community efforts and will want to be able to verify efforts for themselves.  

Jaya House is a signatory of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, and this interview has been conducted as part of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative newsletter in partnership with Sustainable First. Click here to read and sign-up to the newsletter.