DAWN BEACH–Princess Heights Luxury Boutique Condo Hotel celebrated its milestone in becoming the first and only property on the island to be awarded the prestigious Green Key Eco-label certification on hotel premises on the evening of February 2, amongst a crowd of supporters and key stakeholders.

International Green Key Director Finn Thomsen of the non-profit Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), which owns and runs the programme, was on hand to mark the occasion. This was the first Green Key inauguration he has visited personally within the Caribbean.Thomsen said he was “pleased that everything he had hoped for was in compliance” during a mock audit of the hotel earlier that day. He described the list of criteria, containing more than 130 points, as relating to both environmental management and awareness aspects, adding that he would like to see a stronger Green Key presence in the Caribbean.

St. Maarten is the third Caribbean country to implement the programme, after Puerto Rico which holds four certifications and the Dominican Republic which holds six. Thomsen flew in to St. Maarten from Puerto Rico, where he signed a memorandum of understanding with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association in regard to how the two organisations can work together.FEE is also promoting certified sites on its Website and is working on showing the accreditation through popular tourism Websites TripAdvisor and Expedia.

Hotel General Manager Emil Lee described the choice as a logical one, “good for business, for the island and for tourism,” pointing out that if “being green” translated to paying high prices, it would not be sustainable for businesses to make green choices. He described Green Key as being straightforward, good for the environment and also good for profitability.The hotel had been using Green Key guidelines as a model for best practices for many years and Lee credited intern Marlyn Wessels, who studies Hotel Management at Saxion college in the Netherlands, for pushing to formalise its implementation.

Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) representative Rueben Thompson briefly introduced the crowd to the organisation’s recent environmental education programmes within the community at large, including the business community, particularly Blue Flag and Green Key. Princess Heights became certified through EPIC, the programme’s National Operator. With the help of the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) and St. Maarten Tourism Bureau, EPIC became an FEE associate member in 2008 and is set to become a full-fledged member in the coming months. Thompson said that while looking for certification programmes, American programmes had been found to be difficult to run locally and European programmes then had been found to have higher standards. However, this was a challenge they were willing to take on, he said. EPIC-SHTA interns Chantee Mahulette, Angela Snip and Rianne Pastoor were key in getting the programme up and running on behalf of the organisations.Thompson thanked the SHTA and St. Maarten Timeshare Association for contributing to this programme in particular, as well as the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association, Prins Bernhard Cultuur Fonds, St. Maarten Tourism Bureau, SXM Princess Juliana International Airport and the Ministry of Economic Affairs for contributions to EPIC’s programmes in general.Representatives of each of these entities were present, as was Member of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams.

Green Key is currently the largest global eco-label for accommodations, recognised and supported by the World Tourism Organization and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The eco-label has been awarded to more than 2,300 hotels and other sites in 46 countries. Establishments are certified after fulfilling a host of requirements and are expected to adhere to more guidelines as time goes on. The programme is operated locally through the sponsorship and support of the SHTA.

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