Alfred Merse, Skålleague of the Month - May'22
Skålleague of the Month - May'22
It is an honour to be recognised as Skålleague of The Month in recognition of the work I am doing in sustainable tourism.
I am a proud member of Skål International Hobart, one of the 2 clubs in the island State of Tasmania, Australia. Our membership currently sits at 89 members.
My industry background
A few words on my industry background before elaborating on my Skål International pedigree...
I joined the workforce in 1973, after graduating from university, with the opening of Australia’s first casino, Wrest Point Hotel & Casino where I started work as an Accounts Clerk and spent a fascinating 2 years learning all about hotel operations from the international team that was brought to Australia to open the property.
I have worked in the tourism industry for some 37 years with companies such as Sheraton Hotels, Business Events Tasmania and the Federal Group, a private family company with 5 properties in Tasmania, which employs in excess of 2,000 staff, where I currently have the role of Conference Sales Manager focussing on business tourism.
3 of the Federal Group properties, in particular The Henry Jones Art Hotel, Saffire and Macq01, have a particular focus on sustainability in relation to history, culture and the natural environment and have won many national & international awards. I recommend you look at the Federal Group website for more details of these unique properties.
Some 12 years ago, with my partner, we created a Wellness Sanctuary & Spa Retreat… Harmony Hill… where our total focus is on wellness & sustainability. We rely on a solar system for our energy, harvest rain water for all our needs, use only certified organic products for all our treatments, collect all waste water in our wetland, and do not use any chemicals whatsoever on our 42 acre property where we reduce carbon from the atmosphere through the forest growing on our property.
My Skål International background
I joined Skål International in 2007 and had been active at committee level before being elected club President in 2013, a position I held for 3 years. In 2017, I was elected to the Skål International Australia Executive where I focussed on membership development. In 2019, I was elected as National President.
During my time as Hobart club President, the club was transformed by encouraging a younger cohort of members and encouraging a gender balance (we have had 2 female club Presidents since, and now have a female Hobart Club member elected as Vice President on the National Executive).
Given Tasmania’s reputation as one of the world’s pristine natural environments (48% of Tasmania is protected for eternity as World Heritage Area) and the rapid growth in eco-tourism operators in the State delivering world class experiences, I encouraged one of our members, Pennicott Wilderness Adventures, to enter the Skål International Global Sustainability Awards and I was delighted when they won the Global Marine Tourism Award in 2014-2015.
I was very proud when the Hobart club was recognised for these initiatives by being declared the Skål International Club of The Year in 2014-2015.
The first Skål International World Congress I attended was in Budapest in 2015 (my heritage is Hungarian) and that really opened my eyes to how Skål International membership can help grow business but also how Skål International can make an impact in the travel & tourism industries through its global network.
Skål International Hobart Clean a Beach Project
At subsequent World Congresses – I have attended 8 – what left a lasting impression on me was the presentation by the Sustainability Manager of Diversey (when Diversey was a major Skål International sponsor) on the various projects they were involved in in the developing world, and this kindled my interest in sustainability. On returning home, I approached my company on the issue of soap recycling to reduce the waste stream and also to save resources… and was delighted when they joined the Soap Aid project.
I was further inspired to encourage our club to take an active role in promoting sustainability and after considering a number of options, settled on the Skål International Hobart Clean a Beach Project.
Tasmania is an island State of Australia and the capital city, Hobart, is located on the banks of the River Derwent. Tasmania is a very popular tourism destination and Hobart attracted up to 55 cruise ships annually (prior to Covid). Water-based activities are a major attraction to both visitors and locals and keeping our waterways & beaches free from rubbish and pollution was the fundamental driving force behind initiating this project. It was also an ideal opportunity for members to ‘get their hands dirty’ by actually doing something positive for their community and tourism industry, and to educate our members on the impact they can make to reduce environmental damage.
An approach was made to our award-winning Skål International member, Pennicott Wilderness Adventures, a pioneer in marine tourism and marine conservation, to commence an annual clean-up of the beaches that surround the water gateway into Hobart. The project has now been running successfully for 5 years with up to 45 Skålleagues with families & friends devoting one Sunday each year to clean up the beaches nominated by Pennicott. Rob Pennicott, the founder of the company, contributes his vessels, his time and that of his crew to support this project. In return, Skål International Hobart contributes $4,000 annually to the Pennicott Foundation which has many other marine conservation projects in Tasmania underway.
Apart from the clean up itself, and the increased awareness of sustainability that results, it is also a great opportunity for amicale as members gather for a BBQ at the conclusion of the event.
There is clear evidence of the success of this project as the volume of rubbish/detritus collected decreases each year on those beaches that are regularly targeted. Other partners are also involved in this project with the local council waiving refuse charges for the rubbish collected, and a local hardware chain donating compostable rubbish bags and gloves. Media coverage also enhances the Skål International Hobart brand in the community.
Skål International Hobart & IIPT Peace Promenade Project
Following on from the success of this project and being again inspired by another project that was mentioned at a Skål International World Congress, in 2019 I approached the IIPT (International Institute For Peace Through Tourism) to collaborate in establishing a Peace Park/Promenade in the City Of Hobart to promote the message that tourism is the best way to promote peace in the world and linking it with the 400+ Peace Parks around the world.
The Skål International Hobart & IIPT Peace Promenade Project was borne!
To get this project off the ground, 5 foundation sponsors were signed up including the City of Hobart, The Macquarie Point Development Corporation, the Rotary Club of Hobart, Knight Frank (a real estate company) and the Chinese Buddhist Academy. In excess of $20,000 was raised to purchase and plant & care for the trees, provide interpretive signage and seating within the Promenade for quiet reflection.
Concurrently, with 100% endorsement by all Aldermen, the City of Hobart was invited to apply, and was accepted, to be declared an International City of Peace to join the global network of other proclaimed peace cities….and our Peace Promenade joined the 400+ Peace Parks around the world.
The actual Promenade is located on a central site in the City of Hobart which is undergoing a transformation which will see it become a major hub for both tourists and locals. The Promenade, when finally finished, will feature an avenue of trees that will lead into a Reconciliation Park being established to recognise the first nations (Palawa) people who lived on this land from some 40,000 years ago.
The trees are currently being grown on in tree boxes until they can be planted into their final home.
There is a strong link to sustainability in this project as IIPT has, as part of the Credo of The Peaceful Traveller, a commitment to ‘revere and protect the natural environment which sustains all life, appreciate all cultures and to share these views and act upon them’….so it fits in very well with our sustainability focus.
These are two tangible examples of projects focussing on sustainability and tourism that all Skål International clubs around the world can adopt… tailored to their particular communities and environments.
Advocacy & Global Partnerships Committee
I am currently involved in the Advocacy & Global Partnerships Committee and am enjoying working with many passionate Skålleagues from around the world on developing many ideas and suggestions focussed on how Skål International can take a major role in promoting a sustainable tourism industry.
I am also currently researching the possibility of the Hobart club twinning with a Skål International club in the Oceania region based on a sustainable tourism project modelled on our Clean a Beach Project, and am in discussion with Rob Pennicott on how we can further develop this project in Tasmania.
I believe that every Skålleague can become a Sustainability Champion and can make a positive impact on the planet on which we live.
My favorite quote is… "If it’s got to be, it’s up to me", so I encourage every Skålleague to take action to make our industry more sustainable!.