How the Pandemic Changed Food Self-Sufficiency at Hotels

How the Pandemic Changed Food Self-Sufficiency at Hotels - TRAVELINDEXHo Chi Minh City, March 9, 2022 / TRAVELINDEX / The hospitality industry has sputtered in fits and starts throughout the pandemic as case counts and quarantines have had their way with us, but there were aspects of the hotel business that literally came to life over the past two years. As the number of guests dwindled, many hotels invested in the land, cultivating gardens, farms and orchards to support staff and move towards a more sustainable model of operating.

“Over the last two years the world has really woken up to wellness,” said Hylton Lipkin, GM of Alba Wellness Valley by Fusion, a natural hot spring resort in Vietnam that has long prided itself on its commitment to health. “But what kind of wellness? Is it physical wellness, mental wellness, or environmental wellness? They’re all connected and this was an integral time for us to deepen our framework to honor all the various facets of what that word means, especially when it comes to food.”

Located on an expansive plot of land on the outskirts of Vietnam’s former imperial capital Hue, Alba had the space to make a difference. More time was invested in the 250m2 organic vegetable plot, to ensure restaurant and staff canteen needs could be met. With more than 150 cage-free chickens on their farm, they became the first resort property in Vietnam to use only 100% cage free eggs.

Fusion, as a brand, has made a number of eco-strides during the course of the pandemic. Fusion Resort Cam Ranh, on Vietnam’s south central coast, is now home to around 200 cage-free chickens, ducks, goats, and even peacocks. Their flourishing organic vegetable garden and mango orchard, spread over 3,100m2, partially supplies fresh vegetables and herbs to the resort’s restaurants and staff canteen. The resort also has over 1,000 coconut trees, with all the organic young fresh coconuts now being served up in the resort restaurant. Previously they were removed at a young stage and not harvested.

“We wanted to involve our guests in all these new initiatives as we believe this is the way forward,” said Dawid Koegelenberg. “It’s an opportunity for guests to learn the importance of where their food comes from.” Guests are free to pick their own organic vegetables and collect eggs for breakfast, while young visitors can attend a farm school on weekends to learn how to care for animals.

Fusion Resort Phu Quoc, on Vietnam’s largest island, introduced an eco-farm in the summer of 2021. An eclectic array of animals from goats to ducks as well as a new vegetable garden and pineapple orchard, that guests have access to, have been added.

At the opposite end of the country in the remote Northern Delta region, Meliá Ba Vi Mountain Retreat, is also cultivating land.

“We are located in a mountainous area of the country and are quite far from local suppliers,” explained Noemi Perez, general manager of the property.  “Our organic garden has allowed us to reduce transportation costs and the impact on the environment, while allowing for a consistent food supply when the city was locked down during COVID.”

The Balansa organic garden, named after the French botanist Benjamin Balansa, is thriving with a range of vegetables including kale, broccoli, arugula, radish, celery, lettuce, green pepper, tomatoes, and a range of herbs that are used in the restaurant, spa, and the staff canteen. Leftovers are returned to the earth and each day the property composts approximately 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of organic and biodegradable waste.

Another Meliá property, Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort, started their Spice Garden in response to a shortage of vegetables during the ongoing lockdown.

“Our staff were encouraged to start small, by planting a few fast-growing vegetables and spices that were used in cooking meals,” said Nishant Uniyal, Meliá Ho Tram hotel manager. “From these humble beginnings the project has grown into so much more. We’re now growing a wide variety of different herbs and vegetables such as chili, lemongrass, zucchini, and tomatoes, all of which are free of chemicals.”

The garden is set to play a role in the resort’s offering with plans in the works to roll out a range of fun, free gardening activities for guests. These include painting pots, flower puzzling, leaf crafts, and making herb-infused essential oils.

“We want to engage the next generation, so they can experience gardening as a fruitful activity that preserves the environment while also providing the opportunity for getting together with family and friends,” added Uniyal.

The team at the Bali property, Tanah Gajah, a Resort by Hadiprana, also dug in when the pandemic hit. They switched to a farm-to-staff-table approach and started a new nursery to supplement the main garden, planting herbs and vegetables (shallots, onions, garlic, chili, turnips, morning glory, etc) that grew quickly, in order to support the food needs of staff.

Siddhartha Oceanfront Resort & Spa, two hours northeast from Tanah Gajah, cultivated a thriving vegetable garden in an area of the island known for its volcanic soil, which is not conducive to farming. They developed a waste separation system where all food and garden waste is composted and used again on the land. The gardens that were first planted last year, have become part of the landscaping and wind their way throughout the property.

“It’s been a trial and error process and we’ve had to remain adaptive,” said the co-owner of the resort, Stefan Brand. “When we first planted we chose easy to grow crops but since all of the yield is going to the staff and their families, we needed to switch that and make a concerted effort to grow foods that are familiar to them.”

“The pandemic planted the seed for this initiative and we look forward to seeing the fruits of our labor for years to come,” added Brand.