For the past four months, Elisa Oldani has been working for Environmental Protection In the Caribbean’s (EPIC) with the goal of maintaining and expanding their eco-label program. The non-profit foundation is the national operator of two internationally recognized eco-labels: Blue Flag and Green Key.
Elisa is a student of International Tourism Management and Consultancy at NHTV in The Netherlands. During her time on Sint Maarten, she has been raising awareness about the benefits of eco-labels and hopes to motivate more sites on Sint Maarten to get certified. Eco-label certification can provide many benefits, which I heard more about from Elisa during our interview.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small village in the countryside near Milan with my younger brother and parents. My parents always motivated me to use my imagination and follow my dreams, which made me feel as though I was capable of anything! Today, they are just as supportive.
As a young teenager, I felt like the world was calling me to explore it! I embarked on my first solo trip, which was to Ireland, at the age of 12. I loved the sense of freedom I tasted. This might’ve also been part of the reason I was so rebellious as I got a bit older. At 15, I was eager to grow up and probably made my parents’ life hell! Thankfully, today, I have changed my tune and must say I get nostalgic for those “loving and carefree” years I took for granted.
How did you end up in The Netherlands?
With travelling as a passion; I decided to work in IT, which is an easy way to make money and live independently in another country. Doing this, I lived in Ireland and in Spain for a few years, but I started to hate my job. I didn’t feel satisfied at the end of the day and so I started to think about other options.
I had learnt that my favourite part about travelling was getting to know people and their culture, this led me to mull over how I could get into tourism. I know now that tourism encompasses so much more than plainly travel and working with people. But back then, those two simple reasons were good enough for me! After attending an “open day” at NHTV, I knew that International Tourism Management and Consultancy was a great fit to obtain these goals.
Tell me about your study?
International Tourism Management and Consultancy mainly focuses on the destination; so what tourists experience as soon as they step foot in the country they are visiting. It has to do less with the tourists themselves and more with the country and community they find themselves in. This can be very broad and includes many different aspects of the country – from health and income, to culture, activities and more.
How did you hear about EPIC?
My school has a database with internships that are offered, and EPIC was one of them. They were looking for someone to fulfil the role of “eco-label coordinator.” Reading the description of the internship, I liked that it was a very independent assignment, in a country I had never visited and is run by a non-profit.
Honestly, I did not know much about eco-labels when I applied for the internship. We learn to also look at the environmental aspects around tourism in our study, but I hadn’t had the chance yet to see it at work. Tourism will always have an impact on the environment, but by implementing certain practices, this impact can be decreased. I liked the idea of using eco-labels; it is a smart way to motivate businesses to think about tourism in a more sustainable manner.
What was your first impression of Sint Maarten?
I thought it was Bali! Of course, after driving around, I also saw the differences. But the warm weather, palm trees, disorderly neighbourhoods and chill vibe reminded me of my time in Indonesia. I also remember thinking, “Wow! The water is even bluer than in the pictures I have seen.”
What are some of your tasks as EPIC’s eco-label coordinator?
Educating and creating awareness about the two eco-labels EPIC manages – these are Blue Flag for marinas and beaches, and Green Key for tourism-based industry such as hotels. I support our existing sites: Isle De Sol Marina, Divi Little Bay, Princess Heights and Holland House and try to inspire and convince others to get accredited.
How are you trying to convince others to invest in an eco-label?
Some business owners want to be part of environmental efforts, such as eco-labels, because of their own love for the environment, BUT when you run a business, you also are forced to think economically. So I think it is important to let interested stakeholders know that it can also be profitable to get eco-label certified. Eco-labels often improve efficiency, which means you save costs on management, staff, water and electricity. It also provides an extra marketing platform.
Why should a business invest in an eco-label?
Besides the chance of cutting costs and increasing profits, eco-labels such as Blue Flag and Green Key also help your business take corporate responsibility. You are making a positive difference to the environment and the community, which also has an effect on the long-term success of your business.
When you are not doing EPIC work, what do you enjoy?
I am also working on a destination analysis of Sint Maarten as an assignment for school, which I think is very interesting. I love researching the history and culture of a new place. In my free time, I like to drive around the island and see where a random road takes me; watch movies; hang out with friends; and volunteer for the Animal Defenders by feeding the many dogs on the island.
How can people who are interested in the Blue Flag or Green Key eco-labels contact you?
Email me at [email protected] or visit EPIC’s website: www.epicislands.org