Sustainability in hospitality
The Le Merdien Al Aqah in fujairah is self-sustainable producing its own water and processing its own sewage setting a new precedent for the regional hospitality sector
The Le Méridien Al Aqah in Fujairah was the first five-star resort to set up shop 16 years ago on the eastern coast of the UAE and pioneered several firsts after addressing critical infrastructural gaps it faced in its utility requirements.
For instance, the resort was one of the first hotels in the region to have its own sewage treatment plant (STP) on site when it opened in 2003. “It was on a much smaller scale (compared to the one we have today) and we didn’t have as much capacity. So we had to send some effluent away via tankers on a near enough daily basis when the hotel was running at full occupancy — it wasn’t sustainable enough,” says Patrick Antaki, complex general manager at Le Méridien Al Aqah, Al Maha Desert Resort and the Tennis and Country Club, Fujairah.
Four years ago the resort was able to refurbish the existing STP and thanks to advancements in technology the plant was now more efficient than before.
He says: “Sewage treatment technology had evolved and we could now use the same pan / containers but treat more effluent. This was made possible by aerating the pans from the bottom instead of doing it from the top. In lay mans terms: they put massive shower heads with hundreds of tiny holes that aerates the flow. This allowed the plant to process the effluent a lot quicker, making it capable to process more sewerage than before. More importantly the quality of treated effluents was much better compared to the old system,” he notes.
Thanks to the new system foul odurs were down to almost zero, with the previous system a tiny mistake was detrimental. “This is something we cannot afford because we have guests on one side and staff accommodation right next to it,” says Antaki highlighting that the room for error is down to a minimum.
“We took it to the next level and covered the sewage plant, which we could not do with the old technology because it relied on fresh air from the atmosphere. The new plant is more efficient and goes through all the waste product we generate, in fact we have spare capacity as well,” Antaki reveals.
The treated water from the STP is then used to irrigate all of the gardens and landscaped area of the hotel.
The RO plant
“After being in operation for many years we planned to build our own reverse osmosis (RO) plant for water because good quality water was a challenge to get at a fair price. After studying it thoroughly we came to a conclusion that an RO plant on site would be a lot cheaper to buy per gallon, the quality of the water would be excellent and it would be environmentally friendly as well. We commissioned the water treatment plant four years ago around the same time we revamped the sewage treatment plant.”
The process began with the hotel digging bore wells in the beach because it provided a natural layer of filtration in contrast to taking in sea water directly. “Drilling the bore well in the beach means we can use the sand on the bank as a filter, giving us slightly less to do in the plant,” Antaki says.
The plant has a daily capacity of 600m3 per day, but the resort currently only uses only 2/3 of its capacity leaving it in a realistic position of selling the excess water to those in the vicinity who may be in need of it. The water from the RO plant is supplied to all the public areas and guest rooms which is used in the toilets and bathrooms.
In addition to the operational RO plant, there is an additional unit. Once commissioned it will supply fresh water meeting all consumption requirements. “When we had it (the other RO plant) installed we were certain about our plans — we want to stop all one-time use plastics. Eventually, we would like to stop buying plastic bottles and have our own drinking water produced on site. It’s just a matter of licensing,” he says.
Antaki is vehement that the resort’s sustainable practices are far more than a “good PR story”.
He explains: “We are well aware of the different things going on in the world with regards to climate change and damage to the environment. We have to be careful and keep an eye out for future generations. Each and every one of us needs to play our part to save the environment.
“Our owners are Emirates Airlines, who are serious about sustainability. Today, we generate too much waste in general and are not nearly as sustainable. This hotel isn’t going to change the world but if everybody does their bit it will benefit us all eventually. And all this can be recoverable in dollars and there are tangible results and savings to everything. We make our water, and the more efficient we become the less power we end up use. Overall, it starts reflecting on our utility bills.”
The hotel paid AED2m to install the RO plant and the ROI was achieved in just 18 months.
Today, many hotels have looked at installing RO plants and put in STPs, while also investing in solar panels. The Al Maha Desert Resort, which is also under Antaki’s stewardship, has its RO plant and STP in place from the day it opened, he says.
“We have close to 300 light posts across the resort and by the beginning of the summer they will all be solar powered,” he concludes.