Compass Hut - A meeting of minds for this tourism venture
June 13, 2023
We sat down with Kylie Bell, who together with her sister Tamika, is co-founder of Compass Hut, a collection of off-grid tiny homes on Tasmania’s North West coast.
When did the idea for Compass Hut start and what’s your driving ethos?
My sister and I have reflected on this over the years, and it's funny how unconsciously we’ve come back to a lot of the values from childhood.
Our family farm is certified organic, and has been home to our family since 1993. As a family we've always been conscious about sustainability from a lifestyle point of view. My sister and I both had a keen interest in design including architecture, interiors, furniture design and landscaping. I’ve had a big interest in architecture since I was 8 years old, however, being a female in a regional area I didn’t even think it was possible during my school years. But I happened to have the right role models and eventually studied my Bachelor of Architecture (Environmental Design) in Launceston. Whilst undergoing my studies I gravitated towards the sustainability side of the built environment.
Tamika and I wanted to combine our interests in travel, tourism and design, and with my studies, and we hoped to run our own establishment one day.
We spoke about it and thought “Maybe there's a way to get started here on the farm.” The whole family got really excited by that.
We initially established Wagonhaus, in which we built tiny homes on wheels. This then became the vehicle for the accommodation project, Compass Hut. We like the tiny home on wheels model as we’re on an organic farm and don’t want to impact the agricultural land too much, so it seemed like a no brainer. During my second or third year of study, I became increasingly interested in micro architecture. Initially we didn’t have much confidence in the tourism market here in the northwest, so having a dwelling on wheels gave us options if we needed. Now we are starting to see tourism change rapidly in our region.
Growing up in a regional area and being part of the local fabric was part of the ethos for Tamika and I. We saw how agritourism could be one layer in supporting other small to medium sized businesses within our local, regional community.
The Compass Hut opened in 2019, what did the off-grid component look like?
Our first tiny house that went into accommodation under Compass Hut, Barnhaus, didn’t have access to mains power. So we collaborated with a local Tasmanian business who designed a hybrid off-grid system solution; meaning if we had mains electricity or a backup generator in future then we could connect it in. That helped build resilience for us. Initially, we decided to work with an off-grid Victron Energy system incorporating gel batteries, and we can monitor this system remotely.
Within 12 months we started designing the second property, Arc Pavilion. When Covid hit it gave us time to really develop the idea. During this time Tesla launched their off-grid Powerwall. We had been keen to incorporate lithium battery storage in the new project as a comparison to gel, we opted for the newly-released, off-grid version of Tesla’s Powerwall at that time, and can also monitor it via an app.
How did you come across Sumday?
We were fortunate enough to attend TICT’s (Tourism Industry Council Tasmania) Carbon Neutral Destination Tasmania - Tourism Industry Forum in 2022. Ellis Richmond presented on Carbon Accounting and Offsetting, and the TICT Pilot Program was announced. We had been exploring ways to measure carbon, but couldn’t find anything that was both affordable and tailored to our business size. We took part in the Sumday pilot program in 2022, and Ellis Richmond calculated our emissions for the previous calendar year of 2021.
What’s the process been like?
We've had a really good experience.
It’s been brilliant in understanding our scope one, two and three emissions. Scope three emissions were higher than anticipated, but we were able to attribute this to Arc Pavilion being under construction during this period. Specifically, we could identify the set up costs and emissions of the construction happening offsite, and the purchasing of furniture, decor and undertaking landscaping. It’ll be interesting where we’ll land on Scope 3 emissions in our next assessment. But we are growing as a business, so potentially our scope 3 missions might go up. We’ll be looking at ways to shift to local suppliers as much as possible with the accommodation operations and/or off-setting solutions. At this point it’s all about learning and understanding our business.
Having the dashboard is really useful, as well as the annual report produced at the end of each assessment period.
What do you do with that information?
The key thing for us is we want to communicate our carbon emissions to our guests. We participated in Sustainable House Day for a couple of years, and actually partnered with the Australian Electric Vehicle Association through Renew in 2019, who hosts Sustainable House Day each year across Australia.
It's one thing to tell people about it, but it's another thing if people get to come and experience it. We thought, wow, okay, people are actually coming and seeing something like this that is achievable.
Carbon accounting will become part of the evolution of our business, accommodation and sustainability journey. We've wanted to understand it for our own knowledge to help us inform our decisions going forward in lowering our carbon and environmental footprint, and communicate that to guests along the way. We've already included a snapshot of our work with Sumday on our website.
Have bookings or demographics changed since you’ve been more active with your sustainability reporting?
We have definitely noticed a positive shift in our bookings since incorporating the Sumday data on our website.
We're starting to see more guests with hybrids and EVs come and stay. A lot of our guests are separating their recycling. It's very unusual if that doesn't happen for us now.
The data is showing that people, globally, are looking for sustainable options. Research shows that people are more likely to book somewhere that's eco-friendly*, even if they weren't looking for it in the first place.
Guests are wanting to have less impact on the planet and we feel a part of that. Just two days ago a guest said they wanted to know more about what we’re doing from a sustainability point of view. If we can communicate what we are doing, it's not just about booking nights at all for us, it’s a vehicle to explore our passions and share them with others. Sustainability is a big part of our ethos.
With carbon accounting we're going to continue trying to learn as much as we can so we can continue taking our guests on the journey with us. Being able to work with Sumday and Ellis Richmond is invaluable.
*According to Booking.com sustainable travel research 81% of travelers say they want to stay in a sustainable accommodation in the upcoming year. A notable increase from 62% in 2016