Sustainability in the hospitality industry has come a long way since the introduction of towel reuse suggestions and water conservation. Hotels and other hotel businesses are increasingly adopting a more mature approach that incorporates socially responsible practices and sound environmental and economic policies.
With public awareness and consumer confidence in sustainability growing, there is increasing pressure on the travel and tourism industry to talk. According to the 2018 Sustainable Travel Report of 2018, 87% of global travelers say they want sustainable travel. In 2019, we can expect hospitality to introduce more innovative practices that will empower people and the planet, as well as financial performance, while ensuring that guests are aware of their good deeds.
Sustainable tourism: The big picture
Government and public support for industry-wide sustainability support has increased in recent years. In 2015, 193 nations agreed to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals designed to ensure a better future for all by introducing major changes by 2030.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, which accounts for 10.4% of global GDP and supports one in ten jobs worldwide, the travel and tourism sector has the potential to make enormous social, environmental and economic contributions – a fact that travelers are increasingly facing recognize. The United Nations has captured this spirit of the times by proclaiming 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This campaign has raised awareness and encouraged businesses and travelers to adhere to ethical guidelines and policies. Recently, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has developed a statistical framework for Sustainable Tourism Assessment (MST), to be adopted as an international standard in 2019.
From green to transparent: the proof is in the report
Green's mainstreaming is going to be more than good business intentions to convince conscientious consumers. Transparency will become even more important in the future as ethical travelers seek evidence to underpin the messages of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Leading the way are hotel groups such as Nordic Choice Hotels, Scandic Hotels Group and AccorHotels, which have set new industry standards in CSR transparency by publishing annual reports and other detailed information on their sustainable practices. The most effective brands focus not only on their impact on the environment, but also on their impact on society. For example, Nordic's "WeCare" sustainability approach highlights six areas of action, including local social responsibility, ethical trade, diversity and anti-trafficking initiatives.
Make small things a big difference
Social-oriented travelers not only want to know the facts and figures of a company's CSR approach, but also want action to take action. Millennials in particular are keen to support brands that resonate with their values. A Nielsen 2015 survey found that 73% of those born from 1977 to 1995 are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, compared to 66% of consumers worldwide.
The ban on plastic straws is a clear example of how restaurateurs have responded to the changing attitudes of consumers. "Single-use" was declared "Word of the Year 2018" by the Collins Dictionary. The word has quadrupled since 2013. The growing public concern about the environmental impact of disposable plastics has prompted companies to rethink everyday practices. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, the Royal Caribbean, the Carnival Cruise Line, McDonald's and Starbucks have all initiated initiatives to discontinue the use of plastic straws, and we can expect more companies to buy disposable plastics Eco substitute alternatives in 2019.
Social commitment and travel with meaning
Innovative brands also emphasize their commitment to social issues, leading to a more authentic experience for guests who play a key role in making these community initiatives possible. For example, Good Hotel London combines world-class hospitality with a social business concept. Docked on the Thames, the floating hotel offers long-term unemployed locals hospitality, on-the-job training and a full-time salary. Subsequently, the trainees are redirected to permanent employment opportunities in the local economy.
The Magdas Hotel in Vienna helps refugees to overcome employment barriers and social integration. Two thirds of hotel employees are people with refugee backgrounds. The hotel celebrates this diversity and encourages travelers and employees to interact. In addition to the hotel industry, Starbucks has committed to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide by 2022.
As social travelers continue to search for brands that reflect their values, many also turn to volunteering as a way to interact with and contribute to local communities. Organizations such as Adventure Alternative, WorldVentures Foundation, Beyond and The Village Experience offer travelers the opportunity to work on humanitarian projects during their journey.
Entry into the circular economy
After all, the shift towards the circular economy has the potential to change the hotel industry. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy as a "restorative and regenerative form," as opposed to a linear "take-make-and-dispose" economy. It is a model that is in tune with the "leaving no trace" ethos of nature lovers and the ideals of responsible travelers.
The exterior of the QO Amsterdam, a hotel built on cycle principles, has heat panels that respond to the outside climate to save the energy needed to regulate indoor temperatures. The hotel has also been designed using recycled materials, such as rugs made from 100% recycled yarn previously used in fishing nets. To reduce wastewater, QO has developed a greywater system that reuses all water coming from showers and sinks for flushing toilets.
Further sustainable innovations are on the way. The Norwegian hotel Svart, which is due to open in 2021, will be the first energy-positive hotel concept in the world in the Arctic Circle. Svart will reduce its annual energy consumption by 85% compared to modern hotels and will gain enough solar energy for the hotel's operation and construction.
For the future of sustainable hospitality it is not so bad to go in circles.
Dr. Dimitrios Diamantis is Dean of Graduate Studies at Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, Switzerland. and dr. Alain Imboden, Associate Professor and Accreditation Officer at Les Roches.