Sustainability: more relevant to the future of tourism than ever?

As lockdowns begin to lift and people start to travel again, hotels are scrambling to figure out the new normal. Experts confirm that those owners and managers who focus on innovation and sustainability will be most likely to bounce back and thrive in the future.

A sustainable approach will be key in driving economic development globally. In fact, as travel restrictions have begun to lift, UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili remarked, “The timely and responsible easing of travel restrictions will help ensure the many social and economic benefits that tourism guarantees will return in a sustainable way. This will contribute to the livelihoods of many millions of people around the world.”

Finding the “middle way”

In the days leading up to the arrival of COVID-19, over-tourism was industry’s number one buzzword and bugaboo. From Amsterdam to Iceland and Bali, local residents were overwhelmed by the influx of travelers, while city and tourism planners were struggling to manage the throngs of visitors.

Now, these same places are more than eager to welcome guests again but with the understanding that this is an opportunity to better develop sustainable opportunities. In places like Venice, for example, one of the world’s most popular destinations, officials are planning to revamp tourism entirely with a sustainability underpinning. As Paola Mar, the city’s Councillor for Tourism said:

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Our goal is to trigger a renaissance of the city. We want to attract visitors for longer stays and encourage a ‘slower’ type of tourism. Things can’t go back to how they were.

The Financial Times travel editor Tom Robbins recently wrote, “Perhaps the current crisis might nudge us towards a middle way—a more responsible, thoughtful way of travelling that minimizes carbon emissions, manages over-tourism and maximizes the contribution to local economies.”

For destinations and for the hospitality industry, sustainability is an overall approach designed to address the most pressing problems we face as a society – including climate change, economic inequality, food waste and insecurity – which require the contributions of everyone, everywhere. Carlos Martin-Rios, Associate Professor at EHL, explains:

That means reconciling a long-term vision and strategy with short-term financial gains. To further contribute to a sustainability program, EHL’s new Sustainability Institute features a series called “The Sustainable Future of Hospitality Think Tank” where several times a year a select group of industry senior executives will meet to advance business models and tools to monitor the transition toward sustainability.

How some leading hotel chains are intentionally integrating sustainability into their ethos and operations

Baking it into the business

For sustainability to be authentic, it needs to be baked in rather than bolted on. In other words, sustainability is not one part of a business, it is essential to the whole business. As Marriott states, “From design to the guest experience, sustainability is embedded into our business strategy.” The hotel conglomerate said it is building energy-efficient hotels, using renewable energy wherever possible and trying to find new ways to reduce waste and carbon emissions. The goal set by the company is to reduce water use by 15% and waste by 45%, and to use at least 30% renewable energy by 2025.

Lowering carbon emissions

As a major contributor to carbon emissions, experts conclude that the hotel industry as a whole must lower its emissions by 66% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Hilton is committed to bringing its properties in line with the carbon reductions outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. The company’s goal is to cut the Hilton’s global environmental footprint in half by 2030 and claims that over the past decade it has reduced its carbon emissions by 30 percent. “As a global business, we see the impacts of climate change every day,” the company said. “From hurricanes to droughts, wildfires to floods, our Team Members and guests are facing an increasing number of extreme weather events and natural disasters caused or amplified by global climate change.” Radisson Hotel Group is lowering its carbon footprint across the chain by reducing demand for energy from CO2-intensive sources and increasingly making use of renewable energy sources.

Reducing food waste

While 800 million people around the world don’t have enough to eat, one third of all food goes to waste. According to experts, food waste is a leading type of waste in the hospitality industry. IHG has teamed up with a technology company called Winnow Vision to reduce hotel food waste by 30% over the next few years. And thehotel industry group American Hotel and Lodging Association teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to create in 2017 to teach the industry ways to reduce food waste. Hilton, Marriott International, Hyatt Hotels, InterContinental Hotels Group and AccorHotels have all participated in the program.

Designing for the future

The Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. recently launched the results of a study entitled Sustainability in Hotels: Opportunities and Trends Shaping the Future of Hospitality which outlines the business case for sustainability and the ways in which hotels are incorporating eco-friendly best practices into operations and construction. Hotels are currently among the highest per-square-foot energy and water users of all commercial buildings. Perhaps no hotel group more embodies the sustainability design ethos than Starwood brands, founded by Barry Sternlicht, who has since gone on to launch brands like 1 Hotels and Treehouse Hotels. While 1 Hotels is a nature-inspired luxury brand rooted in sustainability, Treehouse, according to the company, is less serious, more torn jeans and t-shirts and infinitely accessible. At the Treehouse London, which opened in December, composting, recycling and single-use plastics are very much part of the plan, and the 1Hotel London Mayfair, is set to open in 2022. As Sternlicht explains, 1 Hotel London will undoubtedly set a new standard in the city for the luxury hotel experience, while also advancing our brand mission to inspire conscious consumption and become a platform for change.”

This article was first published on EHL Insights.


Quantis guide top organizations to define, shape and implement intelligent environmental sustainability solutions.

Tags: energy conservation, food waste, sustainability, tourism


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