How Hospitality Leaders Can Make A Sustainable Difference

Businesses have a responsibility to give back to the communities that host them, and this is especially true in hospitality — an industry that is based on people and service. Environmentally, economically and socially, hotels have great potential to make a positive impact on their surroundings.

Developing sustainable models of hospitality is crucial as we face the reality of limited resources and rising demand. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of overnight international travellers was 1.3 billion in 2017, and this number is expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030. The global increase in tourism is putting a strain on many of the resources that draw travellers in the first place, including natural attractions and local heritage. Meanwhile, with one in ten jobs worldwide currently supported by travel and tourism, the industry already has a huge influence on the environment, economy and social fabric of communities. Couple this with hospitality’s rapid growth rate , and the need for socially and environmentally responsible practices becomes even more urgent.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association(AHLA) estimates that encouraging guests to reuse towels and linens can enable a 300-room hotel to save up to 200,000 litres of water and 1,300 litres of detergent each year. Many leading hotels have already adopted sustainable measures, with significant results: Six Senses Hotels, Resorts and Spas, a recruiter of students and graduates of Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, eliminated the use of 1.09 million plastic bottles in 2017 by implementing its own water filtration and glass bottling system. In 2018, Virtuoso travel advisors nominatedSix Senses Douro Valley as the winner of the Sustainable Tourism Leadership award; in addition to environmental initiatives, the luxury property supports social initiatives and aims to work with regional suppliers and hire local staff whenever possible.  

Embracing sustainability enables the hospitality industry to deliver a better guest experience. In a survey conducted by Booking.comin 2018, 87% of global travellers said they want to travel sustainably. But 48% said they never, rarely or only sometimes manage to travel sustainably. Hotels that adopt an environmentally and socially responsible approach can address this gap, making guests feel good about their accommodation choice.

Making sustainability standard practice

Throughout my career in hospitality and education, I have been convinced of the importance of sustainability. In the early 1990s, I worked on a World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) project to develop a sustainable accreditation system which led toGreen Globe, a set of sustainable tourism standards and certifications now widely used across the world. Not long after, I served as the founding director of the Centre for Environmental Studies in the Hospitality Industry at Oxford Brookes University. 

Over the years, I have observed how awareness of sustainability in the industry has grown while working on environmental initiatives such as hospitality glass recycling, Green Cone organic waste digestive systems and the development of sustainable standards for the UK Hotel Grading and Classification System. Meanwhile, through my research, I have endeavoured to highlight the marketing, financial and employee retention benefits of increased environmental performance.

The industry has woken up to the need for new sustainable solutions — particularly in fast-growing tourism destinations faced with challenging conditions, such as Dubai, where I lived for ten years. With temperatures soaring to the high 40s during the summer, air conditioning and the chilling of swimming pools is essential to provide guests with a comfortable experience. Hotels in Dubai have responded by developing systems to reduce energy waste and costs. These include the use of solar energy, automated switches to turn off unnecessary air conditioning, and carefully designed buildings to maximise natural air flows and shade. Soon, the UAE will have its first fully sustainable hotel — InterContinental Hotels Group has partnered with Diamond Developers to create Hotel Indigo Dubai Sustainable City, where 100% of the hotel’s energy needs will be met by solar power. 

Bringing sustainability into hospitality education

Many leading hotel companies now recognize the need to engage with sustainability as well as the benefits this brings, including reduced costs, increased guest satisfaction and improved staff retention. But there is still much work to be done. As education providers, we have a responsibility to prepare our students with the knowledge and skills to create and implement sustainable solutions. This begins with developing awareness of our impact on the environment and continues with critical thinking and innovative problem-solving.

At Les Roches, issues of sustainability are embedded within the curriculum from the first semester. Classroom learning is enhanced by real-world practice, such as in our new fine-dining restaurant, Roots, which focuses on locally sourced produce, giving students an opportunity to experience first-hand the operations of a sustainable restaurant. On campus, students are immersed in an eco-friendly environment, with a herb garden, composting, stringent waste separation system and energy-efficient lighting in place. Outside of class, students in the Green Club work with campus management on environmental issues, and students are also playing an active role in ensuring that Les Roches meets the standards for ISO 14001 sustainability accreditation.

Developing future leaders of sustainability

Teaching students about sustainability not only prepares them to become effective leaders in hospitality, but also provides skills that resonate with their values. With around 90 nationalities represented on campus, Les Roches has a very diverse student body, but concerns about the natural world and a drive to improve sustainability are shared globally across this new generation.

Jennifer Lotz is an alumna of Les Roches Marbella and the General Manager of Latitude 10 Resort, a boutique hotel tucked between the beach and jungle in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Reflecting on her role, she says, “I’m most proud of being part of the Cayuga Collection, being a sustainable hotel, hiring all locals and helping the community.”Irin Ng, a graduate of Les Roches Switzerland, today serves as Sustainability Manager for COMO Hotels and Resorts. In addition to influencing the sustainable direction of the hospitality group, through the COMO Foundation, Irinworks with organisations that support traditional artisans, rural entrepreneurs and survivors of human trafficking. 

Businesses have a responsibility to give back to the communities that host them, and this is especially true in hospitality — an industry that is based on people and service. Environmentally, economically and socially, hotels have great potential to make a positive impact on their surroundings. But first, hospitality leaders must see sustainability as a necessity and a guiding principle behind their decisions. Education is key to cultivating this frame of mind, and to transmitting this sense of responsibility to future generations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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