Why sustainability in travel cannot be ignored

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A recent study shows tourism is responsible for 8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. More than just a buzzword, sustainability is one of the key drivers for the future of the hotel industry. Click. explores

We all have a responsibility when it comes to protecting the environment, but for the hotel industry, where properties are often clustered around the planet's beautiful beaches and natural parks, it's more important than ever.

The study, conducted by Dr Arunima Malik, a lecturer in sustainability at the University of Sydney, draws on figures on inbound and domestic travel from 160 countries. “Tourist numbers are increasing year-on-year and we can already see evidence of the strains that ‘overtourism’ is putting on parts of the world,” says Trudi Pearce, a Partner in Marketing and Responsible Tourism at Brighter Group, a Finn Partners company. “However, we also know that tourism can be a force for good, bringing economic and social benefits, and raising awareness of environmental challenges.”

Sustainable building
Photo: credit to Chris Barbalis, Unsplash


While the hotel industry's increased energy and water consumption has put pressure on the environment in the past, in recent years hotels are introducing a variety of practices to reduce its impact. Hyatt Hotels have just announced they are clamping down on single-use plastics and phasing out plastic straws and drink picks in all of its 700 hotels from September. Hilton Hotels have also promised to remove plastic straws from all its 650 managed properties by the end of 2018, and by 2030 wants to cut its environmental footprint by 50%.

“Eco hotels shouldn’t be a fad or marketing trope, a new standard needs to be set for sustainable, zero-carbon hotels,” says Hannah Frances, Hospitality Consultant and Founder of Hotel Palette. “We work closely with clients to embed sustainability within the company culture. It's more than sticking a solar panel on the roof, we look at consumption of resources and product sourcing across every department, from the use of rain water in toilets to restaurants making more effort to source local produce and reduce food waste.”

Impact of independents

While the changes major corporations make have big impact, it's the smaller independent hotels which are often most reactive to new practices as they can implement changes quickly. For instance, L'Auberge Del Mar hotel in San Diego has recently introduced 100% biodegradable key cards.

In Colombia, the Blue Apple Beach resort in Cartagena has gone a step further and launched Green Apple Foundation, a not-for-profit social enterprise. This year they have diverted 4,395 kg of waste from landfill, sent 540L of cooking oil to be converted into biofuel, built a compost facility and planted 10 kitchen gardens. They've even bought a glass pulveriser to reduce glass waste from other hotels and bars in Cartagena.

“Aside from the environmental benefits, a sustainable hotel is a profitable one,” explains Trudi Pearce. “Energy saving initiatives will help hoteliers reduce overheads. Governments also have economic incentives in place to encourage businesses owners to become more sustainable.” By reducing, reusing and recycling waste and adjusting their ongoing practices hotels will improve their cost efficiency. For new hotels this means embracing eco-friendly practices from the ground up.

"It was important for us to approach every aspect of this new venue in a nature-friendly way and reduce the environmental impact at every turn,” says Inge van Weert, the General Manager of QO, a fully sustainable hotel in Amsterdam. "It's not just a case of using sustainable materials during development, it's about establishing an eco-conscious ethos to continually find a use for waste produce, and carrying this through every process within the business.”

Sustainability also has a positive effect on brand loyalty. Consumers, especially the switched on millennial market, value companies with a sustainable ethos and there's a real opportunity to tap into the demand for greener alternatives and secure long-term loyalty.

So why are some hotels reluctant to change? “For hoteliers, it's often an uphill struggle to integrate sustainable practices which will help you save money and they are often not measured by cost reductions as part of their KPIs,” says Xenia zu Hohenlohe, Co-Founder of Considerate Hoteliers, which helps hospitality companies operate more responsibly. “Changing that at top level would make a huge difference and could be a massive leverage for the adoption of sustainable practices.”

But things are changing. As hotels discover more strategies to reduce their footprint they will increase profitability in the long run, proving that sustainability is the green key to successful growth.

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Hero image: credit to Ben White, Unsplash

What do you think of this page?

  • Eco hotels shouldn’t be a fad or marketing trope, a new standard needs to be set for sustainable, zero-carbon hotels
  • Sustainability is more than sticking a solar panel on the roof. Look at consumption of resources across every department from using rain water in toilets to sourcing hyper local produce
  • Major corporations do make a big impact when introducing new policies, however it's the smaller independent hotels who implement changes quickly
  • Millennial consumers value companies with sustainable practices. Tap into the demand for greener alternatives and secure long-term loyalty
  • As well as environmental benefits, a sustainable hotel is a profitable one as energy saving initiatives help hoteliers reduce overheads