Balancing sustainability, hygiene, and health

Written in collaboration with Innovation Lighthouse, Travel Without Plastic and Global Tourism Plastics Initiative (GTPI)


The global impact of tourism was put in stark relief when the pandemic put a stop to almost all travel. With the roads and skies free of traffic, the air was suddenly cleaner. Local animal populations started to return in places all over the world. Overcrowded cities and destinations had the chance to breathe for the first time in a long while. In spite of the tremendous suffering that the pandemic caused and the devastating effect it had on the travel industry—from small businesses to global conglomerates—it was difficult not to notice the environment recovering.

As a result, these things are top of mind for many travelers starting to book trips again. In fact, 61% of people say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future. At the same time, 49% believe there still aren’t enough sustainable travel options available and 53% get frustrated if the property they’re staying at stops them from being sustainable – for example, by not providing recycling facilities.

Another important result of the pandemic is the increased focus on health and hygiene in our sector. This is here to stay, so it’s crucial that we take the potential impact sanitation has on the environment into account. This includes the increased use of chemicals for disinfection, as well as the incorrect disposal of sanitation products like gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer.

We’re seeing new and renewed demand for travel, with different priorities guiding travelers’ decisions. Capitalizing on this momentum means positioning yourself well in a new landscape of sustainable travel while continuing to meet travelers’ higher hygiene and safety standards. The following section will help you find this balance.

Four benefits of prioritizing sustainability as travel returns


1. You’ll cut costs in the medium and long term

As the reality of climate change and environmental degradation become apparent, governments around the world are rolling out legislation that makes things like single-use plastics more expensive. At the same time, we’ve reached a tipping point where producing clean energy is now more cost-effective than non-renewable energy. And it’s not only more operationally expensive – not prioritizing sustainability also costs businesses their customers. 81% of travelers say they want to stay in sustainable accommodations in the upcoming year, a trend that’s been increasing over time.

2. It supports a message of responsibility

The relationship between guests and accommodations is more important than ever. Properties need to build and foster trust that they’ll keep their guests safe and their facilities sanitized. Building sustainability into your business priorities widens your circle of concern, which supports a broader message of being a responsible, trustworthy brand.

3. It’s an opportunity to innovate

With many travelers saying the pandemic made them both more consciously sustainable at home and when they travel—61% say they want to travel more sustainably in the future—there’s space and appetite for new and creative approaches to hospitality. Growing food onsite, using solar power to heat swimming facilities, and recycling shower water are just a few examples of sustainable innovations that more and more guests now look for when choosing accommodations.

4. It helps your brand evolve to meet future demand

84% of travelers say they want to cut down on waste and single-use plastics on their trips, which means free amenities like mini shampoo or disposable slippers aren’t necessarily seen as perks anymore. In a landscape where 83% of global travelers think sustainable travel is vital, building a strong brand image means taking your impact on the environment into account. Tomorrow’s high review scores will come from offering recycling facilities, non-plastic amenities, and the opportunity for guests to behave sustainably – for example, by reusing their towels.


How to prioritize sustainability as travel returns


Invest in processes instead of products

To name a few, disposable amenities, plastic-wrapped remote controls, and toilet ribbons are our collective go-to when it comes to improving hygiene. But in reality these things don’t guarantee cleanliness – un-sanitized plastic can also carry germs, too. The only thing these products guarantee is an enormous volume of unnecessary waste.

A better way to prioritize hygiene is to invest in robust sanitation procedures and traceability. Rather than using single-use amenities or wrapping things in plastic, make sure rooms and amenities are properly cleaned and sanitized between guests. Develop thorough cleaning protocols and make sure your staff is well trained in these standards.

Make plastic reduction a strategic priority

Cutting down on plastic is a crucial part of becoming more sustainable, but this is especially true in the post-lockdown age of disposable face masks and gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, and single-use amenities. There’s plenty you can do to cut plastic consumption at your property:

  • If for any reason you must provide single-use products, opt for materials that are readily accepted at local waste facilities. Look for alternatives that are certified home-compostable and could be composted on-site at your property. Some examples are compostable containers for take-out, coffee cups with a water-based lining rather than a plastic or PLA lining, and straws made from grass or pasta. If you have no other option than to use single-use plastic products, choose those that have a high content of recycled material.
  • Consider the proper disposal of plastics that can’t be avoided, as well as how to make recycling an integral part of your property’s waste management. It’s also useful to have clear signage and communication to guests about where they can find recycling bins.
  • Engage with your waste collection providers to find out which materials can be processed at local facilities and which end up in landfills. These conversations can guide future decisions around products and suppliers.

Implement new hygiene signals

There are more effective and sustainable ways to put guests’ minds at ease besides wrapping everything in plastic. Communication is crucial to reassuring guests of their safety before and during their stays. 70% of travelers say they’re more likely to book a property if it’s clear what health and safety measures are in place.

  • Use confirmation emails, your website, and your property page to let guests know ahead of time what you’re doing to keep your property clean and hygienic.
  • Provide info at your property (e.g. with signs or info on the in-house TV channel) about how and when you’re sanitizing public spaces, what the room cleaning process is, and how you’re keeping amenities hygienic.
  • Let guests know if you’ve also taken steps to balance sustainability and improve hygiene. This gives them the opportunity to participate in your sustainability, for example, by using the properly sanitized reusable amenities rather than their own single-use plastic bottles.

Audit your supply chain

As you establish new cleaning protocols, take this opportunity to look at your suppliers through a sustainability lens. Engage with them on topics like reducing plastic and general waste, greening transportation, and taking back packaging. The shift toward greater sustainability is happening across industries, and these could be conversations that benefit both you and your suppliers.

Consider using new, more sustainable cleaning solutions as well as new technologies that improve sanitation outcomes, like ozone disinfection, stabilized aqueous ozone, and high-pressure steam cleaning. Not only do these use fewer harmful chemicals, but they’re also more cost efficient.

Consider how to integrate safety into meals

Food is understandably an area of hygienic concern. As with amenities, the answer here tends to be single-use condiment packets and plastic cutlery. These are a few examples of less wasteful and more cost-effective ways to guarantee hygiene around meals:

  • Offer condiments on request in small serving sizes – individually-sized ceramic dishes are a good option
  • Use closed dispensers for things like jam or milk, which allow guests to serve themselves without coming into contact with the food itself
  • Implement proper cleaning protocols for eating utensils—just as with room maintenance—to ensure the highest standards of sanitation and hygiene
  • Make sure there’s sufficient space between guests dining in the same space. One way to do this is to extend your dining hours so you can more comfortably meet capacity restrictions

Involve your team

It’s crucial that you involve your staff in any new processes or changes you implement. Invest in proper training so your sustainable cleaning protocols are well understood and properly put into practice. A great resource for reducing single-use plastic while keeping guests safe is the free online training module from Greener Guest. You might also consider combining the training with a clean-up activity in your local community. Making the link between items used in the workplace and pollution in the surrounding area can help drive behavioral change more quickly.

It can also be extremely valuable to get your team’s input on any changes you make. Each staff member will have unique knowledge of your property and guests, based on their specific roles and areas of exposure. Bringing different perspectives together can help you define the best way to implement sustainable change.

hand sanitiser

Show travelers what you’re doing

If you’ve already implemented sustainability practices at your property, you can communicate this to travelers through our platform. You can also communicate which health and safety measures you have in place at your property.

Update your facilities

Discover our other sustainability guides:


Animal welfare

The places we live in and visit as tourists are vital to the other species that inhabit them. Working together to protect the wellbeing of animals isn’t just an ethical responsibility – it’s also how we’ll ensure the longevity of the environments we value.

Find out how to start

Energy consumption

Reducing energy consumption and using green energy

The accelerated warming of the planet—and the resulting impact on ecologies and economies—makes energy sources and efficiency the top sustainability priorities. But reducing energy consumption and switching your remaining power needs to renewable sources doesn’t just benefit the planet. It can also lower your operational costs.

Find out how to start

Discover our other sustainability guides:

Reducing food waste

Reducing food waste

About a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Given that food can represent a significant cost, reducing waste has huge savings potential – and a positive impact on your environmental footprint.

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