By Chetna Kaura
In today’s fast-paced world, we often prioritise convenience over sustainability when it comes to travel, making it easy to overlook the impact that our actions have on the environment.
The travel and tourism industry are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. According to the World Tourism Organization, the industry is responsible for around five percent of global CO2 emissions due to its high dependence on carbon-based fuel, food, and water. The hotel industry, in particular, has a significant part to play given its role on consumer consumption and local communities.
There is reason for optimism that a solution to the problem exists in the form of the circular economy model, which prioritises the creation of a closed loop where waste is minimised, and all resources are either reused or recycled. This creates an opportunity for the hotel sector to be at the forefront of the movement towards sustainable tourism practices and set an example for the rest of the industry.
Benefits of the circular economy model for the hotel industry
The circular economy model can help hotels achieve sustainability in three key areas, primarily in cost saving, reputation, and opening up new revenue opportunities. Waste reduction and material reuse can result in significant cost savings on procurement and waste disposal. It can enhance hotels’ reputation as eco-friendly options, potentially attracting more business. Lastly, the model can stimulate innovation and new revenue streams for hotels.
Sustainability risks to the hotel industry
When considering the circular economy model for hotels, we must keep in mind the present sustainability risks facing the sector too.
Over-reliance on food imports increases the industry’s carbon footprint and negatively impacts the countries they operate in. According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund, the food and drink sector accounts for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the transportation of food accounts for a significant portion of these emissions. Reducing reliance on food imports will be critical for hotels to achieve sustainability goals.
Additionally, the industry’s dependence on a dedicated workforce limits their ability to adapt to changing market conditions in sync with their sustainability goals. This is because hotels can find it difficult to quickly train and retrain people on new sustainability practices and procedures, especially if a hotel is understaffed or if there is high turnover, which is common in the industry.
It is also challenging for hotels to influence guest behaviour towards pro-sustainability practices, which can impede their ability to fully realise and uphold their sustainability commitments. According to a survey by Booking.com, while 82 percent of travellers believe that sustainable travel is vital, only 43 percent said they often or always manage to travel sustainably. These risks create an opportunity for innovation to address sustainable practices.
Sustainable local food sourcing for hotels
One way for hotels to address sustainability risks is by rethinking their food sourcing practices. Food imports can increase a hotel’s carbon footprint, and over reliance on large-scale industrial agriculture can contribute to environmental degradation. On the other hand, sourcing food locally can support small and medium-sized enterprises, and smallholder farmers while promoting sustainability.
The Natural Step sustainable design framework is an excellent tool for hotels to align their food sourcing practices with sustainable principles. The framework emphasises reducing dependence on non-renewable fuels and synthetic chemicals, minimising destruction of nature, and ensuring no hindrance to local people from meeting their needs.
Even procuring 50 percent food locally can have numerous benefits for hotels, including cost savings on imported food, improved brand reputation, and being a local community champion. While there may be challenges such as inadequate quantity and inconsistent quality of produce, educating staff and customers and increasing the procurement team’s bandwidth can help overcome these issues.
Sustainable staffing by hiring local talent
Hotels can truly make a difference in their communities by prioritising local hiring practices. It’s not only a smart business move, but it can also lead to a long-term positive impact on the environment and society. Hiring from the local community can also help hotels build stronger relationships with their workforce while building a positive image in the local community. A local team can also create elevated customer experiences through a better understanding of local culture and customs.
Furthermore, by hiring locally, hotels can benefit from financial incentives offered by the local governments and reduce their carbon footprint by minimising staff commuting. Of course, challenges such as finding the right talent pool may arise, but with a little effort and investment in training and education, hotels can create a situation where everyone comes out on top, from the guests to the planet.
Influencing pro-sustainability behaviours of guests
Encouraging guests to adopt pro-sustainability behaviours can be a win-win for both hotels and the environment. One effective strategy is to offer sustainable toiletries and accessories only on request. This not only reduces costs in the short term but also nudges guests to be more mindful of their consumption levels. Another way hotels can promote sustainability is by providing guests with a “Guest Sustainability Report” at check-out. This can make guests feel good by letting them witness the positive impact of their eco-friendly choices, which would encourage them to continue making sustainable choices in the future.
Furthermore, adopting a sustainable philosophy, will allow hotels to tap into a growing segment of guests who value ethical and eco-friendly practices. A survey by TripAdvisor found that 62 percent of travellers would choose one hotel over another because it had more environmentally friendly practices.
In a world where environmental concerns are becoming more pressing, hotels that prioritise sustainable growth have the opportunity to set a positive example and make a meaningful impact. By taking responsibility for their ecological footprint and demonstrating their commitment to ethical and environmentally conscious practices, hotels can not only appeal to a growing segment of eco-conscious consumers but also drive progress towards a more sustainable future.
Chetna Kaura is the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Publicis Sapient
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