Urša Malovrh, manager of Hotel Park in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in this interview shares her professional story linked to tourism and sustainability, and tells us about the various sustainability initiatives at the hotel. She also stresses the importance of including hotels in destination strategies, and how Slovenia’s high regard internationally as one of the most sustainable countries is benefiting her work.
- What brought Urša Malovrh to tourism and sustainability;
- The many sustainability initiatives implemented at Hotel Park in Ljubljana;
- Why “overtourism” – destination overcrowding – is a potential threat to Ljubljana, and how destination marketers and managers should best approach this;
- How Ljubljana’s title of European Green Capital 2016 has benefited the hotel;
- Advice to hotels on how to promote sustainability internally and externally.
Urša, do you remember when you discovered your passion for travel and sustainability? Who or what triggered your interest?
Passion for traveling, I guess, was already in my veins. In my family there was no money for “luxury” such as traveling. A trip to the coast here in Slovenia was already “luxury”.
I had a book, Atlas sveta (Atlas of the world), and this is how I started to explore the world, with my fingers gliding through the pages. I also remember my mother always dreaming about traveling somewhere with a plane at a time where she did not have the opportunity to do that. Listening to her dreams, I must have taken over some of her wishes and started to dream about faraway places myself.
My aunt and uncle also had a big impact on me. They promised me that they will take me to some new place every year if I will be good at school. And so it was. Later on I went to study tourism, and since then I am working in hospitality and traveling around the world.
I would say that sustainability is something we already practiced when I was a child, just that nobody was talking about it back then. Living in a village far away from large cities, we had to be self-sustaining. For example, we were growing our own food, bought locally, exchanged goods for goods, produced our own compost from food waste (we prepared some very stinky liquid fertilizer for flowers, using leaves from nettles…).
At that time I perceived our lifestyle as part of a lower social status – not being able to buy fancy products in the shop. Now I know that this was sustainable!
Childhood memories aside, my real passion for sustainability started in Hotel Park about 2 years ago. That’s when we decided to pursue a new business strategy: to be a green hotel.
You manage Hotel Park in the center of Ljubljana, Slovenia. How is sustainability incorporated in the hotel’s daily operations?
Some of the things we do:
- We take care of the Environment by saving water, energy, reducing waste and using natural materials where possible.
- We educate our employees about sustainability.
- We follow a Reduce-Reuse-Recycle policy.
- We have our own electric car and charging station.
- We are committed to treating people fairly and with respect.
- We provide good working conditions for staff and invest in their capacity through regular training.
- We aim to be an active member of the local community, by supporting local people in organizing open events, free yoga classes and the library in the park.
- We support local charities and consult the local community on projects and issues affecting them.
- We buy food and other services from local suppliers.
- We encourage our guests to visit local restaurants, markets and attractions, to support the local economy.
- We also organize „urban&green“ events in the hotel, where guests meet our local suppliers.
- We protect endangered species, like Slovenian bees. Bees are disappearing due to many factors, such as climate change, environmental pollution and the usage of pesticides. We put four beehives on our roof. It looks like they enjoy their home a lot.
- We created a herb garden on the roof, which was a great team building exercise and helps the bees.
- We communicate our sustainability initiatives with guests, for example through info, signs and activities in the hotel.
- When organizing an event, conference or such, we offer special packages for Green meetings and Green Coffee breaks.
You support the “Dobro-Delamo” initiative. What is this all about?
Our charity activity “Dobro-Delamo” is part of our commitment to the sustainable development of the city. Every year we raise funds for different project which benefit our neighbourhood.
For example, we supported the Association of Friends of Youth Ljubljana by giving mattresses for their holiday homes, so underprivileged kids from the city can enjoy a good night’s sleep during their holidays.
Other projects included support of the Ecologist without Border initiative, aimed at reducing waste. And we have supported the beautification of Tabor neighbourhood, where we are located.
More and more destinations are reaching a state where overcrowding, or “overtourism” is becoming a serious concern, threatening their ability to ensure healthy, authentic and quality experiences for visitors. From a city hotel point of view, what could destination marketers and managers do to prevent such a situation from happening in Ljubljana?
Slovenia is just preparing a development strategy for the years 2017-2021. One of the important points in the strategy is precisely this: how to prevent Slovenia from becoming overcrowded and from losing its authenticity and quality as tourist destination.
The aim should be to keep Slovenia a boutique destination, also Ljubljana. If the country is taking this into consideration then we, the hoteliers, have an easier job to follow that direction.
It is very important that all in Tourism and Hospitality are aware of how many negative impacts being sustainable can prevent. Hotel Park, together with other sustainability-focused businesses in Ljubljana, tries to raise awareness and encourage others in tourism to follow this route of sustainability.
Ljubljana was the European Green Capital 2016. How did that title impact Hotel Park’s reputation and your work?
Being a green hotel in a city with such a title, European Green Capital 2016, was and is very positive for our business. It helped us a lot, mostly because Hotel Park was only at the beginning of its “green journey”. We got a lot of support, including promotion, from Ljubljana for being the only green hotel in the city, and also from Slovenia, which has been promoting green and healthy holidays for the past few years.
Our Travelife certification and a certificate of the Slovenia national scheme for sustainability brought us lots of overnight stays last year and lots of attention. And this is something we still feel this year, together with the local community and the Slovenian tourist board.
Slovenia as destination at ITB 2017 won a prestigious World Legacy Award for Destination Leadership, being heralded as one of the most sustainable countries in the world. As an industry stakeholder, how do you collaborate with the Slovenian Tourist Board in the broader sustainable development of Slovenia as destination?
We are so proud that Slovenia won this award.
Living and working in a country with a good sustainable development strategy makes it much easier for businesses like Hotel Park to follow suit.
We work with the Slovenian tourist board very closely. We cooperate in the promotion of the country, together we participate in trade fairs and workshops and – most important – they include us, hoteliers, tourism agencies and other stakeholders into their plans.
Right now we have different workshops in Slovenia to prepare a new strategy for sustainable growth of Slovenian tourism, from 2017-2021. We have been invited to contribute our opinion and knowledge. Such integration and cooperation at the destination is the key to success.
What would be your advice for hotels on how to promote sustainability initiatives, internally to suppliers and staff, and externally to guests and community?
Offer regular training and development opportunities to employees, including workshops and programs where they visit other hotels or examples of good practice.
Present your development plans to suppliers, so together you can find more sustainable solutions. Invite them to be a part of your sustainability story. By promoting their engagement and awareness they also can benefit, plus their practices will be more environmentally friendly.
Put up engaging signs within the hotel to encourage guests to reduce the use of water and energy, to use public transport, and enjoy the local neighbourhood and its cultural heritage.
Involve guests and locals in your activities. Plant spices together, or organize events, for example to celebrate Earth Day. Once a year we organize a “Cleaning day” where our team, together with the local community, cleans parks or streets. Those activities are great for raising awareness and to engage the local community. Employees can do miracles if they are passionate about the topic and know what sustainability is all about.
If at all possible, join a sustainability certification program. Invite schools to learn about and then present your good practice.
Last but not least, spread the word via different media. Encourage and connect with other organizations that are working towards sustainability.
Which achievements linked to sustainability at Hotel Park are you most proud of so far?
- Being the first hotel in Slovenia to achieve the prestigious Travelife Gold certification;
- To achieve the Slovenian national certificate for sustainability, Slovenia Green Accommodation;
- Having our own beehives on the roof top of the hotel. Our three bee families make the best honey and we are so proud we can offer this to guests;
- The herbal garden on the roof top, where guests can participate in planting vegetables and spices;
- Our DELAMO DOBRO projects to support the local community;
- Employees who feel and act “green”;
- Our reduction in the consumption of water and energy by 8% compared to the previous year.
Thank you, Urša.
This interview was facilitated by Travelife for Hotels and Accommodations, the sustainability management scheme used by Hotel Park to measure sustainability performance. See all interviews powered by Travelife here.
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