How to get started with sustainability? The call for more sustainable hotels, tours, experiences and destinations is getting louder. Which leaves many tourism businesses, hoteliers and tour operators wondering how to approach sustainability, and how to turn this challenge into a business opportunity.
In this post we share with you advice of tourism professionals who have made sustainability the focus of their work. A collection of useful tips on where to put the priorities and how to tackle the daunting task of making your hotel or tour business more sustainable, and with it more competitive.
How to get started with sustainability?
Let’s be honest: getting started with sustainability is comparatively easy in peaceful, rich and developed countries. The real challenge lies elsewhere. As destination, the Middle East is hardly known for its tourism sustainability. But even the most conflict-ridden regions have businesses and persons determined to deliver world-class service which is efficient and protective of the natural environment.
Abdulla Radaideh, who works as the chief engineer for a five-star Intercontinental hotel in Jordan, is among the growing number of persons who can see the opportunities and benefits of sustainability. His advice for fellow sustainability managers and engineers is to start with employee engagement. Employees, he tells us, are the roots of all the change we are seeking, which makes their commitment crucial. If staff members aren’t committed and involved, then the chances for sustainability success are limited.
Don’t attempt to do it alone
He also advises to seek professional guidance, for example by joining up with an eco-label or certification program, so they can help with reducing energy consumption – a key component of most such certifications. In Abdulla Radaideh’s experience, paying attention to this aspect will go a long way in convincing owners and investors to accept necessary changes, especially when those need upfront investment.
Moving on from Intercontinental to Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Inge Huijbrechts, the group’s Global Vice President Responsible Business, agrees with Mr Radaideh that getting an eco-label involved can be of great help. In her case, Green Key helped the hotel’s various brands to embrace sustainability and responsible business practices, and to involve employees through group training and social activities.
Inge Huijbrechts also stresses the importance to meter and monitor: if you do not know what resources you are consuming, how much general and food waste you are producing you cannot improve.
Asked about his advice for tourism businesses on how to get started with sustainability, Copenhagen-based former Green Key International co-founder Torben Kaas advises to take a pragmatic view on environmental efforts:
Begin where you see a direct environmental as well as economic advantage for the businesses. Remember that service and customers are everything to tourism people and respect that.
Clearly, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to implement sustainability practices. As German hotelier Michael Stober recalls, “the first steps towards sustainability improvement are always the hardest, especially when you find yourself swimming against the flow of conventional hotel business practice.”
In those moments, remember that in the mid- and long-term, sustainability pays off not just in utility savings, but also in terms of guest satisfaction and staff retention. And: working towards sustainability is not as hard, difficult and expensive as it is said to be. Encouraging words by Eddie Ramirez, of the Casa Sol B&B guest house in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
See the larger picture of sustainability
That said, keep in mind that “a bit of resource efficiency does not equate to a fully-fledged commitment to sustainability or responsible business” as hospitality advisor Rebecca Hawkins warns. Real competitive and reputational gain is earned when you put sustainability at the center of all business decisions, alongside HR, finance, quality control, etc.
Rebecca Hawkins also tells us that hoteliers and tour operators genuinely committed to long-term sustainability have moved on from a ‘mere’ focus on environmental challenges and gains, to tackling social justice issues as well. In her view, social justice will be the next big issue for many businesses.
Over in Mexico, Madeline Svelti-Diaz has been busy leading the green team of Dreams Hotel Cancun. Her advice to hotels eager to improve their sustainability is to create a sustainability department or to assign a person with responsibility for this, who can then also oversee the creation and implementation of a sustainability policy.
Get your sustainability communication right
Fear of being exposed for greenwashing sometimes holds tourism businesses back from enjoying the benefits of communicating sustainability and engaging guests. Eleni Andreadis of pioneering Sani Resort in Greece has three bits of advice on how to communicate sustainability:
- Firstly, make sure your stories are true. Don’t make sloppy claims that you can’t quantify and prove. Guests nowadays are very savvy. Environmental certifications offer a great guide to the things you should focusing on and the different areas to examine, if you need a place to start.
- Secondly, don’t view sustainability as an add-on feature. It needs to be part of your core offering and culture; a smarter, healthier, better way of doing things.
- Thirdly, aim to connect with your guests’ values. A great example of this is offering local food and supporting the local community in this way. People generally care about other people and this is a value they can quickly connect with.
- Fourthly, make the guest the hero too. Invite guests to help you on your mission to ‘save the planet’, for example by asking guests to donate a small amount of money upon Check out, which you can then double and give for the preservation of nearby wetlands or other sensitive natural areas.
- Lastly, make your sustainability stories specific to your hotel. They need to be authentic and add value. Just saying you recycle won’t make your efforts stand out. People expect hotels to be recycling nowadays and you need to do this. But if you want to excel in your sustainability program, you will need to do all that is expected of you, but also go the extra mile in being unique.
Being authentic by focusing on the reality of your business and destination is also what Estrela Matilde considers essential for succeeding in sustainability. As Biosphere certification project manager for Bom Bom Island Resort in Príncipe, West Africa, her approach was towards sustainability included to engage the local community and to make them proud of having the hotel there.
Rather than just providing accommodation, make your hotel a meeting point and place where locals can teach, learn and show. In Estrela’s experience, both the community and the guests love it.
Never, ever give up
To finish, this quote by Peter Gash of Australia’s Lady Elliot Island Resort, located right at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
If someone tells you something can’t be done, don’t give up quite so easy. Many people told me that I was crazy when I talked about building a hybrid solar power station on Lady Elliot Island. I think I have proved them wrong.
What do you think of these tips on how to get started with sustainability? Any additional advice you think might be useful for tourism entrepreneurs and business owners? We’d love to hear them!
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