21 March 2022, Amsterdam – Hoteliers who aren’t currently considering sustainability as part of their business must act now, say experts on this topic in the hospitality sector. Currently, a tiny proportion of hotels worldwide can be recognized as ‘eco’ – less than 6,000 out of 800,000 in total.

At a recent I MEET HOTEL sustainability summit, Finn Bolding Thomsen, Deputy CEO of eco-certification program Green Key, assured hoteliers that while the climate crisis is reaching a critical stage, any work in sustainable practices is better than no work at all and that it’s never too late to start.

Involving guests in the journey of becoming sustainable was agreed as a vital way hoteliers can make meaningful progress in this area.

Sustainability in the wake of the pandemic

Participants in the summit, which was organised by Bidroom, agreed that the Covid-19 pandemic had accelerated, rather than distracted from, discussions around the hospitality sector’s impact on the planet.

The wake of the pandemic offers a pivotal moment to start to rebuild the travel industry more sustainably, and in the future, hoteliers should be prepared to see much more involvement from authorities in this regard.

“Green hospitality is, and will be, more regulated,” said Caroline Da’lin, Commercial VP of Bidroom.

Understanding the new consumer demand

The pandemic has also coincided with a new generation of travellers materially changing consumer demands of the hospitality industry. Surveys by Booking.com, Expedia, and Bidroom continually chart the rise of sustainability as an influencing factor in booking travel.  The term “green hotel” has even quadrupled in search volume on Google since March 2020.

According to Cláudio Lisboa, Technical Coordinator at The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the top consumer ‘buzzwords’ in travel trends – wilderness, nomadic, eco, authentic, mindful – are centred around types of tourism that cannot survive if the industry does not take action to protect the planet and the people within it.

Caroline Dal’lin commented on these findings: “We’ve all seen metrics about consumers being ready to pay more for an eco-property or taking this into consideration when booking, so we know the demand has changed and we need to be ready for it…Considering this change in demand, many businesses have come to understand that walking this path is essential and it does positively impact the bottom line.”

Yet travellers are still struggling to find the right information about sustainability initiatives and as a result, are finding it difficult to know who to trust. “There is a discrepancy between (the) wishes and realities (for travellers),” maintains Finn Bolding Thomsen.

Communicating sustainable practices

Measurement and communication, all the way from the booking process through to check-out, were agreed as vital in taking steps to rectify this. “Guests want to feel part of the sustainability aim of hotels,” believes Henric Carlsson, General Manager, Elite Hotels of Sweden.

At present, measurement is still challenging for the hotel industry as a whole. Carbon footprint calculation, for instance, is much harder to measure for accommodation than for flights, and often customers are unwilling to pay to offset carbon. However, eco-certification labels on OTAs are helping guests make positive choices when travelling. Bidroom, for example, introduced an eco-label to its booking platform last September.

There are also over 200 eco-certification labels currently in existence, most of which are using GSTC Criteria, the global standards for sustainability in travel and tourism. These can offer a trusted pathway to more sustainable practices and benefits, usually with third-party assessment, that looks at environmental management, water use, corporate social responsibility, and more. The journey doesn’t end with certification, this is something that should be continually considered and assessed too.

Cláudio Lisboa pointed out that some hotels may be afraid of putting communications out on these eco-practices, but guests are definitely expecting this whether you do it or not. Communication can have the benefit of spillover too – guests can go home from a stay and have ideas of how to do things differently in travel.

“Showing your guests that you care will be a huge differentiator”, concluded Caroline Dal’lin. Her top tips for hoteliers are:

  • Be honest and accountable.
  • Make sure your efforts aren’t just limited to communications and marketing departments but are reflecting a real commitment to sustainability.
  • Use established labelling, or work towards the establishment of good labelling mechanisms in hospitality as there is no clear consensus yet around global standards.

Find out more about I MEET HOTEL here.