Shaping the Future of Hospitality: Continuous Improvements or Radical Changes?
Sustainability in Hospitality — Viewpoint by Willy Legrand
Radical changes are undoubtedly called for in a world struggling to cope with climate change, and in my own country that is in the verge of being governed by politicians denying climate science. It is certainly called for in a tourism and hospitality sector that is still managed on the basis of traditional economic measures: number of visitors, number of overnight stays, average spending, guest satisfaction, growth in numbers, markets and destinations. Annual dashboards and programs are always framed in positivity: road maps for flourishing economies, objectives to achieve climate neutrality, set comfortably far ahead in time—2030 is usually the closest date. In contrast to these cautious, mainly voluntary strategies, some economists warn that the current economic system will inevitably destroy planetary resources: they predict scenarios of degrowth and government-imposed budgeting of consumption.
Just looking at the current state of climate change, with record heat in summer and unprecedented flooding in winter, no business can afford to lean back and plan for incremental change. Planning is still necessary, but we are often forced to act immediately. Recent advice on sustainability goals for hospitality neatly enumerates five areas: first, increased energy efficiency and reduction of GHG; second, a reduction in water consumption and an increase in water use efficiency; third, reduction in food waste; fourth, circular hospitality, and fifth, sustainable transport and travel—with latest technology promising to help us achieve these goals in time. To these ecological goals should be added new obligations such as the legal duty to disclose sustainability impacts, including deforestation-free value chains and the equally challenging societal goals, guaranteeing decent work conditions and reducing inequality across the (global) supply chain.
The climate crisis is affecting all of us today, confronting us with unexpected and unplanned extreme weather events. The social fabric is affected by local disruptions of local infrastructure, landscape and natural ecosystems, and polarization occurs around events such as the arrival of refugees because of conflict- or climate-related displacement. For hotels, accommodating asylum seekers amidst fierce local debate, while this may be relatively good for business, requires major adjustments in operations.
For hospitality professionals who are traditionally focused on managing cost-effective hospitality operations, radical change, which will inevitably involve short-term cost and effort, looks like something to avoid. But such discomfort is nothing compared to what hospitality businesses already face when their property is flooded, when destinations are avoided because of excess heat, water shortage or other lasting ecological damage. It is not enough to report responsibility on paper, or plan for climate-neutral operations, tasks which are challenging enough. It takes courage to face up to the full extent of the challenges ahead.
It is now essential to do all of it: climate mitigation and climate adaptation, taking a human centered approach, and seeking solutions to safeguard livelihoods. Climate adaptation means to build resilience, to be prepared and train for appropriate action in emergencies. Timely use of data predicting extreme events, emergency response planning, securing properties, evacuating guests, hosting evacuees, organizing emergency support, knowing how to access relief funding or insurance money. These actions depend on effective human collaboration instead of competition. Collaborative intelligence must be a core skill for teams, as we become interdependent across value chains and local communities. Hospitality professionals will benefit from the experience of partners in their value chains, local relief and aid organizations, specialists in fire control, water use, renewable energy and natural ecosystems.
So, what could radical change look like? It must mean that we reject all denial of the climate crisis and accept full responsibility for it. It means strong intellectual and practical effort, seeking knowledge from recent climate science, current events, and best practices and sharing solutions. It means that we work with technology to minimize our carbon footprint. Perhaps the most effective radical change is to harness our hospitality talents to handle this emergency today, not tomorrow. Fortunately, we possess the intelligence to master complexity, and the heart to care for the world around us.
Ben Youssef A, Zeqiri A. Hospitality Industry 4.0 and Climate Change. Circ Econ Sustain. 2022;2(3):1043-1063. doi: 10.1007/s43615-021-00141-x. Epub 2022 Jan 23. PMID: 35098249; PMCID: PMC8783793.
Heavy flooding is climate crisis wake up call for UK says Tewkesbury abbey canon. Retrieved on 06-01-2024 at https://www.theguardian.com/weather/2024/jan/05/heavy-flooding-is-climate-crisis-wake-up-call-for-uk-says-tewkesbury-abbey-canon
Hermann, U. (2022). Das Ende des Kapitalismus. Kiepenhauer und Witsch.
The Pike & Eel Hotel closes after it"s swamped by water. Retrieved on 07-01-2024 at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-67902360
What we do. UNHCR (2022). Retrieve on 02-01-2024 at https://www.unhcr.org/what-we-do/respond-emergencies
Zo komt het dat hotels zo graag asielzoekers opvangen. Retrieved on 02-01-2024 at https://www.omroepbrabant.nl/nieuws/4380792/zo-komt-het-dat-hotels-zo-graag-asielzoekers-opvangen
Climate change conference world agrees transition away fossil fuels and reduce global emissions. Retrieved on 05-01-2024 https://commission.europa.eu/news/un-climate-change-conference-world-agrees-transition-away-fossil-fuels-and-reduce-global-emissions-2023-12-13_en