From encouraging longer stays to energy-performance contracting, the hands-on advice and strategic guidance provided by seasoned experts are geared towards future-proofing our industry.

The talks in hospitality are about recovery, resilience, recalibration, pivoting or bouncing back; that's right, we've been shaken to our core and it is time to take stock of our industry's abilities. We need to figure out what is working well and doesn't need adjusting and what is no longer working nor appropriate and needs changing. The hospitality industry is vulnerable and this is because our businesses are often at the frontline of natural and man-made risks placing guests, staff and operating models at peril. However uncertain the economic future may be, major crises of earth systems continue unabated.

So looking ahead, how do we decouple growth from impacts, most notably carbon emissions? How do we ensure that sustainability and resiliency go hand-in-hand? What priorities must the hospitality industry put in place to tackle resiliency and sustainability at the same time in 2021?

Over 65 recommendations were brought forward by industry professionals, consulting experts and academic researchers. Following an analysis of all entries, a summary is presented here in the form of a Tree Map with 14 themes (See Resiliency & Sustainability 2021 Tree Map below). Each theme represents a priority area for the hospitality industry in regards to resiliency and sustainability. The size of the quadrants/rectangles equals the number of mentions by each expert.

Resiliency and Sustainability in Hospitality in 2021: Paving the Way Forward — Photo by IU International University of Applied SciencesResiliency and Sustainability in Hospitality in 2021: Paving the Way Forward — Photo by IU International University of Applied Sciences
Resiliency and Sustainability in Hospitality in 2021: Paving the Way Forward — Photo by IU International University of Applied Sciences

Continue reading for extended summary of outcomes:

It is a hard job to do justice to all experts' input, but here we go:

14 Themes on Resiliency and Sustainability in Hospitality - what do experts say?
'Looking under the hood' is proposed by Eric Ricaurte, Founder at Greenview, whereby 'more critical thought and scrutiny will be given to things that we were complacent about, or nobody mainstream really dug any further past the shiny report'.

Diversity, Employment, Employees, Leadership

So let's start with diversity, ethical and inclusive employment, both Ricaurte and Madhu Rajesh, Chief Executive Officer Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, point to the vulnerability of employees and communities 'disproportionally affected by the pandemic'. The same communities are a cornerstone of recovery plans. Catherine Dolton, Vice President Global Corporate Responsibility at InterContinental Hotels Group, expands on the central role hotels play in their local ecosystems 'from local spending, sourcing, and employment, right through to providing a place for people to do business'. A local community is also a source of resilience. Employees are also a source of resilience argues Ioannis S. Pantelidis, Director of Postgraduate Research Studies at Brighton Doctoral College, who bets on people first as 'THE key component must surely always be talented people.' Building on that argument, Franziska Altenrath, Co-Founder at TUTAKA, advocates for a bottom-up sustainability approach 'bringing different in-house experts together on decarbonization, water, and biodiversity stewardship, on gender equity, inclusion and diversity overcomes silo thinking' but also leadership in the form of simply 'more courage when it comes to binding commitments from executives'. Employees 'can go a long way to support you on your journey to tackle unnecessary consumption of resources' so Benjamin Lephilibert, Founder & CEO LightBlue Environmental Consulting.

Climate, Emissions, Resource Usage

Unsustainable use of resources also equates to emissions and both Maurice Bergin, Managing Director at and Maribel Esparcia Pérez, University Professor at the University of Lleida, argue for achieving 'deep cuts in rising greenhouse-gas emissions' and this entails establishing a 'Carbon Reduction Plan'. Along the same line, Christopher Warren, Founder of My Green Butler, advocates for hotels to 'refurbish and retrofit improvements that cut carbon', and Julia Massey, Vice President Global Sustainability at Kempinski Hotels S.A., discusses the rise of Energy Performance Contracting as a 'profit-sharing model, or ESCo, with zero investment for technology, and a period of profit sharing to pay off the technology installed'. The concept is particularly interesting since it helps 'to combine GOP recovery due to the cut in utilities, with a sustainable reboot of hospitality (and other) business'. Xenia zu Hohenlohe, Partner/Director at the Considerate Group, supports the creation of 'solid local supply chains both for products but also for guests acquisition' which has a dual impact of economic impetus and reduction in emissions. Climate action received the most entries and suggestions across all experts. Federico Vignati, Principal Executive at CAF - development bank of Latin America, calls on the policy makers as 'climate policies should be in place with the right incentives' because all stakeholders have a role to play here as 'collectively we must beat the odds' argues Jonathon Day, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University.

Stakeholders, Product Development

And that collective mindset is crucial as we are all in the same boat, connected and interdependent and Carlos Martin-Rios, Associate Professor at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), suggest that 'we should openly debate about whether the answer lies with a bottom-up meaningful stakeholder engagement system (individuals, companies, communities) or a top-down hierarchical approach of global players (multinationals, governments, societies)'. And 'what if we changed not only the narrative but also our attitude?' asks Frauke Fischer, Founder Agentur Auf!. That also means 'growth' with a 'focus on quality over quantity' as argued by Johanna Wagner, Co-Founder of La Belle EDuC. The focus on change in consumer behavior is central to the argument presented by both Elena Cavagnaro, Professor of Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism at Stenden University of Applied Sciences and Florian Kaefer, Founder & Editor Sustainability Leaders Project, who encourages hotels to 'encourage slow tourism' with 'fewer vacations, for a longer time'.

Regeneration, Biodiversity, Nature

Andreas Koch, Managing Director at blueContec GmbH, argues further that regeneration is in fact needed (in multiple spheres from 'regenerative climate protection, regenerative technology and regenerative humanity') as sustaining the status quo is not a desideratum in itself. Similar arguments are brought forward by Cassia Patel, Program Director of Oceanic Global, where regeneration represents a shift away from 'linear, extractive systems to models of circularity'. This system thinking is emphasized by Arjan van Rheede, Senior Research Fellow in Sustainability at Hotelschool The Hague, who states that 'ecological resilience needs to be assessed on a system level: taking into account the interconnectedness and interdependency of all elements within this system'. And the result is the recognition of the important of biodiversity for our industry and all our processes. José Koechlin von Stein, Founder & CEO at Inkaterra Hotels, recognized the value of biodiversity decades ago as the 'main source of inspiration for the vast array of experiences available in our properties'. Biodiversity is not an abstract concept; in times such as these, when confined at home, many are missing those 'nature escapes', this forced disengagement from nature even has a name: it is known as nature-deficit disorder and has taken a new level of importance in light of the Great Lockdown. So everyone needs a dose of nature.

Social Impact, Performance, Communication

There are still numerous activities worth taking in 2021 such as a greater emphasis on measuring the 'impact on education, healthcare, wellness, poverty reduction, hygiene, and equality' argued by Eric Ricaurte. The topics of reporting, disclosures and communication received much attention by experts, only second to climate action and as Catherine Dolton explains, 'there has been a shift in the importance of consistent and robust ESG reporting, with disclosures such as the task force for climate-related financial disclosures (TCFD) now becoming legal requirements in some countries'. And sustainability is not there to go, Henri Kuokkanen, Associate Professor at Institut Paul Bocuse, asks 'how would guests react if sustainability was completely removed from the picture?' The answer to this may be best provided by Madhu Rajesh who reports that sustainability in the minds of consumers has 'been heightened by the pandemic rather than eclipsed' and Cassia Patel who reports that '57% of adults want businesses to focus more on sustainable practice in 2021 (Sourcing Journal) and 60% of respondents under 30 want the focus of COVID-19 reopening strategies to prioritize addressing inequality and climate change (GlobeScan)'. In 2021, people will recover best from the stresses of daily life by soaking the natural environment, as many experienced this past year. How about re-imagining the hospitality environment with nature at the center of guest experiences, particularly in urban settings?

Resiliency is multifaceted, it requires creative solutions and the courage to implement them.