Developing a Sustainability and Resiliency Framework for Destination Travel — Photo by JLL

Prioritizing sustainability is becoming increasingly more central to the destination travel industry's overall business plans as companies look to save natural resources, manage costs, yield returns, and appeal to more environmentally conscious consumers.

Today, more and more travelers are scheduling trips based upon a destination's sustainability commitments and actions.

Millennial travelers, in particular, want to see a tangible effort being made by the hotel, airline, and cruise industries to minimize the impact on the environment and provide a positive influence on the communities.

In recent years, tourism and hospitality industries have aimed to go beyond. Many started placing notes in bathrooms that remind guests to reuse their towels, but now increased focus on sustainable practices are warranted. Since the United Nations declared 2017 as the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, independent hotels began aiming for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and have forged their own paths.

Unfortunately, sustainability and resiliency pathways are inconsistent across the industry and among the companies deciding whether to invest. Currently, there is no single clear way for the destination travel industry to become eco-conscious or truly eco-friendly, but many disparate attempts to invest in sustainable efforts.

When most think of sustainability, they think of it as being environmentally focused. It's actually much more than that. Sustainability within the tourism industry sets to establish a balance between the environment, economics, and socio-cultural aspects.

Resiliency is most often associated with financial risk. However, being a resilient destination also means understanding the destination's or asset's environmental risks.

As companies, destinations and tourism industry businesses deliberate about their path forward, it is important to understand the critical success factors of sustainability and how these factors play a role in the environment and impact resiliency planning. When we work with destinations, we leverage the Critical Success Factors from the Sendai Framework, which provides global standards. Standardization is becoming more and more important as the options for sustainable investment becomes more diversified.

These factors range from the baseline of "do we understand the risk?" to "are we investing in areas that will protect and preserve?", all the way up to "how environmentally conscious are we so that we can conserve the destination for the future?".

These factors include:

  1. Understanding the risks by looking at regulations on tourism and development and incorporating the consequences of climate change into the destination's overall sustainability and resiliency plan.
  2. Investing in resiliency and sustainability to create a more sustainable transportation infrastructure, including public transit, low emission vehicles, etc., and understanding how this investment impacts the destination economy.
  3. Managing sustainable tourism growth by positioning the destination for less peaks and valleys in occupancy and more consistent rates throughout the high and low seasons.
  4. Developing an awareness of the environment and conservation. What does life look like on land and what does it look like under water in terms of the quality of the product? Are there climate actions that are taking place to mitigate those risks to protect and preserve the destination from a conservation standpoint?
The QO Amsterdam greenhouse is an open environment that encourages guests, schools and locals to come up to the 21st floor to learn more.— Photo by JLLThe QO Amsterdam greenhouse is an open environment that encourages guests, schools and locals to come up to the 21st floor to learn more.— Photo by JLL
The QO Amsterdam greenhouse is an open environment that encourages guests, schools and locals to come up to the 21st floor to learn more.— Photo by JLL

One of the key elements in reaching sustainability and resiliency goals is through food sourcing. An increasing number of hotels, resorts, and destination assets are growing food on site or trying to buy and purvey truly hyper-local. This in turn, results in less shipping, less packaging, and a reduction in other non-reusable items and single-use products.

The QO hotel in Amsterdam has its own greenhouse which it uses for growing fresh produce for their menus, seeks out locally sourced and recycled materials for its build and operation, and focuses on sustainable living including waste and energy management.

Other sustainable swaps are more physical in nature. Operators are opting for swimming pools that are saline-based and maintained using minerals, not chemicals; adding water recycling programs throughout the premises; incorporating furniture made from recycled materials; and using indigenous and low-water plants within their landscape designs. Iberostar Group is another example of a resort group making commitments across their entire portfolio through their Wave of Change program, which identified a commitment to be zero waste by 2030.

Hotels are also looking at technology to help in their sustainability and resiliency efforts by incorporating in-room motion sensors, LED lights, key card systems, enhanced building management systems and smart meters to adjust room temperatures depending on the number of people in the room, and low-flow toilets and shower heads.

Seeing more of these measures is helping the industry and others take steps forward and have some clarity around what practices really are eco-friendly versus what is greenwashing.

As part of Whitbreads commitment to halve carbon emissions by 2025, a 200-key Gyle Premier Inn in Edinburgh is using a 100-kilowatt battery to power the hotel during busy periods. The battery can be charged in just two hours and draws on electricity during off-peak periods and used in peak periods.

At the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, energy is provided by 100 solar panels on the roof. In Las Vegas, Aria Resort and Casino shuttles guest around in natural-gas powered stretch limos. In New York City, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge was built using reclaimed materials. 1 Hotels have been certified carbon neutral since 2018 and continue to make strides against the company's industry leading commitments across their portfolio.

Marriott has committed to reduce water intensity by 15%, carbon intensity by 30%, waste to landfill by 45%, food waste by 50% and achieve minimum 30% renewable electricity use by 2025.

Hilton uses its own inhouse award-winning system called LightStay to report on ESG. In addition, steps have been taken to increase sourcing of renewable energy at their hotels around the world, in line with the company's science-based targets. Today, much of Hilton-managed hotels in the UK procures 100% renewable electricity.

Out of the Radisson Hotel Group's c. 1,500 hotels in operation and under development, over 450 have eco labels. The group is targeting to reduce its carbon footprint and water consumption by 30 percent by 2025.

IHG Hotels & Resorts' "Journey to Tomorrow" program features a series of commitments aimed at making a positive difference to people, communities, and the planet over the next decade, and its "IHG Green Engage" program, which enables the hotel brand to set and track property-specific reduction goals for carbon, energy, water, and waste.

The cruise industry has also come a long way in trying to make their ships and entire system sustainable and regenerative and has emerged a leader in the industry. A key element of their efforts is to reuse water for cooling purposes and manage food waste more environmentally friendly. It is impressive in terms of how quickly the industry put these practices and others in place and how quickly they brought them to market.

The airline industry is also making inroads into sustainability and resilience by using sustainable aviation fuels and collaborating with consumers to reach their ESG goals. Many airlines are putting their commitments forward and encouraging consumers to participate in their programs. This is particularly important for the millennial travelers, who are deeply dedicated to environmental concerns and are willing to share in the airline's goals.

At the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, there are 100 solar panels mounted on the roof to generate electricity to heat water.— Photo by JLLAt the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, there are 100 solar panels mounted on the roof to generate electricity to heat water.— Photo by JLL
At the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, there are 100 solar panels mounted on the roof to generate electricity to heat water.— Photo by JLL

World Leaders

Six years ago, the United Nations declared 2017 as the "Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development" and outlined the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, widely regarded as the gold standard in the industry.

In addition, organizations such as the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (SHA) also have a strong role in guiding the industry. SHA launched both the Hotel Carbon Monitor Initiative (HCMI) in 2012 and in 2016, the Hotel Water Monitor Initiative (HWMI), which assesses carbon consumption and requires input of several metrics including size of the accommodation, occupied rooms per year, electricity, and gas consumption and whether laundry is outsourced.

Looking Forward

There is a monumental shift in consumer behavior and values. They have become much more aware of the impact of climate change and how changes such as recycling, consuming locally produced goods, and reducing plastic usage have become the norm.

By implementing a solid framework into eco-friendly and resilient programs, destination travel providers not only reduce costs and help preserve the earth for future generations, but they also create brand loyalty. It is becoming increasingly popular for travelers and consumers to choose travel partners based on the company's commitment to the cause.

At a time when the industry is looking to reinvent itself, sustainability offers an opportunity to increase profitability, drive higher investor returns, and most importantly, improve the planet on which we all live.

With greater community wide enlightenment of the impact of climate change, the desire for sustainable accommodations will continue to grow. In turn, major hospitality chains are finding that running a more environmentally friendly hotel can not only save on costs but give their properties greater ethical appeal.

As the hospitality industry continues taking steps to become more ESG compliant, owners, investors and operators are implementing ESG into their overall strategies. As a result, the destination travel sector is in a strong position to move towards NZC as they provide guests with the environmentally friendly options they seek.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from