COVID-19: A stress test for sustainable development in hospitality?
— 22 experts shared their view
"Covid-19 is climate change on warp speed" (Wagner, Mar.10, 2020). The current pandemic has catastrophic consequences on the hospitality sector. The ways the industry currently deals with the crisis (for example, see: COVID-19 - Survival Guide for the Hospitality Industry) offers a glimpse into the crisis management endeavors in building a business case for disaster and climate resiliency. Climate emergency is not dissimilar to the coronavirus threat, whereby 'both demand early aggressive action to minimize loss" (Cobb, Mar. 12, 2020). However, with hotel companies facing an existential crisis, or large-scale downsizing, what will be left of the sustainability programs and initiatives once this pandemic is overcome? Will we be starting from scratch or is the coronavirus crisis the opportunity to implement a swift change in risk assessment and management facing the climate crisis? What are the key lessons from the coronavirus crisis on how to deal with the climate emergency?
Head of Development Hospitality-Catering at IECD
Certainly, the Covid-19's crisis is larger than previous ones and became global rapidly. But at the hotel and tourism level, nationally or regionally, other crises of a similar type (SARS) or with comparable impacts economically (military coup in Thailand in 2014) were observed in the not too distant past.
At the time, they were considered major and the industry (as much as governments concerned) were very worried. We could think it would have been a wake-up call for doing risk prevention of all sorts, including on matters linked to “sustainability”. Instead the focus was mostly on recuperating from the crisis's negative financial impacts as quickly as possible, to pursue an even faster development.
To the risk of sounding cynical, I have the impression that history will repeat, and that sustainability will not be the focus during the crisis and in its aftermath's.
Nevertheless, we will not be starting from scratch. Processes are there, working groups will resume. And the people taking charge of the “reconstruction” will be the solution. Some of the new generations of hoteliers are already in the industry and they expect change. They will be leading it soon… and maybe earlier than expected. A wave of unfortunate dismissals is already ongoing throughout hotels and replacements will be made when recovering from the crisis. Many of these will be done with younger leaders who have strong beliefs and ideas to implement regarding sustainability.
Others will have shut down businesses, leaving shares on the market to be taken with entrepreneurs who will be eager to start with values to make the hospitality world better.
Also, the proof that “work from home” is functional will be remembered, certainly driving companies to see the economical advantage of it … and reducing daily commutes and long haul flights.
Lastly, several countries have shown, when the constraints are high, an ability to react fast and to implement the necessary measure. Its people are showing creativity and resilience. Climate change and its impacts are there too, it is only a matter of realising/proving that it is urgent.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity…