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?
PhD, Professor at Florida International University
At a time when hotels, restaurants and tourism sites are shuttered and closed for a prolonged period, many investors and operators are struggling to keep businesses afloat long enough for the opportunity to be back in business. Smart management is looking forward to hearing the first dates in which they can reopen for reservations. Behind all of this activity is the need to operate going forward, in the most cost effective ways possible.
One of the most important messages to business regarding sustainability practices is the opportunity to reduce operating costs and simultaneously contribute to profit margins. Hotel corporations such as Marriott International, Accor, Hilton International, and IHG, among others, have used the results of their sustainability efforts to inform investors of their practices and corporate responsibility programs. Hilton International features their 'environmental impact' in the corporate responsibility section of their web page, 'Travel with Purpose', which graphically identifies corporate wide goals and reductions of carbon emissions, clean water, energy use and waste output across their brands. For all of these reasons, astute operators will understand the value of both continuing and recommitting to sustainability practices.
What may not see growth, is investment in new technologies to reduce energy and water use. Hotel companies with property development in process will be looking to cut building costs. Technologies that support sustainable practices will be an easy target to appease shareholders and owners in order to get hotel and resort properties operating.
Over the period in which industries, transportation and other business have been shut down world wide, there are very clear measurements of the resulting reduction of carbon emissions and regional improvements in air quality. Will this be enough to illustrate how a global effort can push back the growing effects of climate change on the world's environment? Will it be enough to have a global realization that, as we return to 'business as normal', we do so in a way that maintains the reductions in emissions and rising temperatures that have been achieved during a time of limited energy use. Can business move forward in a way that reduces corporate costs and actually increases profits? Can we understand the lessons of resilience that have been learned throughout the pandemic as evidence that the world can join together when humanity itself is threatened along, of course, with global economics.