Recovery, resilience, recalibration, or bouncing back are a few examples of keywords that are at the center of any discussion surrounding the hospitality industry's economic prospects this past year. However uncertain the economic future may be, major crises of earth systems are unabated to date. While similarities exist between resiliency and sustainability (i.e. both concepts refer to the state of a system or organization over time in response to instabilities), there are notable differences, and conflicts, in the two concepts (i.e. achieving short-term economic resiliency at the expense of socio-environmental wellbeing). Looking forward, all eyes are on resiliency (growth!) in hospitality but how do we decouple growth from impacts, most notably carbon emissions? How do we ensure that sustainability is a component of resiliency (or vice versa)? What are the five priorities the hospitality industry should set to tackle resiliency and sustainability at the same time in 2021?
2021: “Looking Under the Hood”
Resiliency in sustainability means having the structure and process to withstand the various physical, regulatory, and customer preference issues that will come at your organization (think not only storms but plastic, modern slavery, racial equality), and the list and depth of issues will increase in the next decade. For 2021, it's all about looking under the hood: 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. These are the 5 where you'll need to look under the hood, because your investors, lenders, customers, regulators, and distribution channels also will be.
1. Diversity & Inclusiveness
Why this is important in 2021: if you don't know why this is important, then you probably didn't know there was a global virus pandemic either.
Looking under the hood: most western-based hotel chains have longstanding D&I programs. But have they made progress? More eyes will be on how D&I is now at the top levels of the company and also breaking out specific metrics to address racial equality, instead of bundling diversity metrics as encompassing “anyone-except-over-40-hetero-white-males-with-no-disabilities-and-who-have-not-fought-in-a-war.” Be prepared for some awkward but overdue, necessary conversations in 2021.
Why this is important in 2021: several global initiatives and frameworks are coming out next year, and existing ones that have biodiversity metrics disclosure like SASB are gaining traction within the investor community to analyze biodiversity risks and impacts. Also, the circular mindset of “where did this come from, and where is it going when I'm done with it?” that started with plastic will continue and people realize the environmental impact of food, FF&E, and everything from a reclaimed island resort development to sunblock.
Looking under the hood: most companies will indicate that biodiversity is a priority and pair that with some anecdotal actions taken. But more scrutiny will be given to whether a company is really assessing quantitatively and addressing its impacts meaningfully, including in its supply chain.
3. Location-Based Climate Risk Assessment
Why this is important in 2021: climate impacts are real and more pressing. Disruptive weather, water scarcity, wildfires, floods, sea-level rise, and all regulatory actions relating to them are going to increase. Key investor frameworks like SASB, TCFD, and GRESB will cause due diligence to include things like climate risk and water risk.
Looking under the hood: Companies often make broad statements in annual reporting and risk disclosure about this, but it's no longer meaningful to just say “climate change is a risk.” Now it will be a matter of “which specific risks are highest in which properties, how do you embed this into your risk management, and what are you planning to do about it?”
4. Measuring social impact
Why is this important in 2021: the economic contribution of hospitality and tourism is now well established. However, the pandemic has shown the challenges when that economic benefit is, even for a short time, wiped out. In addition, often hotels can be perceived as 'separate' from the local community. As consumers demand more authenticity, purpose, and positive local impact, hotels will need to up their game in how they measure and communicate it.
Looking under the hood: many companies have well-established community engagement and donation programs, but more emphasis will be needed for quantifying the outcomes: the impact on education, healthcare, wellness, poverty reduction, hygiene, and equality. In the future it will be about communicating the 'S' of ESG, in particular in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals, using metrics rather than stories.
5. Closing the “Performance Gap”
Why this is important in 2021: the last decade was all about the “transparency gap” to get businesses to publicly disclose what they are doing on various sustainability issues and demonstrate that they're managing them. This decade is about the “performance gap” of companies taking meaningful steps toward big issues like decarbonization, deforestation, diversity, social impact, and the purpose of a hotel in the community.
Looking under the hood: Before you could get points and be one of the top-rated sustainable companies just for having good disclosures but no renewable energy or real game-changing plan to reduce waste. Now that everyone will be disclosed, the focus is on comparing performance and meaningful action, and you will be compared among peers on what and how well you're doing much more closely now.
Finally, an honorable mention to the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC). The body has gained immense traction in the past 2 years among governments, distribution channels, and large industry players, and the momentum will continue strong in 2021 as it becomes the de facto framework and standard for sustainability. 2021 will be the time to look under the hood of GSTC itself and the processes it contains, and separate out who is applying the criteria best-in-class, versus who is doing a great job of ticking boxes.
As a responsible industry, focussed on building back better, this is a time to assess any systemic changes that are required to ensure we are operating in a way that is both resilient and sustainable. The priorities for the hospitality industry that we recommend to support their recovery in terms of sustainability in 2021 are:
- Ethical recruitment and employment: Already a priority for the industry, protecting people who will have been left increasingly vulnerable as a result of the pandemic will be a key part of recovery plans. The industry recognizes it can be at risk of human rights issues and it is essential that all businesses, wherever they operate, have processes and governance in place to mitigate human rights risks and promote ethical recruitment across their labor supply chains.
- Inclusive employment: The pandemic has demonstrated how vulnerable people and communities are once again disproportionally affected by adversity. Although the pandemic has also had a huge impact on the industry, hospitality has long been a huge contributor to economies and employment opportunities globally. Through entry-level jobs, hotels can offer opportunities to people from restrictive backgrounds and those who have been unable to access education – which provides a solid foundation of sought-after skills for many different industries.
- Climate action: The Paris Agreement brought into focus the urgency for action on climate change, and this is no less critical today. Extreme weather is increasing the cost of operations and governments are setting increasingly strict targets on emissions and other environmental impacts. For example, the European Commission is proposing to increase the 2030 target for emission reduction from 40% to at least 55%. Our own research has found that hotels need to reduce their carbon emissions by 66% per room by 2030, and 90% per room by 2050 to align with the targets set by the Paris Agreement. Sustainable hotels do offer significant business benefits, which will be important at a time when hotels are reviewing the efficiencies of their operations.
- Community engagement: The pandemic has highlighted the role that hotels play within their local communities. Hotel support around the world ranged from offering their properties as health care and quarantine facilities, homeless shelters, donating meals to frontline personnel or migrant workers and supporting food banks, to turning bed linens into facemasks and, in a global symbol of solidarity, lighting their windows in the shape of hearts and other messages of hope. By continuing this local and charity engagement, hotels will continue to demonstrate their crucial role in society and their relevance within each community.
- Reporting and communicating sustainability: Before the pandemic, sustainability was a factor that's becoming increasingly important to public guests and corporate clients. 70% of global travelers say they would be more likely to book eco-friendly accommodation (Booking.com) and would be willing to pay more to ensure minimized environmental impact (TUI Group). This is an issue that's been heightened by the pandemic rather than eclipsed. 58% of consumers say they are thinking more about the environment since the pandemic (Publicis Sapient). And it's not just the environment, with research showing that 73% of consumers are taking note of brands that are making a difference during Covid-19 (Publicis Sapient). This is therefore an opportunity for brands to communicate their sustainability efforts to guests and in their corporate reporting to ensure that they are differentiating themselves and maximizing revenues.
These recommendations are not just ethical considerations but crucially are also aligned with the industry's commercial interests. Please see our resources such as the Business Case for Sustainable Hotels for further details on the benefits and recommendations on how a sustainable recovery will support the industry to remain resilient for the challenges and opportunities now and in the future.
Resiliency and sustainability are certainly top of mind and are absolutely achievable even during this unprecedented challenging moment.
1. I may begin by adding another "R" term here: Regeneration. We need to shift linear, extractive systems to models of circularity grounded in the concept of regenerating and restoring our broken relationship with the ecosystems we exist within. By focusing on a place of healing for our communities, teams, guests, and the planet, we can reopen with intention. If we integrate a focus on regeneration into all aspects of operations, then efforts to achieve both growth and harmony with our planet will continue to gain momentum.
2. Financial Sustainability is a key component to ensuring the longevity and success of initiatives. Contrary to the dominating narrative about environmental efforts, earth-friendly practices are not inherently more expensive and can in many cases lead to cost-savings. Reducing the number of products consumed, repurposing existing materials, recovering waste streams, and receiving income for materials rather than paying for disposal can all facilitate financially sustainable sustainability initiatives. With this in mind, we can take innovative and creative approaches to meet sustainability goals while remaining within budget.
3. Plastic-Free Reopening principles are especially relevant to consider at this moment as our understanding of COVID-19 develops and we build confidence and awareness of best practices for the safety of reusable and sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are not necessarily the safest option even though we see roughly a 250-300% increase in consumption in the US alone. Tackling our plastic pollution crisis is an important gateway to further behavior change and actions here can serve as case studies for rolling out cost-effective, measurable, successful guest-facing initiatives overall.
4. Leadership in sustainability is absolutely central. Engaging your full team around the mission and intention of a program, sharing educational materials, and facilitating an open discussion on related topics empowers staff and employees to be advocates for the initiatives. This not only provides the first line of interaction and communication with guests on the subject, but also creates an opportunity for members of your team to step into leadership roles, proposing new ideas, navigating challenges as they arise, and ensuring long-term success. This leads to both personal and professional development as well as a transition to a higher industry standard.
5. Communication is often an often overlooked final component of sustainable practice that in many cases can create the greatest impact. Celebrate your success with your team, community, and guests. Inspire others to become agents of change in their own right and provide opportunities for contribution and collective growth. There is high and increasing consumer demand for social and environmental responsibility, so properly messaging and sharing your existing programs will deepen brand loyalty and increase your audience. 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). Effective communication can engage broader audiences and hold the industry accountable long-term while also sharing best practices.
The 400+ businesses we have so far engaged in The Oceanic Standard program (map featured on our website) are living examples of the capacity for businesses to innovate and pioneer in setting a new industry standard around responsible consumption throughout this reopening period. There is much possibility!
In a year of disruption and change, one positive we can take is how the Covid-19 pandemic has galvanized both business and public around matters right across the ESG agenda. In creating this time of collective reassessment and reprioritization, this global health crisis has focused the spotlight on areas like climate change, social norms, injustice, and the most vulnerable in society. Across all stakeholder groups, we have seen a renewed energy behind efforts to recover and move forward from the pandemic in a responsible way – in turn, helping build resilience.
1. Collaborate with government and industry towards common goals
For a long time, businesses have been the ones ahead of government, driving the agenda for positive environmental and social change. More recently, there has been a shift in how governments are aligning to create policy and action in a measurable and meaningful way. Whether it's the UK's ten-point plan for a green recovery or the ambitious carbon pledges we've seen in China, we hope the common goals that now exist for business and government will create greater cohesion and opportunities to work together – particularly when it comes to urgent action in the face of the global climate crisis, which requires a concerted and coordinated effort from all.
2. Greater emphasis on reporting and disclosures
With increased government action and investor interest around ESG matters, 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. This greater consistency in how businesses report is an advantage for stakeholders looking to invest, assess or work with us, as there is a deeper understanding of the risks we face from climate change, – and plans to mitigate – what our strong points are, and where there is room for improvement. It leads to better business decisions and company activities, and it also means increased onus at Board level, creating a greater level of governance and change driven from the top.
3. Embrace technology to support safety and sustainability
In some ways, the significant challenges that have arisen due to the pandemic have also provided an opportunity for our industry to understand how we can evolve some of the traditional ways we have operated. For example, with digital check-in and check-out, or the introduction of apps and QR codes to access information, the removal of printed items offers big wins for natural resource use. We've realized the important role that technology has played in recovery and, more broadly, that it will continue to play in enabling more sustainable operations. It will still be important for us to get the basics right, by using software to measure and report on the impact of core hotel operations in areas of energy, carbon, water, and waste. With a baseline understanding of our overall environmental impact, we're better enabling our hotels to identify those innovations that are most effective for them on-property. Solutions, for example, such as smart machinery, artificial intelligence, or building management systems, that can move the sustainability needle and make the greatest impact on a grassroots basis.
4. Support communities and ecosystems for resilience
We can't underestimate the impact the pandemic has had on the welfare of communities, of which hotels sit at the core. Our industry is an important driver of its local ecosystem and it leads to growth in a number of ways, from local spending, sourcing, and employment, right through to providing a place for people to do business. The recovery of the hotel industry is tightly connected to how these ecosystems can thrive again. It's therefore important that we advocate for, protect and promote our industry as an employer, and as a business to invest in – not only to benefit our recovery but also local communities and economies as a source of growth and resilience.
5. Do what's right for people in a people industry
For the hospitality industry, there's no getting away from the fact that people are at its heart, and inevitably it's people who have been hugely affected this year, whether through illness, increased uncertainty and stress, or adjustment in their work and personal lives. One positive outcome from Covid-19 is that it has helped put the conversation around personal and mental health firmly in the mainstream spotlight. There is a growing emphasis on the responsibility that companies have to ensure their people are supported and able to manage their own wellness. After all, it's people who deliver hospitality day in and day out, and their empowerment and wellbeing are key.
GROWTH may not be equal to EFFICIENCY: if you cannot increase your revenue or the number of guests in house, then it should be time to cut on avoidable costs (energy, food waste, water,..)! There are countless low-hanging fruits out there. This will translate into more efficiency overall while strengthening your positioning.
Set your own PRIORITIES: define which angle makes more sense/can have the biggest impact on YOUR operations (e.g. if you're an urban hotel with many rooms, can you improve your KwH/room consumption through revised Housekeeping SOPs?). Get Dir of Operation and Engineering involved.
Start with the WHY. Simple but systematic awareness-raising training sessions of employees can go a long way to support you on your journey to tackle unnecessary consumption of resources. Get HR and MArCom to work hand-in-hand.
Set TARGETS: what are the KPIs that will make sense to track, and objective to achieve?
CELEBRATE and RECOGNIZE your team's efforts internally and publicly, it is very effective and the payback is almost instant!
No doubt that for many hotel operators, 2021 will be the hardest year of their existence. 2021 will hence be a year of transformation. And sustainability will be at the center of it.
- Resource efficiency: Low occupancy rates make smart resource flows an urgent prerequisite. Keeping all rooms ready at all times sends money down the drain which won't come back through revenues.
- Top-down commitments: 2021 won't see massive infrastructure investments for more sustainable future operations. But it should see more courage when it comes to binding commitments from executives and board members. Top-down commitments motivate, align, and set the tone for better times to come.
- Bottom-Up sustainability structure and processes: Sustainability comes in such a variety of topics, tasks, and objectives that it is best distributed on various shoulders. Building teams around fields of action can be an interesting approach. Bringing different in-house experts together on decarbonization, water, and biodiversity stewardship, on gender equity, inclusion and diversity overcomes silo thinking and makes sure solutions are found where they can be applied by those who apply them.
- Direct client communication: An aspect of long term sustainability is the creation of solid relationships with clients, independent from OTAs. Sustainability transformations deliver valuable content for it. They are an opportunity to involve guests and employees alike and to create strong, supportive communities.
- Localizing supply chains: Covid-19 makes us rethink the self-evidence of global supply chains and “business as usual”. 2021 might be a good year to reassess procurement sources and to deliver on the positive impact on supply chains.
This crisis includes a question to all of us. Namely the question, as it is posted here, how we all want to move into the future. Resiliency and sustainability are the buzz words in any strategic discussion, but for me, even these concepts jump too short. We do not need to “sustain” the status, we need to find ways to regenerate ourselves, the hospitality sector, our employees, and the future tourists. A crisis like this is showing the way forward, unfortunately in an often painful way. Which values and structures are supporting more resiliency, which qualities in hospitality have regenerative characters. Let me highlight the five priorities, that I feel will lead the hospitality sector into a resilient, inspiring, attractive and healthy future:
1.) Regenerative technology
This includes technologies that support circularity and regenerative logic like cyclic water systems or technologies harvesting natural energy. We can operate hotels that produce more energy than they consume. The best would be to learn from each other like the 10.000 ecovillages worldwide that share their Know-How and co-create the future as such. Can you image all hotels worldwide to access the same state of the art technologies…this would lead to an economy of scale of regenerative technologies.
2.) Regenerative product development
Experiences are king in these times, but are these experiences regenerative? What about taking a look at the world challenges and designing experiences that serve both: Your clients AND our planet as well as your region. There are many examples for this: Authentic experiences around local products, regenerative mobility (sailing, hiking, biking…), local communities inclusion, slow travel activities in protected nature areas, and marine parks.
3.) Regenerative climate protection
Yes, tourism IS creating emissions and supports climate change, but let's keep the dimensions right. The energy production of hotels and even more the indirect effect through buying conventional farming products have an even bigger effect on the climate than all transport-related Greenhouse Gas Emissions. If all hotels apply regenerative technologies and commonly decide to support regenerative agricultural production through their procurement policies this would be the biggest climate protection measure ever on this planet. And by the way: This would overcompensate the flight emissions by far. I am not saying that we do not need to find new innovative flight/transport solutions, but let's focus on what the hospitality sector can do in 2021.
4.) Regenerative humanity
Who does not want and need to regenerate after this crisis? Hotels can play a vital regenerator role on this planet driving the change for a more resilient, more healthy, and more environmentally sound development. Being a regenerative hotel is attractive for your clients, your employees, your suppliers, your region, and this planet. Even more: You show the way forward by creating a resilient and regenerative business case and as such lead the change that this crisis calls us up to.
5.) Regenerative quality
We need to extend our understanding of hotel quality from the strong focus on customers to a more balanced view of all hotel stakeholders like employees, suppliers, local partners, and residents, etc. Quality is becoming a more relational quality, which goes far beyond the conventional guest satisfaction focus. Saying this, we need new ways of reporting and accounting beyond the financial numbers and the conventional quality measures. We need to report on our successful positive impact to regenerate tourism, people, and our planet. Let's move from the negative footprint to the positive handprint mindset. For me, hotels can be a viral inspiration for a new regenerative world.
For any business to plan long term, be it in hospitality or not, you need to have a long term strategy that involves all of your stakeholders, as we well know, otherwise, you are missing key ingredients for success. I would recommend the following five priorities:
- Ensure you have defined the purpose of your business and hotel well - who are you aiming your product at and what is the best way to deliver that purpose (who with)
- Involve your stakeholders in the strategy development as this is laying firm roots at all levels and will ensure the 'tree' that is your hotel will be firmly embedded in its soil
- Potentially consider offering your key staff financial participation in the company
- Create solid local supply chains both for products but also for guests acquisition- this will ensure safer revenue streams
- Align yourself to a global sustainability framework for reporting, this will give you strategy and goals legitimacy, offer transparency on your actions, and above all enhance the value of your businesses, also to investors or allow for better credit standing
All stakeholders are becoming more environmentally aware and looking for quantifiable actions, carbon reduction strategies, and clear messages from the businesses they interact with – no more so than the hospitality sector which has a substantial environmental footprint.
Environmental Sustainability are words rarely heard when hospitality professionals meet. When the word Sustainability is used what they mean is Financial Sustainability. The Hospitality sector worldwide has only paid lip service to the seismic challenges Climate Change presents and poorly visualizes the economic challenges as governments reallocate resources under the Green Agenda to combat it – elements of tourism could be sacrificed.
Hospitality failed to embed the environment as a core business tenet following the last financial crisis but has another chance now as we reopen worldwide following the pandemic (An environmental catastrophe itself!). The measure of our leadership will be judged if all we do is chase profit at the expense of a suffering planet.
5 Priorities for Hospitality Businesses for 2021
- Commit to implementing an Environmental Management Plan (EMP), with quantifiable targets
- Achieve third-party environmental certification
- Develop a Carbon Reduction Plan and set specific reduction targets – Energy 5% and Carbon 10% per annum as a minimum
- Monitor and Measure emissions monthly and use Key Environmental Performance Indicators (KEPI's) to monitor your targets (Use HCMI Protocols)
- Eliminate Single-Use Plastics – don't use Covid as an excuse
There is a reason for optimism, I think – we are all in the same boat, which pushes for solutions acceptable by all. Thus, for example, technology providers also face difficulties to supply technologies to clients that are low on investment appetite at the moment. This gives popularity to a profit-sharing model, or ESCo, with zero investment for technology, and a period of profit sharing to pay off the technology installed. When the carbon price will be established, the same logic will apply to a larger degree also to providers of renewable energy sources, not only to energy-saving equipment. And this will help to combine GOP recovery due to the cut in utilities, with a sustainable reboot of hospitality (and other) business. This model requires financial facilities to help technology providers, however with the Green Deal in Europe, and many notorious countries joining the carbon neutrality race, it should be a matter of time. Hopefully, not for a very long time.
Tourism is not only a source of inspiration; it's a human right. We need to travel, to move, to experience the diversity of culture and nature abroad. Travel makes us wiser, and more sensitive. It allows us to feel free. And after months of lockdown due to COVID-19, everyone is anxious to set sail again. Bucket lists will survive the pandemic.
What will travel be like in the immediate future? Experts predict that travelers will look for meaningful experiences, keen to reconnect with nature and local cultures. There will be a need for solitude and a commitment to positive social and environmental impacts. Thus, the future of tourism shall prioritize its intimate bond with conservation.
In our case, Peru is an icon for nature travel, privileged with extraordinary biodiversity and a 55-century history crowned by the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. It has everything to fulfill the yearnings of the travel community. But it also carries great responsibility for conserving what it has for future generations.
We need to find innovative ways to awaken our spirit of adventure while raising awareness of the magnificence and fragility of nature. Meanwhile, conservation through ecotourism can also become a leading source of income for local communities. And it can preserve cultures through capacity building.
My company, Inkaterra, pioneered ecotourism in Peru when it was established back in the 1970s. It is in our DNA, the very core of our business. In an empirical way, we have proved that ecotourism is a means towards nature conservation, sustainable development, and safeguarding the global commons. Most of our team members celebrate their local origins.
Soon after co-producing Werner Herzog's classic Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) to promote travel experiences in Peru, we established our first eco-lodge in the Amazon rainforest, within the first land concession for research and tourism ever granted by the Government. Since then, all our properties have found inspiration in traditional architecture and are built in an artisanal fashion using native materials, in harmony with the environment. Now 220,000 travelers venture on a pilgrimage to find comfort amid exuberant nature in Inkaterra hotel grounds every year.
Every travel experience, while being profitable, is modeled through the prism of conservation. Using a holistic approach, we produce scientific research as a basis for conservation and the wellbeing of local communities.
Since 1978 we have carried out inventories of flora and fauna so as to measure our impact on nature. We have found, for instance, that 903 bird species (almost equivalent to Costa Rica's entire bird diversity) are registered in our areas of influence, while our hotel at Machu Picchu hosts 372 native orchid species, which the American Orchid Society says is the world's largest collection in a private setting. Fellow researchers from our NGO, Inkaterra Asociación, have described 29 new species to science found in our grounds.
Such scientific research is the essence of our ethos, enabling us to design all our conservation strategies. Biodiversity is the main source of inspiration for the vast array of experiences available in our properties, attracting such niche markets as birding, gastronomy, or academic tourism. Every travel experience, while being profitable, is modeled through the prism of conservation.
Conservation not only influences our hotel grounds but the destination as a whole, procuring healthier ecosystems and opportunities for societies. In this spirit, Inkaterra is steering a strategic alliance with the beverage multinational AJE Group and the Machu Picchu Town Hall, to make Machu Picchu the first Wonder of the World to be certified as carbon neutral. This involves developing a circular economy through an innovative strategy to sustainably manage almost all its solid waste.
We also work with the Smithsonian in restoring genetic connectivity in the Peruvian Amazon, with a Sustainable Landscape Corridor from the Low Madre de Dios River to the Peru-Bolivia border. And there is also an initiative to mitigate the effects of illegal mining through forest restoration and the development of sustainable entrepreneurship.
My hope is that Inkaterra may be perceived as a replicable business model by demonstrating a profitable path towards sustainable development.
2020 is slowly coming to an end—what a lost chance for those who every year predicts an apocalyptic event that would result in the extinction of humanity. What the post-pandemic landscape will look like for the hospitality and tourism industry is all but clear. Experts seem unable to agree whether changes lying ahead will revolutionize or destroy the activity. Yet, a resumption of 'business-as-usual' is unlikely at best. At least that is the argument behind those who put emphasis on the 'resetting', 'restarting', or 'rebuilding' hospitality. Others put their faith in the status quo and bet on a 'resilient', 'recovered', or simply 'reopened' activity. Each approach looks at the current context as a crisis response or road to recovery.
How do we ensure that sustainability is a key factor in the path to rebuilding or reopening hospitality? Hard to tell. Complex realities and simple messaging are hard to reconcile. Discussions of industry purpose often play more at the level of theory than practice. Something the vast majority of us agree with is that we must stop depleting Earth's limited resources with our current unlimited consumption system. In that regard, we cannot go back to the pre-pandemic 'normal', simply because normal lies at the heart of our global problems.
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). When reading this type of news (The Guardian) one is left wondering, how many individual projects are needed to draw near the $427 billion a year lost to tax abuse by firms and rich individuals? This scoffing video puts the finger right on the problem (Evil Corporate Advertising). Happy holidays!
1). Think about the future, not the past: while many of us agree that COVID-19 is having a large and profound impact on guest expectations and how we should do business it's easy to be thinking about the past and how things used to be working. We're facing an unprecedented event that deserves unprecedented measures. More than ever we need to be able to listen to, hear, and take into account what our guests are expecting from us. Did they become sensitive to the plastics around them? Let's get rid of it! They are looking for the right balance between technology and human services? Let's find a way to offer it!
2). Focus on quality over quantity: identify your strengths and weaknesses with your teams and clients and get better. Look at your P&L and satisfaction survey but also at your environmental impact to get a complete overview of your business as of today (or yesterday) and get ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow you'll most certainly have to work with fewer guests and therefore fewer employees but also less water, less electricity, and fewer animal products which surely deserves to be prepared and able to focus on quality over quantity.
3). Build a local ecosystem of partners: COVID19 emphasized the risks attached to long procurement chains and the need to rely on a strong local ecosystem of partners. While local partners are also potential clients or the employers of potential clients, their prosperity is important for yours and vice-versa. Obviously, this also has a positive impact on your environmental footprint.
4). Training: implementing change, raising quality, and educating customers about all of this involves relevant training which is both a critical success factor of your new way of doing business and a means to reward and retain your employees.
5). Coherence: to wrap it up and convince your customers and partners that you've upgraded your business model you must show coherence. Coherence is visible in your communication, felt in your premises, and obvious in your guest reviews. Coherence is what is going to make you stand out, strive sustainably, and be resilient.
The temptation to type the word People 5 times was too great. But I think People X 5 is still not good enough. So I shall say People in the power of 5! Prior to COVID-19, we were talking about the great need for more hospitality people and how we entice more young people and talent in the industry. Overnight we found ourselves talking about how we retain the talent in our industry and do not lose them to other sectors. For both resiliency and sustainability, THE key component must surely always be talented people. Talented, innovative people that have a strong ethical compass. Everything else will follow.
How do we decouple growth from negative impacts in hospitality? Many authors and institutions have acknowledged that we are in an age of high levels of social inequality and ecological degradation. Thus, concepts such as post-growth, post-capitalist, post-development, and degrowth are emerging and discussed by governments, academia, and the private sector. Taking real action is now a social imperative for hospitality businesses to thrive. The five priorities for the hospitality industry to be resilient and sustainable as we hopefully blossom from COVID-19 are:
- Integrate sustainability practices as an innovation strategy. There are actions we can undertake to improve-social wellbeing that are not necessarily costly or require many resources, such as actions to support community - based tourism.
- Focus on technology skills and sustainability education at all company levels.
- Use technology (such as blockchain) to accelerate supply chain sustainability, biodiversity conservation, sustainable procurement initiatives, workforce and human rights best practices, food security, and waste prevention, etc.
- GHG emissions: do not rely on offsetting programs. The solution lies in making deep cuts in rising greenhouse-gas emissions; paying up instead isn't solving the problem. If there is no way because the assets are old, we want to offset third-party emissions from guests or other stakeholders, then support projects of local communities to meet offsetting targets (SBTi /CDP).
- Encourage investors/owners' commitment to ESG and responsible investment for capital allocation.
Sustainability is often - and unconsciously - translated as dispense of things we'd like to do or goods we'd like to have. Abandon flying, stop eating meat… But what if we changed not only the narrative but also our attitude? What if we'd rather focused on everything we gained from changing the way we do business, we consume, and we travel? What if we considered growth as a measure of quality, not quantity? In a more sustainable world people would be happier, the planet healthier and businesses more resilient. Do you doubt that? There is plenty of evidence that sustainable businesses were hit less by the COVID-19 pandemic. And there is enough scientific proof that shocks, disasters, and catastrophes (including potential future pandemics) are less likely to occur in a sustainable (business) world. These are the five priorities the hospitality industry should set to tackle resiliency and sustainability at the same time in 2021: be serious, avoid greenwashing, be aware of biodiversity, have knowledge of ecosystem services, have sound communication
2020 will be remembered as a reset year. After decades of tourism growth, the pandemic has delivered a devasting year for our industry and, if experts are to be believed, it will be years before we return to pre-pandemic levels. As we get ready for the new normal – here are a couple of priorities for the coming years.
- Building back better takes leadership that balances the immediate with the strategic. Focusing on the short-term without attention to the long-term – or vice versa – just won't work.
- It will take work. Research by my colleagues Marshall and Sydnor show that it is rare for small businesses to recover better – at least in the first few years following a crisis. Collectively we must beat the odds.
- We need to work together. Tourism is a complex, collaborative activity. All tourism stakeholders have a role to play if we are to improve the tourism system from the inside out.
- We must avoid false dichotomies: It's not true that things are either sustainable or cost-effective – they can be the same.
- This is personal. Too often we overlook the human dimensions of these challenges, but they shouldn't be overlooked. One of the most important factors in resilience is social capital and the strength of our networks in times of trouble. Building back better means more than restarting businesses, it means building skills and capabilities to meet the next big challenge.
In reflecting on your question about how to tackle both resilience and sustainability in 2021, my thoughts went to a recent announcement by Airbnb. The strong growth of Airbnb and its inability to stick to its avowed original business model has been one of the causes of unsustainable tourism growth at many destinations. To just mention one effect, inhabitants got displaced and entire neighborhoods lost their identity. Airbnb has been badly hit by the Corona crisis. In the announcement to which I refer, they state that their recovery's strategy is nudging customers to take vacations for longer periods and nearer to their homes.
This is a smart decision. It aligns with most people's uneasiness about traveling long distances during the Pandemic and at the same time abates (long-haul) travel - the main cause of the negative environmental impact of tourism. If people stay longer in one place they may take fewer vacations and consequently further reduce their carbon footprint as tourists. Moreover, by staying longer they enhance the chance to attach themselves to the place that they are visiting, a first step in wishing to preserve its identity.
Therefore I would put fewer vacations, for a longer time, nearer to home as my top priorities for the recovery of the hospitality sector. It is a joint responsibility of hosts and guests.
Rather than use the word recovery I view this time as an opportunity to innovate and improve hospitality, so it is more profitable, reduces more emissions, and becomes a more memorable experience for our guests. Rather than recovery, view this opportunity as a renaissance. Renaissance because we can go back to what is at the heart of hospitality and focus our attention on quality, not quantity. Then by so doing, we reduce negative impacts; here is how.
First, hospitality owners and managers can use this time to reconsider their vision, set ambitious goals, place guests and staff at the center of our plans, focus on service innovation and experience design to drive towards zero-carbon experiences.
Second, deeply involve staff at all levels in reducing wastage of energy, water, materials. When I say 'deeply involve', I mean prepare social charters that provide real transparency in the hospitality businesses footprint and improve staff's energy and carbon literacy so that they are aware and committed to conserving knowingly.
Third, refurbish and retrofit improvements that cut carbon. For example, study what is wasteful and redesign how you operate providing that service. During COVID I have been able to show clients how their property consumes without guests, identify leaks, and question wasteful practices. Retrofitting your property should provide better tools and methods to help guests participate in conserving, refurbishing can be applied to express your sustainability messaging.
Fourthly, study your supply chain, focus on food miles, and embedded water. What can be bought locally? What has lower water embedded? How can you change menus to suit by season? Choose to reuse furnishings by locally repairing, recovering, repainting rather than sending them to a landfill.
Fifth, all these measures can design a fresh new guest experience that meets your vision.
If hospitality grows, then it can only do so at a rate that has a lower footprint than existing services and does not erode past savings to escalate emissions overall, helps hospitality reach net-zero by 2050, regenerates biodiversity, and reuses materials so that we do not plunder the planets natural stock. Your vision should acknowledge these challenges. It should inspire creativity and where practical reflect past strengths in our profession to create a renaissance that avoids commodification, celebrates individuality, with local solutions relevant to our rich global cultural diversity and natural environments.
The challenge for decoupling growth from impacts, which is at the core of a possible green tourism and hospitality recovery, relies very much on three levels of change. First, climate policies should be in place with the right incentives, making the economic gains of efficiency and long-term commitment to sustainability notorious for tourism businesses. Without proper incentives, tourism businesses will hardly engage in the type of energy, logistical, and IT investments needed for decoupling carbon emissions from growth. Secondly, the financial system should be ready, which in most cases around the world, is not the case, to learn, engage and develop financial solutions that are geared to make tourism businesses more efficient and more climate-friendly.
There are risks associated with investing in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Financial institutions should work with regional and national development banks to reduce uncertainties and unlock the financial system for climate impact investments. Finally, travelers should be engaged in proactive, positive action. They should be part of the solutions, just as businesses are. People are more likely to engage in a behavior when they derive positive feelings from doing so. This core precept is often overlooked when it comes to climate action, for which ad campaigns are likely to emphasize disturbing warnings. Research has found that hope and pride are instrumental in driving sustainable behavior; there is a need to engage in creative ways with consumers.
At The Place Brand Observer, together with the Sustainability Leaders Project, we recently published a white paper that summarizes the views of tourism and sustainability experts around the world on how to resume tourism sustainably, after the pandemic. Let me share some of my key takeaways which I think also apply to the hospitality industry in particular:
- Involve your community (locals) and their interests in your strategy.
- Encourage slow tourism, longer stays.
- Communicate sustainability values well internally and encourage guests to behave responsibly.
- Hygiene is on everyone's mind. Make sure all involved pay utmost attention to cleanliness and physical distancing norms.
- In your marketing efforts, clearly communicate the safety measures you are undertaking so that travelers feel safe when visiting.
- Start with the local market and domestic visitors, making sure your destination community is recovered and ready to welcome visitors.
Link to the online article with key insights: https://placebrandobserver.com/destination-sustainability-resuming-tourism-post-pandemic/.
Looking at the essence of the definition of resilience, I would argue that it is a concept that goes beyond sustainable. For me, the term resilience refers to maintain / establish the economical, ecological and social system in an equilibrium. And looking at the current crisis in hospitality and tourism, COVID shows us that we are too much depending on a GLOBAL market.
Going back to the roots of (ecological) resilience the essence is about the ability to absorb a disturbance before the dynamic equilibrium changes or the recovery of a system after a disturbance back to the equilibrium (Adger, 2000). Ecological resilience needs to be assessed on a system level: taking into account the interconnectedness and interdependency of all elements within this system. This results often in emphasizing on the importance for biodiversity. Expanding the ecological lens to a social or societal lens, biodiversity needs to be read as the importance of VARIATION.
One way to (co-)create variation is to include as many stakeholders as possible in the discussion.
Shaping your resilient organization (product and processes) together with local stakeholders will push organizations in a good direction. Because COVID has made us realize again that our current system in hospitality and tourism is very fragile: due to the dominant global character of it. Connecting to other markets and expanding the product offer with other counterparts might be a fruitful direction.
Adger, W. Neil. (2000). Social and ecological resilience: are they related? Progress in Human Geography, 24(3), 347-364. doi: doi:10.1191/030913200701540465.
My five points or questions for 2021 on combining sustainability and resiliency:
- Sustainability is not optional, short, or long-term.
- Sustainability is not the first choice for cost-cutting. However, if business continuity is threatened, some initiatives may have to be delayed.
- Which sustainability aspects do guests really appreciate? Is it possible to focus limited resources on those to support recovery?
- How would guests react if sustainability was completely removed from the picture? This could put things in perspective.
- Can guests be the link between sustainability and resiliency to ensure that the recovery is also environmentally and socially sustainable?