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The Post-COVID Renewal: The Shift To Sustainable Offerings in The Hospitality Sector

Environmental awareness is at an all time high, and social ideals have increasingly become a primary driver of guest interest, business, and ongoing affinity.
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As we continue to recover from the watershed COVID-19 crisis, more voices are circulating with examples from and references to the months following the Global Financial Crisis. The travel industry has a sizable hill to climb back to normal operations; it certainly can’t hurt to keep the lessons we’ve learned previously close by our side.

One study in particular seems applicable. Authors Carlos Martin-Rios and Eva Parga Dans studied the recovery curve of creative industries after the 2008 crash. They found that companies ‘that responded to the crisis by means of investment on long-term innovative transformations’ were able to outperform companies with more short-sighted initiatives. Forward-thinking innovative strategies showed a decisive role in the recovery outcomes.

Experts at EHL Insights hold those findings true in the current hospitality sector. And perhaps the most innovative, long-term stance to take is the pursuit of eco-neutral operations. In the post-pandemic market, the meaning of hospitality, spa, and travel has changed. Now that business travel can be replaced with videoconferencing, more travelers are engaging with hospitality services for rest, renewal, and reprieve. But that can no longer come at the cost of the planet or its people; environmental awareness is at an all time high, and social ideals have increasingly become a primary driver of guest interest, business, and ongoing affinity. Luckily, the power of smart technology—most of which is more affordable than it ever has been—is making it easier to make the necessary changes, and to offer those changes at scale. Below are a few key considerations.

New Consumers, New Concerns

Concern for the environment has skyrocketed throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and its distribution seems to be about as global as the crisis itself. Almost every demographic segment is reporting a heightened environmental awareness, and every guest is newly aware of the costs of unsustainable services.

[Marriott Hacienda Finds Travelers are Looking for Ecofriendly Vacations]

In response to both the shift in consumer demands and the ongoing urgency for real environmental reform, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has put sustainability at the core of tourism’s reformation. ‘Sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism but must be the new normal for every part of our sector,’ says UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili.

For luxury travel offerings like spas and resort services, implementing more green solutions is a matter of urgency. Companies have quickly turned toward integrating green technologies, including eco-aware temperature control, energy saving building features, and AI-powered supply prediction to diminish waste. Considering the risk equation for peripheral services like spas, the new target audience for spa and wellness offerings has shifted toward the age range of 28 years and older. And of those consumers, who would fall under the classification of Millennials, 73% indicate a willingness to spend more on a product that comes from a company with sustainable and socially conscious practices, according to a 2015 report by Nielsen. This gives owners ample reason to believe that their spend toward green solutions and smart technologies will be well rewarded in the long run, and might also contribute in the short-term to spark a faster recovery.

A Shared Recovery: Local Sourcing

The best way to recover will be to recover together. And luckily, the most sustainable options are often closer to home. Most supply chains already need negotiating after the obvious COVID-era complications. For hospitality professionals, now is the perfect time to engage with vendors in your local area and nurture your business relationships within your immediate sphere. 

[Honeywell, Nexii Team Up to Support Sustainable Building Development]

Nearby vendors could offer fresher, more high quality food without incurring the costs—financial and environmental—of frequent long-distance shipping. Intra-community artisans could provide inspiring decor ideas, and small skin-care businesses might be able to offer guests the best amenities around. The results of a few simple pivots toward local sourcing are incredible; ecological footprint shrinks, cost often follows, local economies benefit, and guest affinity is sure to reward those positive changes. And because more guests are using digital channels to place their orders and book their services, owners have a great channel for communicating their new sourcing decisions. Interactive maps can be added to the app or booking platform to offer guests a resonant experience, one that demonstrates the new commitment and shows guests how their dollars are impacting the local economy. Those digital additions help to foster the conversation with more eco-conscious guests, creating more pathways for guest support and ongoing guest affinity.

Real Accountability: Benchmarking

Every hospitality professional understands the importance of benchmarking. From building audits to responsible staffing practices, audits and benchmarks are a part of the job. Now, benchmarking a hotel’s performance as it relates to sustainability is an equally important priority. Understanding the ecological and social effects of the company in relation to its industry peers and local competitors, owners can have a better chance at moving in the direction toward which they aim. To this end, the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index is a valuable resource. A global dataset, hotel energy and water consumption is logged annually and available for review; owners can audit their current operations and measure their progress as they begin to implement solutions.

Finally, real accountability means real transparency. New smart technology vendors have come to market with solutions that help owners stay aware and in control of their energy use. Integrated app platforms can report the buildings real-time energy use and allow the owner to toggle the energy sources from a distance. Whether it’s lights being left on or temperature-control expenditure in empty rooms, smart tech-enabled controls can help owners reduce any unnecessary waste in their ecological footprint while they work on their larger solutions.

It’s important to note that despite the scale of the climate change problem, the hospitality industry has succeeded in making these kinds of changes before. After the financial crisis, the carbon intensity of the global hotel sector steadily decreased, and there’s been a 10 percent reduction in the industry’s collective carbon footprint over the last seven years. Now, that aim will be overwhelmingly re-enforced by consumer reward—a winning strategy for real change in the post-pandemic era.


About the Author

Tara Milburn is the Founder and CEO of Ethical Swag, a sustainable branding company that makes it easy for hospitality brands to offer personalized promotional products that they can stand behind. Certified as a B-Corporation, Ethical Swag has been audited to the highest global standard for sustainability.

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