How hotels can play their role in eco-friendly tourism

Airlines are offering carbon offset programmes, governments are introducing visitor quotas, and tour companies are upgrading to electric buses – all in a bid to cut the environmental cost of travel.

There is still a long journey ahead, but the industry is certainly heading in the right direction. However, for the hotel sector, associated with luxury and enjoying the ‘finer things in life’, there’s turbulence ahead. Unfortunately, many traditional practices within hotels are often unsustainable and contribute to massive amounts of waste — but that’s no free ticket for establishments to skirt the drastic action that is required.

With 41% of guests now considering the environmental credentials of an establishment when booking a trip, they will increasingly be expecting to see sustainability initiatives in place each time they check-in. So how can hotels ensure they earn a glowing review from this growing number of green guests?

Audit and adapt 

In a world where we’re constantly being told we are overconsuming, reverting to the simple necessities of life can help. Do your guests really use the free earplugs or toothbrushes that are provided? Does each bathroom need a new set of shampoo and conditioner every time a new guest arrives? By auditing and reviewing existing partnerships, suppliers, and practices, hotels can introduce more economical and eco-friendly options that reduce unnecessary waste. 

IHG, for instance, has swapped bathroom miniatures for refillable products. If you happen to have visited recently, it’s unlikely you noticed, but the environment certainly has.

Inspiring organisations such as Clean The World are offering hoteliers a helping hand, collecting discarded soap bars from more than 8,100 establishments to recycle and redistribute to impoverished families. This is one of many initiatives helping hotels to embrace sustainability, educate guests, and encourage change. 

However, if we are to clean up our act and reduce the hotel sector’s global emissions to zero, we cannot rely solely on external organisations.

People over profit

For the modern guest, a sandy beach and comfy bed simply isn’t enough, with more than 80% of tourists citing sustainable tourism as essential to their holidays. To appease the green tourist, it’s important for hotels to consider, in relation to their offering, what this means to their potential guests. For hotels in the city, it could mean a tree is planted for each patron through a forest partnership programme, or encouraging guests to use public transport and bikes. For those in more rural or coastal areas, it could be providing activities that support local conservation such as beach clean-ups or offering farm-to-table dining options.

As hoteliers, we rely heavily on the wonders in our proximity to get guests through the door, so it’s important that we pay our due and act as custodians for the natural world. Here, a hotel’s team of staff is its most important asset. After all, they will be in charge of flicking off the light switch in empty rooms and educating the guests who pass through the establishment. It’s vital that staff are trained to understand the benefits of ESG practices.

Fit for the future

With an endless stream of guests shuffling through the halls, hotels require significant amounts of maintenance. Often, repairs or renovations are done in haste to minimise disruption to the guest experience. However, this leads to missed opportunities to future-proof and build in more sustainable amenities. If an establishment is truly committed to improvement, sustainability should be at the heart of any future development plans. 

Instead of choosing the cheapest material or fastest way, consider a “fabric-first approach” — as we did at Burgh Island with its new staff accommodation — which puts the environment’s needs first by prioritising materials with high energy efficiency.

Of course, not every hotel will need to rip up the foundations and rebuild. The Hilton London ExCeL recently earned the prestigious Green Tourism Gold Award through relatively simple endeavours, such as installing a green wall and striving to use local suppliers. Every hotel’s environmental journey will be different, but this is the gold standard that all, old and new, should be striving for.

In a world where sustainability is no longer an option, but a necessity, there is really no other choice — establishments must clean up their act. Not just because the natural world will soon be destroyed beyond repair without change, but because travellers are already starting to turn their backs on those that are unwelcoming towards the environment.

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