What Will the Future of Hotel Sustainability Look Like?
By Gregor Herz
Last updated January 26, 2022
5 min read
Climate change has been in the news again recently with a very stark warning from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They concluded that global temperatures are rising at an unprecedented rate and that this should be considered a “code red for humanity”, according to UN chief, Antonio Guterres.
There have been strong indications that many areas previously thought to be low risk from the effects of climate change are now being affected. Recently, Greece—one of the Mediterranean’s top destinations—experienced the worst wildfires in living memory. Earlier this year, the west of Germany and surrounding countries saw extensive flash flooding and soil erosion that claimed the lives of over 180 people. 150 are still missing. And in Canada and the northwest United States, temperatures reached 49.6C (121.3F). The resulting wildfires and extreme temperatures are together thought to be responsible for over 1000 deaths in the region. Whole towns have been wiped off the map as a result.
With such damning evidence of the consequences of climate change, there are changes that need to be made across all industries. According to the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, 1% of the world’s carbon emissions result from the hotel industry. 1% is a substantial chunk and as tourism continues to grow, this share or the world’s carbon emissions that hotels are responsible for will likely increase.
What can hotels do to help contribute to a greener, more sustainable world? We’ve put together 5 ways hotels can become more sustainable in the future.
1. Focus on rewilding
Hotels rely heavily on tourism, and tourism relies heavily on beautiful scenery, wonderful wildlife, and clear oceans. The climate crisis has raised awareness of the need for rewilding. Rewilding means allowing areas of land to be left untouched indefinitely to enable parts of the natural world to regenerate to their former glory.
Rewilding doesn’t only increase native fauna and flora, it also helps create carbon sinks that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. As people try to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, rewilding is an important and cost-effective weapon against global warming. Rewilding also protects regions from natural disasters such as flooding and landslides. The increased legislation binds with the soil to ensure it’s locked in place, and the natural barristers caused by trees and bushes helps reduce the impact of floodwaters that accumulate on land developed by humans.
The hotel industry needs to start raising awareness and supporting the rewilding movement if they want to continue to benefit from the pristine scenery that’s so crucial to attracting guests. This includes lobbying for international cooperation on creating rewilding zones around the world on land and in the oceans. Educating guests at hotels on the importance of these initiatives will help drive support for rewilding from the general public, ultimately helping hotel businesses thrive in the future and improve conditions for humans everywhere.
2. Reduce the impact of hotels on the environment
Hotels use huge amounts of resources to run their business. Even when there are very few guests staying, the hotel still needs to provide heating, lighting, and restaurant services to guests. These are examples of energy-intensive requirements that hotels always need to provide no matter the number of guests staying at any one time.
To reduce their impact on the environment, hotels need to invest in solutions that enable guests to make environmentally-friendly choices during their trips. By offering guests the chance to drive the green revolution in hotels, the perception of the level of service that hotels offer won’t suffer—guests don’t like being told they need to make changes, but if they choose to make them themselves, they’re much more likely to view them favorably.
An example of how modern technology can enable guests to make more eco-conscious decisions is SuitePad’s Green Option. Using push notifications the Green Option works much like the traditional “do not clean” sign on the door, but due to its digital format, it actively encourages guests and can notify them of the impact their choice can have on the environment. Some hotels also offer small incentives such as vouchers or free drinks to incentivize guests to make this choice. These types of features will soon start to become more commonplace at hotels as they seek to become more eco-friendly.
3. Rediscovering the staycation
The term “staycation” is synonymous with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could be here to stay. While vacationing locally or within your own country was a good way of helping reduce the transmission of the virus, it’s also an effective way of reducing travelers’ carbon footprint. With hydrogen power aircraft and solar-powered vehicles still a long way off, there’s a real incentive to reduce consumer carbon emissions.
One return flight from Europe to the US produces as much carbon dioxide as the average vehicle owner produces from their car in a year. And this problem can’t be sorted with short-haul flights. In fact, short-haul flights are just about the most environmentally damaging way of traveling as airplanes use huge amounts of fuel to get off the ground. If you’re only traveling a few hundred miles, short-haul flights clock up the highest CO2 per mile ratio besides space travel.
For hotels, this may mean switching their focus to people visiting from more locally. In places like Europe, this may be stretched to people from other countries that can be easily connected by train. By making tourism more local, the industry can significantly reduce carbon emissions, but it will take input from the airlines, hotel, and restaurant industries to achieve this.
The good news is that this may not last forever. Engineers around the world are working on producing much more efficient and eco-friendly forms of travel including solar-powered cars and hydrogen-powered aircraft. Major advances in battery technology have also made electric cars much better than most people thought possible, and if this technology is adapted for airplanes and they are charged using renewably produced electricity, global air travel will enter a whole new, eco-friendly era.
4. Redefining extravagance
Some of the most greenhouse gas-producing aspects of tourism are equated with decadence and luxury. Superyachts, for example, contribute a huge amount of carbon emissions and ocean garbage build up in some of the world’s more important ocean ecosystems. Despite this damage being well documented, there is very little currently being done to reduce these contributions, and the demand for chartering superyachts is on the increase.
Of course, superyachts are not the only contributing factor, but they are a good example of how the modern superrich lifestyles of many people can contribute to climate change. Instead, there needs to be a shift in what extravagance and luxury really mean. It needs to be cool, exciting, and ultimately, desirable, for hotel guests to notably reduce their impact on the environment. This could come in the form of encouraging them to pay towards charity organizations when they book their vacation, or it could come in the form of making taking the time to actively contribute to rewilding projects while they’re on vacation. Rather than yachting over the world’s most pristine coral reefs, why don’t we encourage people to take the time to contribute to coral reef rebuilding projects? These kinds of activities need to be prioritized and rebranded as attractive representations of extravagance if we are to help reduce the hotel and tourist industry’s impact on the environment.
5. Moderating business travel
Before the pandemic, business travel was a common feature of a globalized business world. But, the increase in the need for video conferencing technology has shown that businesses can significantly cut the need for travel. In the future, businesses will need to make decisions as to whether it’s worthwhile or environmentally sustainable to send staff abroad for business trips when the meeting or conferences they are attending could easily be done online.
The reduction in business travel will also likely have an impact on the demand for business hotels, meaning that many business hotel owners will need to diversify their business to offer services to non-business guests.
Understanding the future of hotel sustainability
Hotel sustainability will hinge on using innovative technology, changing attitudes, and moderating expectations. But, with time, new more sustainable travel and hospitality technology will enable hotels to return to operations much like we have today. Until then, it’s imperative that hotels do their bit in trying to reduce their impact on the environment.