Ecotourism inspires hotels to think sustainably

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—In Booking.com’s most recent “Sustainable Travel Report,” 87% of travelers said that they want to travel sustainably.

“From our research, we found nearly three-fifths of travelers said natural sites that they have visited in the past were the inspiration to travel more sustainably, seeing the visible impact that tourism can have on places,” said Todd Dunlap, managing director, Americas, Booking.com. “In the past, we’ve seen the backlash on social media when trails get overrun, beaches become littered, and natural wonders become desecrated, so I think travelers are trying to be more conscious of their effect on the environment and being able to make these places accessible for years to come for future generations.”

Nearly half of the travelers in the survey defined sustainable travel as eco-friendly or green accommodations. This is why it is important for hotels to have sustainable practices, and to let their guests—and potential guests—know the actions they are taking.

While many hotels have programs for guests to reuse their towels and have changed to refillable pumps in bathrooms instead of small, limited-use plastic bottles, other less-obvious changes can make a difference. “Hotels can work not only via their social channels to highlight their sustainable initiatives, but with local businesses, too,” he said. “For example, using an area of the lobby to curate locally made products instead of mass-produced plastic souvenirs, or highlighting local restaurants with farm-to-table initiatives.”

Hotels need to meet the sustainability desires of guests. “Our colleagues and guests—and our business at large—all depend on a healthy, stable planet in order to thrive,” said Marié Fukudome, director of environmental affairs and corporate responsibility, Hyatt Hotels Corp. “We have comprehensive global environmental sustainability goals, many of which are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our 2020 sustainability vision includes goals for reducing energy, water use and carbon emissions at hotels, increasing waste diversion and sustainable purchasing, and building efficient hotels.”

Some of Hyatt’s property-specific initiatives include upgrading to efficient lighting and fixtures, installing on-site solar panels, using recycled water for landscaping, growing rooftop gardens, and composting food scraps. “Most recently, Hyatt hotels around the world eliminated plastic straws, furthering our global efforts to reduce environmental impact,” she said.

For the last 10 years, Hyatt has also collaborated with Clean the World, a nonprofit that collects used soap and shampoo products from hotels, recycles them and then donates them to communities in need.

Individual properties can also help with sustainability with the suggestions made to guests for activities during their stay. “Concierges can make sure to suggest less busy or popular tourist sites, and encourage and instruct guests on how to use public transit instead of taxis,” said Dunlap. “These types of travelers tend to come with an engaged fan base that spreads the word on traveling sustainably.”

Hotels across the globe have also let guests know of their sustainability efforts by becoming recognized by various independent certification agencies. Booking.com has worked with one of these organizations—Green Key, an internationally recognized eco-label with strict award criteria that honors positive environmental management.

The Green Key program is a voluntary eco-label for hotels and other tourism facilities based on compliance with a strict set of criteria dealing with environmental management, CSR and environmental information and training. The program has a strict on-site audit frequency, and the annual award is always third-party verified. More than 3,000 properties in 57 countries have received the eco-label.

“Guests are more sensitive to sustainability issues than before,” said Finn Bolding Thomsen, international Green Key director. “The threat from climate change is increasingly evident to everyone, and it has become much higher on the agenda in the world. With an eco-label like Green Key, guests have realized that they can book accommodations with good environmental and sustainability standards, while still being in the desired location and without much higher price.”

Fukudome said that it is not only individual guests who are interested in sustainability initiatives. “Hyatt’s corporate clients are particularly interested in our environmental efforts, and we receive RFP questions from many clients asking about our sustainability commitments, carbon emissions and energy and water use,” she said. “Many of these companies have their own sustainability goals for their operations and their supply chain. As a company that supports events and business travel, it’s important for Hyatt to demonstrate our responsible practices.”

Booking.com has also done its part to encourage sustainable travel. “We work with NGOs, institutes, and social enterprises, as well as support sustainable tourism changemakers with our accelerator program and, in 2018, offered more than $2 million in grants to help fund sustainable tourism,” said Dunlap. “Our Booking Booster Program also plays an active role in this area, identifying, empowering and providing funding for start-ups that help relieve pressure on overcrowded tourist areas; businesses that positively impact the environment; and social ventures that are supporting local communities in the tourism industry.” HB

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