Do Our Guests Really Care?

By Jan Peter Bergkvist Owner, SleepwellAB | May 08, 2016

Businesses, including the hospitality sector, often argue that there's no customer demand for sustainability, so they do not focus on grabbing opportunities to work strategically towards becoming part of the solution.

Very few innovations have come from customer demand - on the contrary, innovation and the success that follows, is often thanks to daring leaders, those who can foresee the development of society and really take the lead; in short leaders who show leadership!

With the sustainability super year 2015 behind us, with recent decisions to cut global greenhouse gases dramatically and start working towards the 17 sustainable development goals, the time of adjustments and green-wash is also well and truly behind us. We are in a time of transformation.

Our guests not only care, they expect us to facilitate their journey towards a better world. Choosing a pension fund that has made decisions or changed behaviors based on supply chain social performance is one such example of these expectations. Or buying certified organic food; 2015 saw an increase of total organic food sales by 40 percent in Sweden compared to the record year 2014 (when it increased by 30 %). We see these changes happening with increasing frequency all over the world; their choice of a hotel or restaurant that is part of the solution is an extension of these expectations and behavioural changes. In parallel with this, the playing field has changed dramatically and brand loyalty and habits are challenged in a digital world where the independent or private accommodation (and increasingly restaurant-) suppliers are in the same arena as the global brands and are reviewed and "liked" (or "un-liked") in real time.

Luxury Goes Sustainable

On top of this we've also seen a shift in the traditional definition of luxury from that of abundance and opulence to efficiency and sustainability. LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability describes a marketplace for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living - estimated to $290 billion in the U.S. alone) is going mainstream! With a huge swathe of hotels and restaurants having almost identical interiors, regardless of the location, the soft values that underpin the brand or the experience become huge factors for the discerning guest.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.