By The Hospitable Team
“While it’s generally thought to be financially advantageous, investing in sustainable practices can be costly, and there’s no guaranteed return on investment, which can make implementing a sustainable strategy complex.”
That’s what Prof. Dr. Willy Legrand had to say when asked about the challenges to sustainable practices in hospitality.
Dr. Legrand has dedicated his life’s work to promoting sustainable practices in the tourism and hospitality industry. As a distinguished expert in the field, he is the lead author of Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry: Principles of Sustainable Operations, currently one of the most comprehensive guidebooks on creating sustainable hospitality operations.
As Dr. Legrand points out, without alignment when working towards sustainable practices, it can be difficult to convince key stakeholders, and prove financially disadvantageous. However, when there is coordination and cooperation, your efforts aren’t only environmentally friendly—they can be highly profitable, too.
In this article, we look at:
- The meaning of sustainable tourism and eco-friendliness
- Why you should care about sustainability
- Making your business more sustainable, environmentally conscious, and socially aware
- Becoming a business that stands for sustainability
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Are sustainable tourism and eco-friendliness the same thing?
Although they are often used interchangeably, the terms “sustainable tourism” and “eco-friendliness” have different meanings. While eco-friendliness centers around ecological conservation and preservation of natural resources, sustainable tourism takes into account other factors such as the impact of travel on the local community. In Dr. Legrand’s words:
“Eco-friendliness is only one component of the concept of sustainable tourism—it also needs to consider the social and economic components.”
“So, ultimately, sustainable tourism asks us to plan, develop, and manage a tourism industry that’s kind to the environment, healthy to its workers, pleasing to its guests, efficient for the operators, and profitable to its owners.”
Why you’re right to care about sustainability
Practicing sustainable tourism means that you are actively working to protect the environment and contribute to the local economy. But also, it gives you the opportunity to appeal to and meet the needs of environmentally conscious travelers—who, as we’ll see below, represent a growing market. And this, ultimately, contributes to your overall short-term rental investment success.
Save with efficient operations and benefit your team and guests
Although it may require an initial investment, using environmentally friendly materials and adopting energy-saving practices can create a virtuous cycle of business growth. Dr. Legrand observed:
“The greatest misconception is perhaps that sustainability always means an increase in expenses. The narrative should be centered on the added value of sustainability, not the added costs.”
Other than helping to cut down on energy expenses, having a more sustainable business mindset can help you:
- Increase organizational commitment and motivation amongst your employees – They’ll feel good about working to uphold your business values.
- Attract more conscientious guests and boost your occupancy rates – Your business will stand out to conscientious travelers for the right reasons.
- Improve your brand image and foster guest loyalty – Which will lead to an increase in direct bookings.
Meet evolving guest expectations
More and more, people are searching for ways to travel sustainably. According to Booking.com’s 2022 Sustainable travel report, 81% of global travelers confirmed that sustainable travel is important to them. And as Dr. Ledgrand points out, it’s not just about saying that your business is sustainable, it’s about practicing what you preach.
“Travelers increasingly expect hosts to live up to their sustainability standards by being proactive and responsible in their business practices.”
Additionally, having an environmentally-friendly business model can contribute to your guests’ overall experience. Not only do eco-friendly amenities enrich their stay, but they also speak to guests’ personal values. Eco-conscious travelers will feel more comfortable and at ease while not engaging in wasteful behavior.
“Aside from benefits like environmentally-friendly linens and local food, guests have the satisfaction of knowing that they made the right decision. They can align their personal values with their traveling decisions. In some cases, traveling sustainably might be a transformative experience.”
Earn more positive online reviews and ratings
By targeting guests who are more environmentally conscious, you’ll not only be aligning your services with the expectations of most modern travelers, but also you’ll receive more positive guest feedback as a result. As Dr. Legrand said:
“With increasing levels of public scrutiny, genuine commitment to sustainable goals and actions are more likely to receive recognition through positive reviews and online ratings.”
Consumers rarely hesitate to voice their opinions online about an experience they’ve had. And when it comes to vacation rental stays, they often remember what they didn’t like before they recall what they did.
So, by having a strong commitment to sustainability, and by offering caring and thoughtful hospitality and services, you can not only gain positive reviews, but also help insulate yourself from negative ones.
Create a more sustainable, environmentally conscious, and socially aware business model
Now we’ve considered the meaning of sustainable tourism and why it’s good for you, let’s look at ways to adopt sustainable, environmentally conscious, and socially aware business practices.
According to Dr. Legrand, aligning your business goals with global development goals is a key part of “ensuring a holistic, ‘think global, act local’ approach to sustainability.”
Adopting a model that fits in with the bigger picture means supporting your local community, making changes based on their long-term value, and updating your standard operating procedures (SOPs) to reflect your environmental goals. Let’s take a more detailed look at each one of these steps.
Support your local community
Consciously involving your local community in your business practices will help you to take a more grassroots “bottom-up” approach to your sustainability efforts.
Dr. Ledgrand said that:
“Owning and operating a socially responsible business requires a multifaceted approach. It can mean employing local staff, including local businesses in your renovation and design efforts, and promoting local artists and food suppliers to your guests.”
Be sure to openly communicate and promote your locally-powered business model on your direct booking website, social media outlets, and on listing pages. This kind of self-promotion isn’t a sneaky “greenwashing” marketing tactic.
By showing potential guests that you’re taking action to encourage local business and do what’s right for the environment, you’re raising the industry bar (and making yourself more competitive). Not to mention, extra publicity can benefit any local partners that you’re working with, as well.
Think about the long-term value of sustainable practices
To truly benefit from sustainable practices, you need to make sure you have a clear plan in place with long-term goals in mind. You shouldn’t try to do anything and everything at once. Dr. Legrand points out that you should start off by evaluating your current situation:
“Perhaps one of the most commonly made mistakes is jumping from one issue to the next without a well-defined plan or clear starting point. For example, trying to reduce energy usage without knowing a building’s energy consumption profile.”
Once you have a clear idea of your starting point, it’s time to map out long-term strategic goals.
“Embracing sustainability in management means focusing beyond quarterly results. Short-termism leads you to cut costs and underinvest in activities that have medium and long-term returns.”
“Sustainable product development, like implementing a sustainable food and beverage supply chain, and risk-reduction strategies—like investing in decentralized energy production—require long-term strategic planning to produce benefits.”
Think about your supply chain and look for any opportunities to cut down on carbon emissions and waste. For example, if you’re searching for a supplier of eco-friendly cleaning materials or toiletry products, consider the products’ packaging process and method of delivery.
Ask yourself how much energy will be wasted while fabricating the product and during transportation, and consider the business consequences and broad impacts of your decision-making over longer periods of time—this is the essence of practicing sustainability.
Change standard operating procedures to reduce your carbon footprint
From maintenance procedures to tracking energy consumption, there are many ways to adopt and implement energy-saving practices. Dr. Legrand explains more on the topic:
Consider the construction material, furniture, fixtures, and equipment that you use. While renting out multiple properties, measuring building connectivity is crucial. In your standard operating procedures, be sure to monitor utility submeters, set reduction targets, and keep track of your progress.
Changing your standard operating procedures doesn’t stop at tracking utility meters. Technological solutions, like smart locks make it easy for guests to check in independently, which makes you less reliant on staff and more eco-friendly.
Guest experience messaging systems are also a great way to communicate with guests completely remotely and with total efficiency. They allow you to be more responsive to guests—so great for them and fantastic for your reviews—and mean you don’t have to rely on having onsite staff to manage their stays.
Other smart solutions that can help you minimize energy use include smart thermostats and smart lighting systems. With a smart thermostat, you can automatically switch on the air conditioning unit when guests arrive at the property or at a certain time of the day.
Smart lighting systems work in the same way. Using motion sensors, they can automatically turn on when guests walk into a room or when there is little sunlight.
Encourage your team to take action
According to Dr. Legrand, getting your team on board with your sustainability efforts is one of the most important parts of adopting sustainable practices.
Ultimately, it comes down to decisions made by individuals and teams in this industry. It’s very much about their mindset, commitment, and willingness to take action…let’s not forget that the fastest gain and shortest payback involves human action–switching off unused equipment, switching off lights, and controlling room temperature.
Most likely, your team members will feel motivated to work for an employer that wants to make a positive change. However, you might need to specify the actions that they should take on routine cleaning checklists. Or, better yet, automatically assign tasks and bake sustainable best practices into your housekeeping and maintenance SOPs.
Become a business that stands for sustainability
To adopt a sustainable business model, you’ll need to act locally, openly communicate your practices, and adopt a well-planned strategic vision. Here are some key takeaways:
- Think globally and support your local community. Being vocal about your sustainable practices will help you to connect with your target audience, create loyal customers, and build a base of followers.
- Plan with long-term goals in mind. This is key to the overall success of your sustainable business strategy.
- You can use smart technology to help you conserve. Communicating with guests and your team digitally can help reduce your carbon footprint.
- Environmental change requires a group effort. It’s crucial to have your team on board and ready to take action.
Above all else, keep in mind that the value of sustainable practices far exceeds the initial costs. At the core of sustainability lies community. And by building a sustainable business, you can help build a stronger and better future for everyone.
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