Sustainability In The Hospitality Industry

July 28, 2022

Eliza Borbély



One of the biggest challenges hospitality is facing today is sustainability. Businesses not only have to deal with the threat of climate change but also with the new expectations of travelers. The lack of predictability is hunting the industry, and investors are balancing between profitability and sustainability. 

Millennials and Generation Z are especially conscious about the environment. Ecotourism and slow traveling are emerging trends. The world is transitioning from consumerism to wanting to preserve and protect nature and local culture. Slow travel is not a new development, it comes from the ’slow’ movement of the 1980s, which touches on food, aging, fashion, technology, etc. Experiencing destinations and cultures on a deeper level with more genuine connections with local people does not only lower the ecological footprint but has a significant effect on mental health. Getting from one place to the next one is not a priority, lower emission options for transportation are more popular with less impact on the environment.

Travelers still prioritize price and connections over sustainability, but the attitudes vary among countries. While 60% of Spanish travelers are willing to pay more for a carbon-neutral flight, it’s only 2% in Japan. This may be because of the lack of airlines promising sustainable improvements and options. Customers will be willing to pay more if airlines can engage them. As awareness grows about the environmental impact of air travel, and as passengers feel the flight shame, the industry’s profit is increasingly at risk. The day will come when airplanes will fly on fuel made from used cooking oil, but until that airlines should reduce their plastic consumption, create green security checks, and use a mobile app that allows passengers to preorder their meals.

A growing number of hotels are running a sustainable business. Food waste, plastic usage, waste production, energy and water consumption are serious issues. There are simple approaches that hotels can adapt to enhance their guest’s experience such as serving regional dishes with local and seasonal produce or organizing different means of transportation like bike rentals or walking tours. Along with the Slow travel movement, Off-Grid travel came into trend. It means traveling without using public utilities such as electrical power, phone signal, water supply, gas or sewage. Hotels can remodel their offers and create increasingly popular digital detox experiences or provide solar power in cabins and boats.

The hospitality industry is people-focused, and its value is rooted in quality service. The transformation to a more sustainable future can start from scratch by, for example, monitoring energy consumption which can help to reduce costs, or educating staff about less energy-consuming equipment and activities.

Companies have to market their eco-changes concretely and credibly. Have to express their values to engage and motivate customers and staff. People want to identify truly sustainable businesses, and they might avoid options due to skepticism. Transparency is establishing trust in customers. The Iberostar Group is a great example of effective communication, it has been the leader of green tourism for years, signed the UNESCO Sustainable Travel Pledge, and started the Wave of Change movement in 2017, which contains a commitment to a circular economy, responsible seafood consumption and coastal health.

Customers want to know the story behind actions, understand how the company contributed to the preservation of the environment, and they won’t be satisfied with general messages. Environmental and social actions have to be taken seriously, communication must have a verifiable basis, otherwise, it can be seen as greenwashing. Data provides information, and green marketing strategy should revolve around these numbers. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations provide tourism businesses with information on goals to be achieved, which can be a good starting point for setting up the company’s plan. Being transparent about the weaknesses and strengths is essential to improve sustainability. Communicating the actions can raise awareness of how important sustainability is for the company. And they can reach the target audience by designing a multi-channel strategy that offers relevant content based on profiles and needs.

Sustainability is very much a journey for every individual and business. Emotionally charged messages remain in the memory, honesty and credibility bring commitment. But more stringent guidelines are necessary for dynamic development in the hospitality industry.

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