How the hospitality sector can harness sustainability to attract like-minded guests

28 February 2023 by Dani Walker
blog author

Do you consider sustainability when booking a hotel or restaurant? The hospitality industry is set to soar this year as travel and tourism faces higher demand with an influx of travellers. With a luxurious holiday or meal out just one click away, it’s worth assessing whether you prioritise or even consider sustainability when making your booking. And if you don’t, then now is the time to make more mindful decisions, from hotels that are less energy intensive to restaurants focusing on locally sourced dishes.

In a study conducted by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, it was discovered that more than 80 per cent of diners consider sustainability as a deciding factor when selecting a venue for food, while UKHospitality revealed 80 per cent of people expect a hospitality brand to demonstrate sustainable practice, with 41 per cent willing to pay for more sustainable dining.

The hospitality industry is championing sustainability as it resets the button to promote higher environmental and social standards in order to meet the two-degree Celsius cap as per the Paris Climate Agreement. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance has calculated in its Global Hotel Decarbonisation Report that the industry needs to reduce carbon emissions per room by at least 66 per cent by 2030, and 90 per cent by 2050, based on 2010 levels.

What are the challenges the sector must face?

The hospitality sector, the UK’s third-largest employer, makes a considerable dent in the planet, accounting for up to 15 per cent of UK greenhouse gases.

It is scarcely surprising when you consider the impact of daily operations; cost of heating, food prices, energy usage for cooking, food waste (estimated to be 920,000 tonnes each year according to ReFood, the experts in sustainable waste management), energy efficiency, use of plastics and water usage for consumption, as well as laundering bedlinen and towels.

In addition to this, the industry is addressing the social challenges it faces including the National Living Wage (NLW), diversity in employees and being an employer of choice.

With inflation at an all-time high, and the cost of living affecting many households, the hospitality industry must juggle the financial boosting of its workforce, amid the current staffing crisis, while simultaneously ensuring hotel and restaurant businesses survive this challenging period.

Decarbonising the sector to tackle climate change and adhere to ESG standards, while trying to keep afloat, has been exceptionally taxing since hospitality took a major financial hit in recent years.

What can the sector do differently?

Significant energy costs could be lowered if guests reduce the requirement for daily laundering of bedding and towels. Many hotels put a sign in the hotel bathroom asking guests to refrain from requesting freshly washed towels which isn’t always a successful mission. This is due to guests feeling they’ve paid more for luxury including a constant supply of fluffy towels, regardless of the environmental impact.

A study conducted by TUI Group on a Canary Islands’ hotel investigated how different messages regarding daily fresh towels can have varying effects on guests. One bathroom sign used an environmental approach, resulting in 38.6 per cent of bath towels being re-used and 43.1 per cent re-using hand towels.

However, reminding guests of their daily habits at home was more successful with 49.4 per cent re-using bath towels and 56.3 per cent re-using hand towels. The sign removed environmental references and instead focused on re-using the towels ‘just as you would at home’, which had a greater impact.

An annual estimation of the featured hotel highlighted a reduction of 1,676kg of CO₂ emissions.

Elsewhere in the hospitality business, other impacts are being re-addressed too including renewable energy, menu overhauls, eliminating single-use plastic used for toiletries, and providing colour-coded bins to help separate waste, demonstrating a hotel and restaurant’s ethos for a greener experience.

Why this should matter to the consumer

Listening to what consumers want should never be underestimated, particularly if they fall into the Gen-Z category. These are the savvy stakeholders swiftly becoming the key focus within markets, for their staunch belief in conscious purchases.

While restaurants demonstrated their forward-thinking attributes by featuring sustainably caught fish, consumers are demanding more plant-based options and the hospitality industry should capitalise on this from a commercial angle.

According to research by Toluna, 49 per cent of consumers surveyed in the UK about their food preferences said they wanted to consume more plant-based and sustainable food and drink products. Out of the 1,650 who took part, more than half felt plant-based products were healthy and were either starting or continuing to reduce their meat intake.

Hotels and restaurants should ensure they are in tune with the demand to entice clientele with a more sustainable, inspiring menu as well as scrutinising other operations where consumers want to see a better result.

According to a global study commissioned by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), around 9,000 adults revealed that consumers are more mindful than ever about travelling responsibly. A total of 82 per cent of respondents also highlighted the importance of choosing a hotel brand that operates responsibly, with consumers spending an average of 31 per cent per night more on accommodation with more responsible hotels.

Sustainability remains a core part of hospitality’s purpose as both consumers and the sector sharpen efforts to help overcome the climate crisis. It is in the sector’s best interests to provide a high-level service with a lower impact as pressure grows from an increasing number of stakeholders who are holding businesses to account for their conduct.

If you are a restaurant or hotel group seeking solutions to be more sustainable, please contact me. If you are already operating in the hospitality space and are looking for your next exciting role to make the right impact, then please do connect.

Dani Walker is Principal Consultant – Sustainable Business at Acre UK, specialising in hospitality, leisure and tourism.

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