If there is an industry that by definition must actively engage in social responsibility, it is the hospitality industry. Firstly, travel and tourism contribute $8.8 trillion to the global economy and employ 1 in 10 people globally. More importantly, sustainability is at the very center of our business. Without a doubt, hospitality is one of the main industries that has direct contact with human beings and their interactions with the environment and the world around them.
Due in large part to millennials, we are living in the age of experience. With the internet and social media, people have more and more information and tools to choose from when it comes to how they spend their time. The hotel industry plays a fundamental role in these experiences, as it connects people to nature, as well as the products and services that arise when these two come together.
The unlimited access to information online and the amount of exposure we have to people, places and topics thanks to social media gives people endless options when it comes to choosing their next vacation or stay. People have the power to decide when and how to plan their trips at their fingertips. It’s here where we see the trend of millennials embracing the concept of bettering our planet, with their conscious efforts in choosing companies whose values align with theirs in terms of sustainability.
The newer generations are especially passionate about this, and they are a large consumer base, meaning that corporate sustainability is driving business. Companies are able to grow their customer bases and attract greater audiences of people who are concerned about the environment. According to one study, 75% of millennials said they would be willing to buy a product or service based on a company’s stance on social matters like environmentalism and sustainability. Essentially, it’s a win-win-win situation: The world benefits from sustainability; people benefit from having satisfaction by supporting companies and causes they believe in, and companies benefit from improved profits and customer loyalty.
Aside from the effects that sustainability has on the market and in business, it’s also a fact that our world needs to be cared for, and as members of this major industry, I believe we have a moral obligation to invest in ways to improve it. Research has found that 75% of Earth’s land areas have been degraded — environmental damage that affects the well-being of approximately 3.2 billion people. As hoteliers, we have to be leaders and make changes toward making our industry more sustainable.
Hospitality industry leaders have been launching corporate responsibility programs for many years now. Companies like Hyatt and Hilton have established Hyatt Thrive and Hilton LightStay programs, respectively, as well as Marriott International’s Serve360 program and IHG’s Green Engage initiative. (Our portfolio includes properties from each of these brands.) Basically, our shared goal must be to implement strategies that will help us reduce our carbon footprint and tackle climate change in ways that will benefit our businesses and communities at large.
Although sustainability may seem like too big of an issue to tackle, my advice is to start small. At my own company, we’ve managed to install energy-efficient air conditioning systems in 60% of our hotels, and in 2019, we began to eliminate single-use plastic at many of our properties. These are impactful starting points any hotelier can begin with. Also consider offering electric car charging stations and bike rental stations at as many locations as possible. Look at your corporate office too for opportunities to make the switch to biodegradable items, such as coffee stirrers, cups and napkins. Changes like these may be small, but they’re effective and encouraging first steps.
In the end, these practices not only bring positive attention to your company, but more importantly, they create a way to give back and contribute. It’s also important to note that by embracing a culture of caring about people and the environment, you promote values of ethics, diversity and respect in your own workplace and among your employees. You send the message that people take care of people, so in the end, you’ll be consistent with your purpose of delivering amazing experiences to your guests — which is what we as hoteliers should always aim to do.