Commitment to sustainability in the hotel industry, or just another marketing tactic?

person holding a green plant

Sustainability in the in the hotel industry was a bonus a decade ago; today, it is a business critical element as more and more people not only make sustainable travel choices, but are also willing to pay more for them. Many hotels around the world are committed to sustainability, including NH Hotel Group SA, Edition Hotels, and Marriott. At first glance, this appears to be excellent news. Because the climate crisis is the greatest threat to our survival, should we rejoice when businesses pledge to reduce their carbon footprints?

As a result, the eco-friendly hotel you visit may not be so eco-friendly after all. Because the hotel industry is so competitive, businesses go through waves of changing attitudes and taking advantage. Concerning the hotel industry and eco-friendly tactics, it can be difficult to determine which moves are establishing true and long-term sustainability and which are simply trends that will fade as soon as the next one emerges. I’m sure everyone has heard of hotels “winning” awards for excellent sustainability practices and green hotels, among other things. The problem is, have you heard of those awards? And are these genuine awards or merely bribes given out within the industry?

brown hotel signage
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“You are awarded if you make a small improvement in several criteria, not that you’ve achieved any level of sustainability. Get rid of one or two of those energy-hogging bulbs and you’re doing better than you were last year.”

Justin Francisthe co-founder and CEO of Responsibletravel.com

So, are these “fashion sustainability claims” true, or do they contain an incorrect or deceptive representation that is likely to influence service demand or supply? Is this any good? In my humble opinion, the answer is yes and no. We want to see meaningful environmental engagement from businesses, but how can we tell the difference between a genuine promise to change and greenwashing?

To begin, what exactly is green-washing? Greenwashing refers to two things. It can be when companies – usually megacorporations and occasionally politicians – try to hide or cover up their less-than-stellar environmental records with a grand, public gesture toward green causes.” In an age of social media, these massive public relations campaigns are frequently criticized and thoroughly scrutinized. As a result, hotels have a financial incentive to appear socially conscious, because it gives them extraordinary power to shape their businesses’ success or failure.

They are aware that they have the ability to drive this business change. For example, “Generation Z” is willing to spend a lot of money on a hotel that promotes social causes, such as climate change. Being sustainable entails more than just using the words recycle and up cycle to describe your service operations. It is, indeed, a cultural shift that becomes an unspoken part of what the company represents. It is no secret that hotels have been accused of causing environmental damage over the years. The rise of mass tourism in the 1970s, in fact, emphasized quantity over quality. Ultimately, many authentic locations were transformed almost overnight into polluted concrete jungles.

contemporary urban district with tall residential buildings
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However, while guests may believe they are helping the environment by reusing towels or turning off the air conditioning, they may be victims of “greenwashing,” a company’s devious practice of encouraging eco-friendly programs while concealing true motivations.

Is it possible, however, to distinguish between a greenwashing award and a genuine green award? Perhaps a hotel committed to sustainability will make a thorough environmental report public, allowing you to see actual waste control results. That’s great! Businesses are misguided, regrettably, because their sustainability strategies do not align with customer expectations. As a result, customers met all of their initiatives with skepticism. For example, advertising a towel reuse program but not having recycling bins available – could easily make consumers disbelieve, especially if the consumer’s comfort is jeopardized in some way.

Furthermore, the “sustainability” advantage is mostly available to large hotels (branded hotels) that can afford it. It stands to reason that smaller, independent hotels may be unable to afford the fees associated with applying for green certification. Even if they are certified, they cannot afford to promote it. Paradoxically, the very thing that makes some people skeptical of mega-hotel chains is also their greatest asset in terms of sustainability. Consider this: if you go on vacation in a more remote or politically unstable part of the world, chances are you’ll stay in a chain-branded hotel rather than a small independent hotel.

To continue, hotels and residential buildings are sprouting up around protected, nitrogen-sensitive areas in the Netherlands. In the last five years, the number of such buildings built has nearly doubled (NLtimes). Such construction projects endanger the survival of endangered plant and animal species, which is not an environmentally friendly approach. Furthermore, the majority of vacation accommodation in the Caribbean insular is built along the coast, where biodiversity is abundant. Because of the competing interests of developers, stakeholders, and hotel managers, the current development model does not consider sustainability in the hotel industry.

landscape view of greece during day time
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In Greece, many hotels are built in protected areas throughout the country, particularly on the islands. The majority of hotel units have yet to implement sustainability systems. Hoteliers and managers are hesitant to implement environmental management programs because they are not yet convinced of the significance of such interferences. Unfortunately, the hotel industry in Greece is a major consumer of energy, which has a negative impact on the natural environment.

To summarize, today’s tourism practices are unsustainable. It is critical for the development of eco-tourism to develop a regional strategy, identify eco-tourism criteria and indicators, their winning mechanism, and create a system that will prevent any harm to protected areas. As a result, it is necessary for the development and operation of eco-tourism to compile a list of

1. Regional natural and historical-cultural resources;

2. Basic planning of eco-tourism activities and their integration into a region’s development plan; and

3. Creation of minimal infrastructure, among other things.

If we do not take care of it, our world will not be the same in a few years. Unfortunately, our future world is collapsing due to poor infrastructure. We must always keep in mind that whatever good things we build end up building us.

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