Skift Take

Even as surveys say people are willing to pay more to travel sustainably, businesses may have to wait for some time to see that translate into reality. Until then, be prepared to answer every sustainability-related question that guests may have.

Earlier, when Radisson Hotel Group mentioned to their clients that all the meetings hosted in the group’s hotels around the world are 100 percent carbon neutral, there wouldn’t be too many follow-up questions.

Cut to 2022, and clients now want to know how this carbon neutrality is being achieved. Travelers also seek answers on the hotel group’s commitment to net zero, the actions that it is taking to phase out single-use plastics and how the brand is aligning its target towards sustainability.

Enter the era of accountability for hotels.

And that’s where Inge Huijbrechts, global senior vice president for sustainability at Radisson Hotel Group, steps in. “My role is to push the company along from our very solid values to drive the sustainability agenda and make sure that it’s strategic,” she said. By that, she means be as transparent as possible, and be prepared to answer every question.

Travelers making a conscious movement towards sustainable tourism have helped hotels and other businesses to involve the clients in their efforts towards sustainability.

Speaking at the Skift Sustainable Tourism Summit in June, Huijbrechts had also revealed the business advantages of sustainability in travel for companies that get ahead of the crowd on lowering carbon emissions. 

The Changing Role of Sustainability

While sustainability has always been at the centre of Radisson’s attention, its role has changed a lot over the past decade, Huijbrechts said, “Sustainability has become much more strategic and professional.”

With a commitment to get to net zero by 2050, Huijbrechts understands that the goal needs to be made tangible and Radisson needs to back it up with a plan to get there. This means cutting down emissions by half by 2030 and achieving a 30 percent reduction by 2025.

“What we are doing is putting value propositions to the clients that make it easy for them to travel and meet sustainably,” Huijbrechts said.

Today, when guests check in to a sustainable hotel, they also want to see how that property is adopting sustainability and that needs to go beyond simply replacing plastic water bottles with glass ones.

Communicating Sustainable Efforts to Guests

While hotels may be doing a lot for efficiency, how can they explain that to the guests? That’s why Huijbrechts noted that a logo of Hotel Sustainability Basics would help guests know that a particular property takes care of measuring and reducing its resource use.

“People need labels for quick choices and quick decisions and that’s what we’ve done with the Hotel Sustainability Basics.”

A globally recognised and coordinated set of sustainability indicators, the Hotel Sustainability Basics is developed by the industry for the industry. Freely available for any hotel company or property to adopt, these represent the 12 actions fundamental to hotel sustainability.

However, the Hotel Sustainability Basics may be too new for now, noted Randy Durband, CEO of Global Sustainable Tourism Council. “Such initiatives don’t work if they’re just “put out there” — they need engagement, including promotion — a team that can answer questions and a guide on how to use.”

Announced publicly in April in Manila at the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit, the Hotel Sustainability Basics needs at least a year to make a reasonable assessment of its impact, Durband said.

Are Hotels Doing Enough?

Radisson is launching a revamped loyalty program soon and Huijbrechts said the hotel chain would be integrating sustainability into it. “Clients want to know what we are doing towards sustainability, as a result we need to integrate that in all our communications with the guests.”

Loyalty programs generate a lot of revenue for hotels. According to Skift Research, members contribute between 30 percent and 60 percent of room revenue and tend to pay higher average daily room rates than non-members.

Durband too acknowledged that hotels should be regularly communicating their sustainability initiatives to guests. However, he said that since hotels know that they are not doing nearly enough towards sustainability, they generally hesitate to talk about it.

“While there are many great stories about wonderful initiatives, the vast majority of hotels are doing very little to move towards sustainability,” he said.

Radisson for its part is using digital tools to communicate with guests, but Huijbrechts said its needs to be done more consistently for maximum impact. “The sustainable initiatives should be conveyed to the guests at every step of the communication.”

Are Guests Willing to Pay More for Sustainability?

While there are surveys that state that conscious guests are willing to pay more to travel sustainably, Huijbrechts said there is not much data on how that intention translates into reality.

“We are not too sure of how many people actually choose a hotel because it’s sustainable. It’s more of what is expected rather than something that will maybe drive booking choice.”

However, Huijbrechts noted that travelers’ behavior and awareness are often driven by developments in the ecosystem. “If sustainability is adopted in the political context, you will see it permeating into the reality of people when they travel or make consumption choices.”

As the focus turns towards sustainability, industries are also conscious of how quickly their efforts could move from green to greenwashing. To build that trust factor, Huijbrechts said it’s crucial to be transparent.

The basics have to be verified and the efforts need to be solid, it also depends on the type of customer that one caters to, she said.

“Hotels should be prepared to explain in detail if a corporate client asks, “So, you do 100 percent carbon-neutral meetings, but how is that calculated?” Hotels need to equip themselves with enough information to be able to answer all the questions that their guests may have about sustainability,” Huijbrechts said.

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Tags: carbon neutral, climate change, hospitality, net zero, radisson hotel group, sustainability, wttc

Photo credit: Radisson Hotel Danang in Vietnam. Radisson Hotel Group.

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