When the pandemic finally ends, the hope is that tourism will come back better and stronger than ever. This has resulted in renewed and heightened focus on sustainable operations — in the broadest sense. And many organizations have highlighted sustainability as a key factor in the industry’s recovery from the current crisis.
“Sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism, but must be the new norm for every part of our sector. This is one of the central elements of our Global Guidelines to Re-start Tourism,” says Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). “It is in our hands to transform tourism and that emerging from COVID-19 becomes a turning point for sustainability.”
Building on these guidelines, UNWTO also released the One Planet Vision for the Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector — a program designed to ensure the industry is more resilient and better equipped to weather future crises. The plan is structured around six lines of action, including public health, social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate action, circular economy and governance and finance.
The importance of such strategies has been recognized on a national level as well. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) highlighted ‘values-driven brand authenticity’ among the top trends expected to shape the industry in 2021 in its State of Tourism in Canada During COVID-19 Dashboard 2.0 update.
The need for socially conscious and values-driven approaches is attributed to the wide-ranging upheaval of 2020 shedding light on global issues, which has caused consumers to re-evaluate their values and seek out brands/companies that align with these.
The TIAC report notes that destinations and operators will need to “articulate their unique value propositions within the context of the new paradigm of health, safety, responsibility and equity and how these values align with those of their prospective visitors.”
This is important for the attraction of both consumers and employees. And, given the current environment, attracting and retaining talent is a particularly crucial factor in the recovery and stability of the industry.
“All of those different things we can do that contribute to mitigating climate change and being good community citizens really show that we are a very human industry,” says Ingrid Jarrett, president & CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association (BCHA). “There’s a remarkable amount of work that has been done by the industry in their local communities and this [contributes to] the pride of our teams that work [in the industry] and choose where they would like to work.”
Jarrett also notes that the nature of the industry puts a certain amount of responsibility on operators. “Many of our properties are in remote or rural destinations where we hold a significant responsibility to [be an example] and set the bar for sustainability and green practices,” she explains.
This is especially true for properties located in unique or sensitive environments, which is the case for Pacific Sands Beach Resort in Tofino, B.C. — located in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. “Given our location [we] feel very responsible for the environment around us,” explains Sabrina Donovan, the resort’s Operations manager. “As one of the larger resorts in Tofino…it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re doing our part, where and when we can, to make sure we’re participating in local community programs and doing as much as we can within our own organization to make sure that the staff [and] guests are educated in all the different programs that we offer.”
Donovan notes that Pacific Sands’ sustainability efforts don’t cost the property “that much more” to implement and, one of its recent initiatives demonstrates how environmentally conscious decisions can also be key to ensuring long-term operational sustainability.
The resort recently underwent a digital transformation that reduced paper use, eliminated guest touchpoints and streamlined on-property communication. “It’s saved a lot of labour and a lot of paper and, for any little change, it just takes us two minutes and it’s updated resort wide,” explains Donovan.
Implementing a Guest Services text-messaging system and digital in-room guest information also proved a great asset during the pandemic — playing an important role in new protocols for housekeeping and check out.
When tackling initiatives to ensure more sustainable and responsible operations, it’s worth remembering that you don’t have to go it alone. Collaboration and industry programs can play an important role in an operation’s efforts and the strengthening of the industry as a whole.
For example, the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (formerly International Tourism Partnership) re-launched as an independent charity in late 2020, bringing together 14 of the world’s leading hotel companies, including Marriott International, Hilton, IHG, Hyatt, Wyndham, Radisson and Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. The organization leverages its collective power to develop practical resources and programs to enable the wider industry to operate responsibly and grow sustainably.
“The industry has the collective strength to drive meaningful action on major issues,” says Madhu Rajesh, CEO, New York-based Sustainable Hospitality Alliance. “It’s important that we use this scale to foster inclusive environments where new opportunities are reaching those who need them the most, while also building on the commitment and momentum we’ve seen towards sustainability over recent years.”
Last year, BCHA also partnered with FortisBC and GreenStep to launch the GoGreen initiative, which funds an energy analyst to help hotels conduct in-depth energy analysis of their operations to identify energy-conservation and cost-cutting projects. The program is free to association members and is designed to complement other energy and sustainability programs, including GreenKey.
“We thought, as an association for industry, we could play the connecting role and ensure that hotels, motels and accommodators of all sizes could have an opportunity to work with a professional to evaluate
potential [sustainability] investments or energy savings,” explains Jarrett. This is particularly important, she notes, when the industry is facing extreme revenue reductions, while fixed costs, including energy, have gone down less than five per cent.
“When we look at the analysis that we’ve been able to do this year, you can clearly see the positive impact that these projects — when they can be undertaken — will make to the viability of the industry,” she adds.
Written by Danielle Schalk