13 Jun

Comment: Hotels should serve up fresh sustainability ideas

Guests will embrace practices about things they care about, says Nikki White, Abta's head of sustainability

Can a hotel make a difference to guests’ behaviour that helps it to be more sustainable?

Having just returned from Florence, and experienced just that, I have to say ‘yes’.

On the lift near the reception at my hotel was a sign for the stairs. Nothing unusual about that. However, added to the front was the word ‘fitness’.

When I went to have a look at what ‘fitness stairs’ were, I was somewhat surprised to find they were just the normal stairs.

Seeing these ‘fitness stairs’ each time I returned to the hotel made me think about what I was doing and, without being told, I used them to get a little bit of exercise.

By not using the lift I also saved a little electricity, reducing the hotel’s energy bill.

I’ve been asked a few times recently if hotels are doing enough to be sustainable. Actually, I think the question should be ‘are enough hotels doing more to be sustainable?’. Hotel water, energy and waste costs will continue to rise, so efforts to reduce consumption can only help make a noticeable impact on the bottom line.

Sustainability is a constant journey of self-improvement and one which develops as our knowledge improves.

Who would have believed 100 years ago that it would possible to heat enough water for a five-star hotel by simply running anti-freeze in pipes 20ft below ground?

Nowadays hotels are increasingly using new technologies to reduce energy bills. And gone are the days when considering yourself ‘green’ is restricted to displaying a notice about changing towels.

Towel-change signage would be seen as ‘greenwash’ by the majority, given that many hotels have moved to a more holistic approach to sustainability.

Today we are seeing more and more innovative ideas. For example, the hotel I visited in Florence had an information panel on each room door detailing the cultural sites within walking distance.

The Riu Hotels and Resorts group requires all its properties to make some social investment, be it in support of community initiatives, biodiversity projects or children’s health and wellbeing programmes.

While we have yet to see customers queuing up to book hotels specifically for their sustainability credentials, to claim that customers don’t care about this is no longer true.

Sustainability offers added value to customers and linking it to things they really care about offers endless opportunities.

Food, for example, has repeatedly been shown to be important to holiday-makers.

Offering local, free range and possibly organic options can be a way for hotels to promote their cuisine and make a difference to the livelihoods of local farmers, while helping customers feel good at the same time.

Nikki's comment was published by Travel Weekly.