Protecting the environment is both a moral obligation and a business imperative for the hotel industry. As travellers are increasingly concerned about the environmental and social impact of their holidays, green accommodation is paramount to a more environmentally conscious and sustainable approach to travel.

Sustainable recovery in the age of COVID-19

The hotel sector contributes to tourism’s ecological footprint. Hotels emit significant proportions of carbon dioxide, generate waste, and consume considerable amounts of water and energy, making them a major contributor to climate change. Hotels have also contributed to the loss of biodiversity in some destinations through pollution and inappropriate waste management.

Globally, the hotel industry was acutely devastated by COVID-19 due to strict travel restrictions. As vaccination rates increase and infection rates decrease, governments and hoteliers alike are keen to welcome travellers again. Whilst the industry’s focus on recovery is understandable, the absence of longer-term environmental consideration is damaging to both the industry and the planet.

Thanks to the forthcoming COP26 and the scientific evidence for climate change, which is increasingly manifesting in natural disasters, there is a renewed focus on the environment. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the relationship between the hotel sector and nature, to contribute fully to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Pursuing a “growth-at-all-costs” strategy at the expense of the environment is no longer an option.

Environmental credibility to tell the green from the greenwashed

An increasing number of hotels are committing to environmental protection and sustainability to highlight their competitive advantage, brand identity and competitor differentiation. However, many consumers recognise that some practices are merely superficial when in reality they are unprincipled cost-saving tactics. A GlobalData poll* found that 24% of respondents believe that for most companies, ESG is just a marketing practice. A further 26% believe that only some businesses take ESG seriously, whilst for others it is a marketing ploy. Promoting the perception of environmental concern under the deceptive use of marketing and public relations is referred to as greenwashing.

To discern genuine green hotels from those greenwashing themselves, there are numerous certification programmes with varying criteria and standards. For example, LEED is a four-levelled certification program which recognises properties built with sustainable practices in mind. Green Globe, which does not only apply to new properties, measures the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the business and supply chain partners using 44 core criteria. Finding sustainable travel options is also being made easier by Google who place an “eco-certified badge” besides hotels verified to be making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint with certifications by independent organisations such as Green Key or EarthCheck.

Travellers want transparent commitment to environmental matters

The hotel industry is starting to change their practices, led strongly by demand from travellers. A GlobalData consumer survey** revealed that more than half of respondents (56%) are more loyal to brands that support “green” or environmental matters. People are asking more about green credentials, what practices are in place and what hotels are doing to minimise their impact on the environment.

Greenwashing practices, such as urging guests to reuse towels and turn off lights, coupled with claims of ESG, has tarnished the trust with consumers who are increasingly recognising hotels’ green claims may be self-serving. This could cause hotels to lose valuable repeat custom. Considering the disruption of alternatives like Airbnb and Google’s new “eco-certified badge”, the hotel industries interest growth should go hand in hand with preventing irrevocable climate change as they emerge from COVID-19.

*GlobalData poll, ended on 24 Sep 2021 – 354 responses

**GlobalData Consumer Survey Q3 2021