As the world gears up for the COP28 climate summit, the discussions are set to shape the future of global climate policies. While the primary focus remains on government policies and international agreements, industries such as hospitality, particularly hotels, find themselves at a crucial crossroads. COP28 has the opportunity to aid the hotel sector in the reduction of its significant carbon footprint.

Hotels, like many other industries, play a dual role in the climate crisis—they contribute to it and must find ways to combat it. 

Lauren Scott, VP Marketing & Sustainability at Intelligent Spaces Group at Acuity Brands says: “The most important thing we could see from these conversations at COP28 would be commitments from the local to international level in curbing climate change. The increase in severe weather events has a devastating impact on the hotel industry — for example, the wildfires in Maui earlier this year led to hotels closing, damaged amenities, cancelled reservations and a reduction in tourism for the entire island.”

COP28’s role in shaping sustainable practices

Discussions at the summit will delve into policy frameworks, technological innovations, and best practices that can aid hotels in reducing their carbon footprint. 

Among the primary focus areas for hotels  is energy management, where hotels can explore on-site renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines. Implementing energy-efficient systems and equipment, such as LED lighting and smart thermostats, can significantly curtail energy consumption.

Nick Wyatt, Head of Research and Analysis, Travel and Tourism at Global Data says “Reducing the environmental impact of hotel operations is very high on the agenda of most if not all major hotel groups. The soft-targeted areas like energy use and carbon emissions are key, but when it comes to hotels there is also a great deal of focus on areas that are perhaps overlooked elsewhere.”

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By GlobalData

Bob Gordon, Forum Director, Zero Carbon Forum emphasised how whilst the summit will involve talks, they will not result in immediate action for the hospitality sector.

“COP28 will discuss some broad overarching challenges and global solutions. But regulation is written at a country level. There may be a broad narrative around movement to renewables, driving investment in innovation and technology, supporting poorer nations through a loss and damage fund, but the decisions around what to do about that will come later, and be decided by individual governments,” said Gordon.

Waste not, want not: A call for responsible practices

Waste management and recycling processes are also paramount for hotels aiming to reduce their environmental impact. Proper segregation and recycling of waste can limit the amount sent to landfills, thus decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, water conservation takes centre stage, urging hotels to adopt measures such as low-flow faucets, sensor-activated irrigation systems, and rainwater harvesting.

Aligning with the climate summit’s focus on air pollution

Hotels can play a role by encouraging guests to opt for sustainable transportation modes and providing amenities like electric vehicle charging stations. Data suggests that the hotel industry, within the broader tourism sector, accounts for approximately 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with hotels alone contributing 21%. The urgency for proactive steps to reduce this impact cannot be overstated.

The growing importance of sustainability in travel and tourism

Beyond the realm of COP28, the travel and tourism industry, a juggernaut contributing $8.8 trillion to the global economy in 2018, according to GlobalData, is undergoing a profound shift towards sustainability.

The carbon footprint of global tourism, responsible for nearly 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, has brought the industry under intense scrutiny. Two major hotel chains, Marriott and Hilton, have taken significant steps by banning single-use plastics, aligning with the growing consumer demand for sustainability.

Pre-COVID trends persist

Sustainability has been a key theme in travel for years, with consumers, companies, and governments recognising its multifaceted nature. Even before the pandemic, travellers were evaluating companies based on their sustainability practices. GlobalData’s surveys indicate that a significant portion of global respondents actively seek environmentally-friendly or socially-responsible products and services.

The rise of sustainable hospitality

In the luxury hotel market, sustainability is gaining attention as environmentally conscious travellers seek eco-friendly accommodations. Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report 2022 indicates that 78% of global travellers plan to stay in a sustainable property in the upcoming year. The willingness of tourists to pay extra for environmentally conscious experiences further underscores the rising importance of sustainability in the hospitality sector.

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The consumer’s role in shaping sustainable practices

Consumers wield significant influence in driving sustainability in the lodging sector. GlobalData’s Q2 2023 consumer survey reveals that 24% of overall global respondents stated that they ‘strongly agree’ that they are more loyal to brands that support green and environmental matters whereas 38% of global respondents stated they ‘somewhat agree’ that they are more loyal to brands that support green and environmental matters.

Lauren Scott added: “consumers will likely start considering sustainability when they travel as part of a broad, growing sustainability awareness.”

“Hotels will likely see pressure to share third party validation/accreditation as it comes to their sustainability claims. Consumers are increasingly leery of greenwashing practices, and third-party validation will help gain their trust and business.”

The call for action beyond COP28

According to Booking.com’s 2023 Sustainable Travel Report, a survey of travellers found that 76% desire more sustainable travel options. However, perceived barriers such as cost and lack of options hinder widespread adoption. Travellers, tour operators, and hotels must collaborate to bridge these gaps, making sustainable options more accessible and visible.

The role of online platforms

Online travel platforms have a unique position to facilitate the match between consumers seeking sustainability and accommodation providers offering sustainable options. Initiatives like Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable, which introduces a recognizable badge for properties adopting verified sustainability practices, contribute to making sustainable choices more visible to consumers.

Challenges and opportunities for accommodation providers

The challenge of making travel accommodations more sustainable is a pressing issue. The EY-Parthenon research emphasises four key elements for a transition pathway to net zero: improving efficiency, promoting sustainable guest behaviour, transitioning to renewable energy, and offsetting remaining emissions. 

Accommodation providers, especially SMEs, need support in achieving net zero, both financially and through guidance on sustainable practices and this help needs tp be addressed at COP28.

As the world anticipates the COP28 climate summit, the hotel industry stands at a crossroads of challenges and opportunities. While the industry may not be directly involved in the summit’s proceedings, its commitment to sustainability can be a powerful catalyst for change. The rise of sustainable practices in travel and tourism, driven by consumer preferences and global initiatives, reinforces the need for the hotel industry to align itself with the broader sustainability movement. The upcoming years will undoubtedly witness a transformative journey for hotels, as they navigate the path towards a more eco-friendly future, with COP28 serving as a pivotal moment in this transformative process.