Sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, or sav­ing money?

Derek Pi­cot finds that hote­liers are happy to pay lip ser­vice to eco-friendly ini­tia­tives, but few com­mit to ac­tual ac­tion


At the an­nual In­ter­na­tional Lux­ury Travel Mar­ket held in Cannes last year, the talk among hote­liers was of eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able ho­tel keep­ing. From the busi­ness trav­eller’s point of view, this can only be good news.

For the hote­lier, the chal­lenge lies in de­liv­er­ing; the cor­rect ap­proach is sel­dom the ob­vi­ous one. To take one small ex­am­ple, should you use plas­tic or glass bot­tles by the bed­side? Plas­tic is dif­fi­cult to re­cy­cle, but not even glass can be re­cy­cled ev­ery­where; if you’re in a re­sort on a desert is­land, fer­ry­ing all that glass to the main­land isn’t just ex­pen­sive, it’s also, en­vi­ron­men­tally, a back­ward step.


There’s more to be­ing re­spon­si­ble than just con­sid­er­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, of course. Many com­pa­nies seek to ben­e­fit the lo­cal com­mu­nity. The Man­darin Ori­en­tal in Bangkok has a pro­gramme to pro­fes­sion­ally ed­u­cate ap­pren­tices in ho­tel ser­vice. This is in re­sponse to what the Thai gov­ern­ment sees as a press­ing need for well-trained staff through­out the coun­try. The man­age­ment warn that guests might come across young trainees who “may fall short of stan­dards of ser­vice” and they ask for “kind and good­na­tured for­bear­ance” in these cir­cum­stances. Five-star ho­tels like this should, I think, lead the way in demon­strat­ing how to give some­thing back to the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Cus­tomers will want to know about this too, even if it is only as a salve to their conscience for en­joy­ing such lux­ury.

For busi­ness trav­ellers in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing eth­i­cal ho­tels, they might look no fur­ther than the val­ues cre­ated by the World Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion, which pub­lishes a com­pre­hen­sive set of eth­i­cal stan­dards to fol­low. High­lights in­clude fair pric­ing, sus­tain­abil­ity and lo­cal com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment. Some of the more chal­leng­ing prin­ci­ples are the thorny sub­ject of profit repa­tri­a­tion and lo­cal em­ploy­ment stan­dards. Should hote­liers en­cour­age col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and wel­come union ac­tiv­ity? Are all em­ploy­ees given a liv­ing wage over a rea­son­able work­ing week? What is the po­si­tion with re­gard to agency labour that is con­tracted to clean rooms or serve meals – are they treated on an equal ba­sis to full-time staff and do they re­ceive full em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits? The an­swers are prob­a­bly not clear on any ho­tel in­for­ma­tion fact sheet. Sim­i­larly, try­ing to dis­cover how much profit is given back lo­cally to aid com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment, rather than repa­tri­ated to a head­quar­ters overseas, may well be shrouded by in­ven­tive tau­tol­ogy.

So here are a few things to look for when you take your next busi­ness trip. You might start by ask­ing your cho­sen prop­erty about en­er­gysav­ing ini­tia­tives. In In­dia, for ex­am­ple, a num­ber of ho­tels are in­vest­ing in so­lar en­ergy, and also us­ing wood-burn­ing biomass boil­ers to re­duce elec­tric­ity and gas con­sump­tion.

Another use­ful in­di­ca­tor of a ho­tel’s in­ter­est in the lo­cal com­mu­nity is how it sup­ports smaller en­ter­prises. A glance at the ho­tel menu should in­di­cate that lo­cal pro­duce is be­ing bought and served.

In­dus­try re­search by Cor­nell Univer­sity points to a re­cent sur­vey sug­gest­ing that 45 per cent of ho­tel guests would be pre­pared to pay a higher room rate for a ho­tel’s sus­tain­able ini­tia­tives. How­ever, when put into prac­tice, trav­ellers turned out to be not so com­mit­ted. I can un­der­stand why. If you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced the ir­ri­ta­tion of mo­tion sen­sors that sud­denly plunge your con­fer­ence room into dark­ness be­cause no one has moved for 30 sec­onds, you’ll know what I mean.

Those who are truly com­mit­ted to vis­it­ing a sus­tain­able ho­tel could ar­range their next busi­ness meet­ing at an ITC Ho­tel. This ho­tel group has won count­less awards for its ecofriendly ap­proach. It has all you need in terms of re­cy­cling, en­ergy con­ser­va­tion and to­tal com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment. Mean­while, I am go­ing back to the World Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s web­site to see how many global ho­tel or­gan­i­sa­tions have signed up to its eth­i­cal guide­lines be­fore I choose my next stay. That shouldn’t take too long, as there were still dis­ap­point­ingly few on the list when I last looked.

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