Business Day

Google helps travellers find hotels that take green credibilit­y seriously

- Julia Eskins /Bloomberg

A global survey released in June laid bare the new expectatio­ns of travellers: about 83% of 29,000 respondent­s said they found sustainabl­e travel to be vital, with 61% noting that the pandemic had increased their interest in travelling sustainabl­y.

Half added that finding a hotel with actual ecocredibi­lity isn’t easy — and they’re right. Hotels that take sustainabi­lity seriously don’t often shout it from the rooftops. Others call themselves green just for offering an option to skip daily laundering of linen.

The most significan­t new tool is courtesy of Google. Starting on September 22, it will label hotels as “eco-certified” in global search results, with a leafshaped icon next to the hotel’s name. Clicking on “about” tabs will detail a property’s sustainabi­lity practices, such as having water use audited by an independen­t organisati­on or using carbon-free energy sources.

The new feature relies on 29 certificat­ion programmes to do the hard work of establishi­ng a hotel’s green credibilit­y.

The property must have an array of sustainabi­lity measures audited by third-party experts. It will be up to hotel staff, rather than the search engine, to update hotel listings, using the free Google My Business Profile.

The move is intended to offer travellers more transparen­cy against greenwashi­ng, which runs rampant in the hospitalit­y industry. It also responds to increased search volume around eco-travel buzz words. The search volume for “green hotel”, for instance, has quadrupled since March 2020, according to Google Trends.


EarthCheck is among the strictest of the eco credential­s Google will recognise. Created in 2000 by Australia’s Sustainabl­e Tourism Co-operative Research Centre, the benchmarki­ng system is constantly updated according to the latest research. It already works with 550 hotels globally, including the Langham Hospitalit­y Group, which has cut its energy and carbon intensity by one-third since joining the programme in 2011.

This month, Belmond, a brand owned by LVMH, announced it will begin the EarthCheck certificat­ion process for not only all of its 34 hotels but also its restaurant­s, cruise ships, and trains. This means that guests staying at Belmond’s properties in Peru can look forward not only to gourmet dining in partnershi­p with the farmers of the Huama community, but also to a lighter-footprint journey to Machu Picchu aboard the brand’s iconic Hiram Bingham train.

Other notable certificat­ions Google will recognise include Green Key, LEED, Green Seal, and Green Globe — all of which have been around for decades — as well as such relative newcomers as the Green Growth 2050 Standard, which since 2015 has been measuring hotels and resorts across 200 sustainabi­lity-related metrics. Green Growth has a seal of approval from the Global Sustainabl­e Tourism Council, which provides accreditat­ion for certificat­ion bodies. Some programmes have only a handful of hotels under their umbrella; stumbling across them without Google aid would be challengin­g at best.

What Google won’t show are programmes with only selfreport­ed environmen­tal, social, and governance (ESG) data such as investment firm CGI Merchant Group’s new Conscious Certified Hotels programme, which donates 1% of room night revenue at select Hilton hotels to local organisati­ons. Such internal sustainabi­lity initiative­s as Iberostar Hotels & Resorts’ Wave of Change programme, which is working towards goals that include being waste-free by 2025 and carbon-neutral by 2030, also won’t count towards getting an “eco-certified” check.

Not all hotels that do good work are accredited, though, partially because of cost — the fee for a bronze Green Seal certificat­ion for hotels with fewer than 75 rooms starts at $1,500 a year, for example — and because some schemes are overly focused on a single aspect of greening such as energy efficiency, thus skipping over hotels that concentrat­e on prosocial endeavours such as promoting ethical wildlife experience­s or investing heavily in their communitie­s.

“Hotels are realising they need a label,” says Hans Pfister, cofounder and president of the Cayuga Collection, a group of sustainabl­e lodges that were among the first to earn certificat­ions from the famously ecoconscio­us government in Costa Rica. “But there’s a difference between putting a certificat­ion on your website and actually walking the walk.”

Instead of spending hours on the paperwork necessary to maintain certificat­ions, Pfister felt energy could be better directed towards new initiative­s that enrich local communitie­s and the guest experience. A stay at his private island resort Isla Palenque in Panama could include foraging through 162ha of protected rainforest for wild ingredient­s with a local guide or learning traditiona­l fishing techniques preserved by the fishermen of Boca Chica.

A handful of new tools beyond Google can help make it easier to find and book hotels with strong social and environmen­tal values such as Pfister’s.

Preferred Hotel Group’s Beyond Green Travel portfolio is a network of 27 hotels, resorts, and lodges that adhere to the UN sustainabl­e developmen­t goals. Among its members are Francis Ford Coppola’s hydro electric powered hideaways in Belize, Blancaneau­x Lodge and Turtle Inn, and Beyond Mnemba Island in Zanzibar, a protected nesting site for endangered green sea turtles.

Other directorie­s include Rethink Travel, which helps travellers filter for hotels based on such sustainabi­lity practices as “fair food”, “waste control”, and “clean energy”, and Green Pearls, which curates and scores its members across such areas as their cultural commitment and authentic guest experience­s.

So far, 319 tourism companies, organisati­ons, and individual­s have united for Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, a coalition whose members commit to developing action plans to cut their carbon emissions in half by 2030. Hotel groups including Banyan Tree, Accor and Iberostar Hotels & Resorts have joined Expedia Group and Unesco in the expansion of the Unesco Sustainabl­e Travel Pledge, which encourages signatorie­s to eliminate single-use plastics and support local economies and cultures.

Britain’s Prince Harry has rallied some of the biggest travel brands — including, Skyscanner, Tripadviso­r and Visa — to form a thinktank on sustainabl­e initiative­s called Travalyst, which Google is also joining. As part of the group, the search titan will help develop a standardis­ed way to calculate carbon emissions for air travel and align its new hotel features with Travalyst’s criteria for sustainabl­e accommodat­ions.

With the prepandemi­c tourism industry accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2018 study, there’s plenty of pressure to get on the bandwagon.

 ?? /Supplied ?? Benchmark: EarthCheck, created in 2000 by Australia’s Sustainabl­e Tourism Co-operative Research Centre, is among the strictest of the eco credential­s Google will recognise.
/Supplied Benchmark: EarthCheck, created in 2000 by Australia’s Sustainabl­e Tourism Co-operative Research Centre, is among the strictest of the eco credential­s Google will recognise.

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