Going green in the hotel sector – Sustainable tourism is a necessity, not a luxury

sustainable tourism

Sustainability is widely regarded today as one of the key elements of a successful business. Operators in the hotel sector are no exception. A five-year ‘net positive strategy’ led by the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance was announced earlier in the year and is already underway. However, the recent U-turn on sustainability targets from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has perhaps sent the wrong signals and the hospitality sector needs to keep up momentum on its sustainability drive. This is not only to ensure it is contributing to global efforts but also that it continues to attract the guests on which its prosperity depends.

There are signs of optimism for the sector, in the UK at least, with hospitality businesses in the country decarbonising faster than their European and North American counterparts. Last year, the sector cut emissions by an average of 12%, compared to 7% in Europe, and 6% in North America. To maintain a competitive edge, hoteliers can build on this and move forward in a variety of ways but should do so as a necessity, not a nice-to-have. 

Sustainability needs to be at the heart of hotels’ operations 

Hospitality businesses are under more pressure than ever to place sustainability at the heart of their operations. 

Two-thirds of travellers now expect the industry to offer more sustainable options, and fellow businesses will be reluctant to partner with those that do not share their ambitions for a more sustainable environment.

Combining local and environmental interests is also possible through recycling, which should be central in any business’ sustainability drive as well as significantly reducing delivery emissions. It is for this reason that local commercial recycling plants process all of Burgh Island’s wastepaper, plastic, and glass, contributing to job creation as well as responsible waste disposal.

Another key asset is staff. Training staff on sustainability goals can strengthen company culture and retention, as staff will be more aware of the positive impact their work is having. Being better informed can also allow staff to impart knowledge to customers, as well as the wider community, giving the hotel’s employees a social, ambassadorial role in promoting sustainability in their area. At Burgh Island, our team are trained in energy efficiency, helping them to reduce the hotel’s environmental impact and upskill the local community.  

Initiatives such as these have contributed to Burgh Island Hotel’s reputation as one of the most environmentally friendly hotels in the South Devon area, a status that is endorsed by the Gold Award from the Green Apple Organisation for Conversation, which we have held since 2007. 

Energy efficiency needs to be optimised 

Reducing carbon footprint through more efficient energy practices is one approach all hotels should be incorporating. A practical first step is lighting Hotels such as The Savoy, among others, have made it a policy that all rooms are fitted with energy-efficient bulbs. One step further would be to install controls that turn off lights when guests leave, which can help reduce energy usage by 80%, as well as limit heat and light pollution.

Approximately 80% of the buildings we will be using in 2050 already exist, and therefore in addition to integrating energy-efficient changes such as lighting and renewable energy, hotels should also look to adapt their existing infrastructure

Burgh Island’s £10m refurbishment plans illustrate this. We have opted for a ‘sympathetic development’ approach, which mandates that sustainability is at the core of the project and that the renovation remains sympathetic to the existing buildings, their heritage and also the environment. These plans build on Burgh’s already has an eco-conscious ethos, only using two energy efficient boilers to heat rooms and limiting digital features such as TVs and radios to request only, in line with the hotel’s 1920s theme.  

Effective sustainability initiatives can help hotels save on costs. In fact, incorporating solar and wind power can reduce energy costs by up to 60% and 80% respectively. There are many creative ways to be both green and save money. Hotels such as Heckfield Place, an hour or so outside London, rely on bio-mass boilers to burn wood pellets from a sustainable source to warm much of the water for showers, baths, and the general hotel heating systems whenever possible. At Burgh Island, we have adapted the disused tennis courts to host solar panels. 

Hotels need to come together to help ensure their own survival and that of the planet

With 70% of travellers actively seeking sustainable travel options in 2023 and 80% of consumer and retail organisations finding that sustainable initiatives increase customer loyalty, guests are more likely to trust eco-friendly hotels, viewing them as responsible brands not purely driven by business results. A successful by-product for both the guest and ROI for the hotelier. 

Hotel operators need to come together and share ideas on how best to deliver robust sustainability initiatives that will endure – alongside a high-quality service that guests demand. The rise in eco-tourism will change how the industry operates for the better, bolstering not only commercial success, but more importantly creating memories that last a lifetime, while ensuring the environment does too for the generations to come.