I attended the 2017 edition of the ILTM Conference in Cannes. The conference brought together some of the world’s leading hoteliers and experts in hospitality to collectively work through the biggest themes and challenges facing the industry.

One issue that I have been very passionate about over the years is the subject of sustainable development in the hotel industry. These days, we all know more or less the importance of adopting this ethos into the way we conduct our most basic activities, be it as simple as cooking to choosing what to wear.

In the hotel industry, this issue is all the more complicated, as the responsibility should be borne by both sides: the traveler-client and the hotelier. Many hotels, including luxury, continue to struggle with implementing a consistent policy throughout the hotel that allow their clients to contribute toward the cause. Often, they implement one or two measures that simply don’t make enough of an impact or are not systematically adopted by clients themselves. Given how difficult it is to make major changes in hotel operations and policies in general, it is easy to understand why hotels have been slow on the uptake of sustainable approaches, whether for reasons of cost or operational efficiency.

Which is why I was delighted to attend a discourse delivered by Onno Poortier, Co-Founder, Chairman & CEO, NOW Transforming Hospitality GmbH. Below you will find his moving discussion of sustainability for luxury hotels.

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Onno Poortier, Co-Founder, Chairman & CEO, NOW Transforming Hospitality GmbH

Today I’d like to talk to you about sustainability. The schedule is short and that’s because to some of you, it’s not the most exciting topic in the world. I’m not a sustainability expert. I don’t have the solutions, and I don’t know the answers. I’m still learning today. I am simply a hotelier who loves our industry and who would like to help it strive, and at 70, I’ve started the most challenging job of my career.

Mostly I’d like to talk to you about positive ways forward. About the reality that affects us all and about what sustainability means to our industry. Hotels have been trying to save energy and water since before the word ‘sustainability’ became known: not to save energy the planet, but to improve the hotel’s bottom-line. Then in the late 80s, the U.N. published ‘Our Common Future’, aimed at describing a concept of sustainable development that would meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability has the aim of promoting harmony among human beings and between humans and nature. It has been voluntary for 30 years, and many in our industry did excellent work. Many launched clean initiatives and CSR companies, and all these did more by committing to sustainability programs that integrate responsible, social, cultural, and environmental business practices. But many are also still on the fence.

For hotels, the nonsense about sustainability performance starts in the rooms. Today any responsible travelers Suggesting guests reuse towels and bedsheets to conserve water and at the same time provide water in plastic bottles or tubes with wasteful packaging, many from far-off locations. And then some hotels switch on the TV and lights well before the guest arrives.

We are all travelers, and we have had amazing experiences. But as populations grew, travel became a threat to nature. We use more nature every year that our planet cannot renew. Every year our lifestyles emitted more carbon in the atmosphere that our overharvested forests cannot remove. We also polluted our skies, our land and our wilderness, and we invaded our ecosystems. We became a force of nature, and we cannot escape our negative impacts affecting all countries and their people, all living creatures, our oceans, and the wildest corners of our planets. We share one planet, so we are in this together.

Sustainability is about our values, our integrity, our survival, and the life of future generations. There are many issues that impact our industry. We are living in a changing world with more extreme events. Carbon has been the main contributor to global warming since the 1950s. The risks to our health and the environment for climate change are substantial and far-reaching. According to last year’s World Economic Forum survey of 750 economies, climate change is the number one risk to global economies. This also makes it the number one risk to our industry.

The climate is changing faster than we predicted, and we are witnessing new records in climate extremes with increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, more intense storms, and retreating arctic sea ice. This impacts our industry; it impacts our safety, our lives, tourism, assets, and infrastructure. It increases business risk in third-world locations. Water shortage threatens food production and energy supply and increases costs. It puts additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social tensions. 1.2 billion international chips were made last year, and by 2030, it will become 2 billion. Add global traffic to this, and it will contribute massively in both positive and negative ways.

Tourism is good; it’s a good development tool, but it comes at a cost. Competition among global population for sources such as water leaves a trail of population and comes with a carbon cost. Our industry is seeing these challenges worldwide with climate change issues overcrowding cause tensions between host destinations and visitors in cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice.

There are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. These harm countless seabirds, turtles and ocean mammals and even go down to tiny nanoplastic sponges that soak up toxic waste. They are in the seafood we surf and eat.

What will our industry look like in 20 years? This is our life under our leadership. Can we really afford not to make social responsibility our greatest priority? Could we be the generation that helps solve the issue of climate change and extreme poverty?

There is light at the end of the global warming tunnel. There are more solutions to waste, and there is an increasing awareness on changing behaviors. So far we have vastly exceeded targets with annual costs coming down each year. Events like Paris agreement and sustainable development goals devote more evidence and action toward making sustainability mandatory.

There is more pressure to address the environmental impacts of carbon emissions. Governments and non-disclosed investors seek to understand the carbon risk of their investments. There are more solutions in building design, energy, water and supply-chain management, and sustainability programs. Over 40 countries have banned plastic bags with tougher measures. Did you know that all arrivals in Rwanda are checking all plastic bags confiscated? Earlier this year, India’s capital, Delhi, banned plastic bags and single-use disposable plastics. India also announced plans to end plastic water bottles in hotels.

Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report last year noted 34% of global travelers stayed in 1 or more eco-friendly accommodation. This year, 65% expressed this intention. There are similar odds from other companies. The next generation of travelers prefer to support responsible companies. They are skeptical of most marketing and their internal layer can detect. There is a crisis of public confidence in businesses, governments and media to do the right thing. People are more empowered today. Several leaders have inspired a new spirit of activism among the citizens of their country and abroad; they march together in defiance and stand up for their beliefs.

There is progress in our industry, but we can do more. With the rapidly changing climate meaning accelerated response, we need more radical changes and not a fallacy of incremental change. The four critical issues for our industry are human resources, service, technology, and sustainability. Our customers and guests expect safer, more responsible destinations and accommodations. But simply saying we care or saying we are committed is no longer good enough. Poor environmental and social performance are no longer accepted. If our customers and guests have to tell us to be sustainable, then we are too late. They are now very aware of the challenges that face the planet and what the responsible company should be doing to manage operational risks.

Consumers and guests can also be understanding, and most know that delivering sustainable performance is challenging and difficult. What counts for them is for our industry to step up and be accountable, be transparent, and demonstrate that we practice what we preach. Sustainability will redefine the luxury experience. It’s not about being perfection, unparalleled service, or being the best in the world. It’s about being the best for our world.

Now is the legacy project created by my wife Alexa Poortier. Now is an inferential technology platform, and our priority focus is to travel. It helps you make smarter choices about where to go and who to stay with. Now is an organization to galvanize our industry to be a force for good, reach out to for-profit companies to increase the power of businesses to help solve social and environmental issues. They support what matters—accountability and transparency—to keep the confidence of customers and travel experience that make a positive difference. These are some of the leaders in the sustainability program, and I applaud their commitment and actions to deliver the highest standards of luxury in a sustainable way.

It includes some or all of the hotels certified by Earthcheck, a sustainability program that saves the hotels money and can prove that what is good for the people and planet is also good for business. Several members of the Now Force for Good Alliance have already launched this month and will be present here at ILTM. For our industry, Now is an alliance for inspiring responsible hotels, resorts, luxurious cruise lines, and travel agencies. We urge you to commit to sustainability and be a force for good.

Starting in January, we will announce the tracking book for travelers with identified forces of good. Sustainability is complex to communicate for our stakeholders and should be simplified. Forces for Good lets us collectively saying yes to sustainability, yes to accountability, yes to transparency, and yes to radical change.

As we reach the end of the year, and enter a reflection of our rapidly changing world, let us reflect on the sustainability that will define us as a responsible industry and our legacy as a leader, a parent, and a human being. There is no plan B. The change starts with us. It must be now.

#ILTM #luxuryHotel #delportehospitality

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