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Environment Conservation - Demands Collective Consciousness

Monday, July 8, 2019, 17:45 Hrs  [IST]

Nowadays tourism industry talks a lot about conservation, sustainability, responsible tourism, etc. A lot of hotel brands are boastful about their conservation programmes for environmental sustainability. But, are they communicating it properly and meaningfully to their guests to make these initiatives really effective to make a real impact on the ground? Unless they communicate these conservation initiatives clearly and take the guests along to be part of it, they will end up as just marketing and brand building exercises. Hospitality Biz tries to understand where the industry stands when it comes to engaging guests to make the conservation initiatives impactful.

In a recent report from Chennai city where recent history’s worst-ever drought is making people and industry run around for water has shown how hotels in the city are trying hard to keep their operations running amidst water scarcity by urging guests and visitors to use water judiciously. Hotels were seen giving personal letters to guests seeking their co-operation and support in the hour of crisis. Rupam Datta, General Manager of Feather Hotels, when contacted, said, “Every hotel has been making effort to reach out to all guest with an appeal to help save as much water as possible. There are personal letters from the Management to guest seeking their understanding at this time of crisis. A brief is made to every guest upon arrival and we could experience a very kind acceptance from our guest.”

But, would it end up as a crisis time caution? If the warnings are anything to be believed, people and industries need to be on continuous alert against worst scenarios. There were recent reports that groundwater in more than 20 cities in the country will dry up in the next couple of years. The effect of global warming and climate changes are already visible in the country. Erratic monsoons, unprecedented cyclones, worst ever drought conditions and water crisis are all happening simultaneously in different parts of the country giving wake-up signals for everyone. According to experts, it is just the beginning and the worst is yet to come.

Yes, the hospitality industry across the world has started realising the importance of conservation and sustainability and responsible tourism. They recognise today that contributing to environment sustainability make both business sense and add brand value and thereby increased visibility. Today, there is no dearth of hotels which brag about local procurement, water harvesting, water recycling, and reuse, employing local manpower, cutting down on food wastage, smart energy programs, the abolition of single-use plastic, etc.

As per a study by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, tourism contributes about 5% of global greenhouse gas emission. The same is expected to grow by 130% in 2035. In order to the global hospitality industry to be compliant with the international agreements on climate change, it has to start acting now.

Experts feel that in order to make the conservation and sustainability initiatives successful, service industries like hotels need to do a lot of education and sensitization. Hotels can have various policies and programmes for resource conservation and sustainability, but if the guests coming into the hotel to use its services are not briefed well about those initiatives and its objectives, they might act in the opposite way. Ironically, except for some vanilla notes and signs, which largely go unnoticed by guests, there is not much being done by hotels to ensure the guests cooperate and support various conservation initiatives.

Hotels which take up conservation programmes in the Indian context is quite minuscule, says CB Ramkumar, Founder of Our Native Village, and Board Member, Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). And those who do something in that direction talk about it just for return on investment and brand building, he feels. “Do they communicate this effectively to guests? I don’t think so. This is also because, in most hotels, operations (who are in charge of the rooms) are separate from marketing. The operations control what should be displayed in the rooms – the best way to communicate to guests – as for them every opportunity to monetise and sell services in the hotel is more important than just giving a message about their conservation programmes. So, this is a barrier that comes in the way of communication with guests. Changes need to be done at a systemic level. For most hotels, the marketing department is who is in charge of conservation programmes. This will not be effective. Until the operations team is completely involved in conservation programmes, it will not be as purposeful.”

Niranjan Khatri, Founder, iSambhav, headed the Environment initiatives of ITC Hotels, and currently an independent consultant, also echoed similar sentiments. “In my view, most of the hotels are not communicating their conservation program proactively, except for a few Indian chains. The hotel industry must realise that the millennial generation is highly eco-conscious and they will vote with their wallets for green hotels.”

But, hoteliers to whom we spoke to are not ready to accept the argument that the initiatives are not communicated properly to guests. Vishal Kamat, CEO of Kamat Hotels, who runs India’s first certified ecotel, The Orchid Mumbai, says, “I’m not sure of others, but I do feel our communication is very strong as we have a lot of guests who participate in our various activities. We have in-room magazines, pamphlets placed at key locations. We encourage our staff to talk to the guests and interact with them. Also, our staff believes in the ethos and the ‘Kulture of Kamats’ and hence that conviction radiates when they speak making the guests feel positive and more open to participate.”

Another boutique hotel group from the South, Evolve Back Resorts, which has built its reputation in the responsible luxury hospitality, also has a very strong communication strategy with its guests. “We have a well thought out strategy that begins right at the point of the first contact through our website and continues long after the guest departs. To provide our guests with the most enjoyable experience, we ensure maximum opportunities for them to connect with the local people to get a better understanding of local culture. We have, in fact, gone a step further and indulge in what we call ‘Conservation through Conversation’, informs Jose Ramapuram, Director-Marketing of the Group.

Hotels in the eco-sensitive and fragile locales do try their bit to educate and sensitize their customers on the sensitivity of the place and try to win over their support in such initiatives. JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa has tailor-made programmes for guests to be part of. “We put up a Green initiative card, where the guests can choose to reuse their towels to conserve water, called “A moment to preserve card”. A major initiative we are also undertaking is to have a Green Hotel Ambassador via our existing Hotel

Ambassador programme, to propagate the sustainable initiatives to our guests and patrons efficiently. We are planning to inculcate these initiatives in our guest welcome letters for a wider reach,” informs Manish Monga, Chief Engineer of the property.

Incentivising Guests:
Internationally, few hotels have tried to offer incentive programs including discounts, etc. to connect with guests and make them proactively volunteer in their sustainability initiatives. There were studies gone into this issue by different agencies working on conservation about hotel guests outlook on incentives. Those studies have revealed that there are chances, guests take part seriously in conservation programs if tangible incentives are offered. Based on that, few international hotels have introduced Green Rewards programmes for guests. The incentives include free meal vouchers, discount vouchers for the next stay, etc.

But, many in the industry do not consider incentives as a feasible model. “Do we need incentive all the time to do the right thing?” asks Khatri. On the other hand, Ramkumar is not outrightly rejecting the model. “But it does not have to be called ‘discounts’. It can be called a ‘support contribution’. This way guests will be motivated to ask more about the programmes, and perhaps even participate in it.”

When it comes to offering incentives, many who responded didn’t offer a clear response. “All hotels have their own constructive programmes that inspire to do their share in conserving the environment. While we do not have any monetary incentive attached to our cause, as a part of our initiatives in Acting Here Planet 21, we do encourage guests to reuse the bedsheet linen and towels with effective communication points,” says Sunaina Sharma Manerkar, General Manager, General Manager, Grand Mercure Mysore.

Kamat believes that offering incentives like discounts will dilute the spirit of the initiative. “We don’t believe in discounting as it takes away the spirit of our real message and becomes just one more excuse to give a discount. Most guests we have seen are very enthusiastic to take time out and participate,” he stated.

Getting the messaging right:
Then what are the different ways with which the efforts of conservation can be made purposeful? The experts in the conservation area feel that the industry has to pull up their socks and look at the environmental conservation more seriously. The industry has to look beyond the standard regulatory compliances. “The hotel chains must move away from being regulatory lead to understand the challenges deeply and accordingly reduce their resource intensity in a world with finite and rapidly declining resources,” observes Khatri.

The industry should learn to walk the talk, feels Kamat, instead of looking at conservation as a mere marketing gimmick.

If the wake-up calls are not heard, it is not far when hotels have to close down their operations fully or partly for want of vital resources like water, food supplies, etc. It is also the time as a responsible industry, hotels do a meaningful intervention to sensitise travellers about global warming and climate change, and impose penalties on guests who go overboard and indulge in wastage of resources. The innovative experiment of Ming Yang, owner of Gulou Hotpot restaurant in Dubai is worth emulating and taken to a larger canvas in this connection. To dissuade customers from wasting food that is ordered and served, she imposed a fine of Dh50 on leftover food. The impact has been encouraging. If incentives are a solution for compliance with conservation initiatives, it is equally logical to impose penalties for non-compliance.

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