How Hotels Can Address the Traveler ‘Say-Do’ Sustainability Gap

A white indoor hospitality space with high ceilings and live plants
by Samantha Sitt
Content Director

The future of hospitality is sustainable hospitality. 

Recent research from Phocuswright, which surveyed travelers in the United States and various countries across Europe, revealed a gap in what travelers say compared to what they do when it comes to sustainable travel. While respondents had positive intentions when it came to making sustainable lodging choices, actions from their most recent trip revealed differently. 

belief vs. behavior graph from Phocuswright research

 48-55% of travelers said they were more likely to choose an accommodation for environmental friendliness over price; however, when it came down to behavior on their most recent trip, only 6-13% of travelers said sustainability was a top influencing factor when comparing properties of similar price, location and comfort.

While the hospitality industry, and more specifically hotels and lodging accommodations, are increasingly adopting sustainable business practices, the path to sustainability can still be daunting and often overlooked as research expands and as our understanding of travelers’ relationships with sustainability grows. Despite the “say-do” sustainability gap, there’s still a growing demand, and need, for sustainable travel  which will require hotels to take a holistic business approach that considers environmental, economic and social impacts. 

So how can hotels address the latest research findings, paving the way for a sustainable future while still positively impacting business? Luckily, the two go hand in hand. Sustainable actions have a positive business impact and efforts can be categorized and approached based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Industry Criteria and UN Sustainable Development Goals

Understanding that there remain barriers to entry, from staffing shortages to upfront costs, there are more attainable efforts and initiatives that hotels can readily adopt—and benefit from—to meet the future of hospitality. 

Measurement  & Benchmarking

A foundational initiative to any hotel’s sustainability journey requires an understanding of your business performance across carbon, energy, water and waste emissions. Hotels can measure and report on these metrics manually, through compiling data from various sources such as meter readings or utility invoices, and then calculating carbonwater and waste footprints via standardized methodologies. 

There are also organizations that can help calculate your environmental impact. Hotels can participate in the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index at a low cost to receive confidential benchmarking reports and understand their performance in relation to similar hotels.   

Hotel Benefit: Set goals, identify cost-saving opportunities and track progress from environmental-focused efforts. With measurement and benchmarking in place, hotels can confidently and accurately communicate with stakeholders, guests and sustainably minded travelers.  

Green Renovations

Most hotels weren’t built with sustainability top of mind. But as the industry reaches record-breaking numbers for rooms renovated, hotels have an opportunity to make their spaces more eco-friendly—from sourcing sustainable, local building materials and furniture to opting for energy-efficient lighting and exploring renewable energy options. 

The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance offers a comprehensive resource for hoteliers and development stakeholders looking to invest in sustainable renovations, with helpful information about financing, assessing environmental impact, what materials to avoid, and what components make up a green guest room. 

Hotel Benefit: Sustainable hotel renovations have positive business impacts, including the ability to increase average daily rates, improve guest satisfaction and reduce operating costs. For a boutique hotel in Wisconsin, environmentally friendly building initiatives have significantly reduced annual utility costs, which was also made possible with funding support from local government programs. 

Supply Chain Localization

Assessing your hotel’s supply chain is another accessible way to begin making sustainable business decisions. What vendors you choose can make a big impact when those businesses align with your hotel sustainability goals. Select products and services based on their environmental, social and economic impact; and when possible, source products locally to reduce your carbon footprint and help support businesses in your community. 

Hotel Benefit: Offering local goods and services in guest rooms, restaurants, spas and other hotel spaces can elevate the guest experience and helps build thriving communities in your destination that people will want to both live in and visit. 

rows of blue land-based nursery bins at a Mote Marine location

Community Partnerships

Beyond transactional relationships with local businesses to support supply chains, hotels can invest in deeper social, environmental and cultural partnerships that provide greater opportunities to collaborate and showcase their commitment to creating positive impact within their destination and communities. These can look like partnerships focused on volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations or packaged guest experiences with cultural and historical attractions. 

Hotel Benefit: Strategic partnerships can provide hotels with a unique selling point, expand brand reach and bolster the guest experience, offering authentic opportunities for visitors to become immersed in local culture and community—an increasingly important factor for travelers when making a booking decision.

In the Florida Keys, Opal Collection partnered with Mote Marine Laboratory to develop Key Largo’s first land-based coral nursery supporting coral restoration and rehabilitation. The on-property nursery at Reefhouse Resort & Marina provides both guests and the public with a unique experience to learn about conservation efforts and see coral cuttings up close. 

a woman holding up live coral for two people to see up close

Rewarding Sustainable Guest Behavior

When traveler intentions don’t always align with their behaviors, hotels can find opportunities to encourage sustainable decisions that benefit both the guest and business. This can be in the form of on-property initiatives or more robust loyalty programs, with rewards ranging from public transportation fares and discounted experiences to resort credit and loyalty points. 

Hotel Benefit: By incentivizing sustainable guest behaviors, hotels realize a variety of benefits such as reduced water and energy consumption, improved guest engagement and retention based on consumer demand, and strengthened brand image. To encourage public transportation, the H Rewards program gives members a free public transport ticket valid for the entirety of their stay.

Marketing & Messaging

Whether your hotel sustainability initiatives are large or small, it’s essential to communicate efforts to both internal and external stakeholders. By integrating transparent and accurate sustainability messaging into marketing materials, on-property signage, employee communications and other touchpoints, hotels can raise awareness about their commitment to people, place and planet while maximizing the benefits that come from making sustainable business decisions. 

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