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What is Sustainable Tourism and How Can Your Hotel Support It?

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What is sustainable tourism? Well, it equals money. That’s the formula in modern hospitality.

what is sustainable tourism

Between 2014 and 2015 — just one year — the percentage of consumers who were willing to pay more for sustainable brands jumped from 55% to 66%, according to the Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report. In addition, 73% of younger generations are more likely to pay more for sustainability compared to 51% of the Baby Boomer generation.

More than likely, you have at least an inkling of how important sustainable tourism is. You may have looked into installing more energy-efficient lighting or ramped up your recycling efforts. But is this really enough to make you a sustainable tourism hotspot?

The first step is understanding that sustainable tourism is not the same thing as ecotourism.

What sustainable tourism is … and what it isn’t

Sustainable tourism is a broad concept of travel that includes conservation of everything from the rainforests to the big cities, and how we can live in a way that is more at one with the Earth and the local community. Ecotourism is more narrowly focused on visiting ecological sites and engaging in conservation efforts.

In more detailed terms, the UN World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

Ecotourism, on the other hand, is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

A big part of sustainable tourism is making sure tourists bring no environmental harm on the area they visit and also support the local community in the process. And that includes staying at a hotel that respects both those things. That’s where you come in, and there are five ways you can figure out how to make the grade.

1.Energy use

When it comes to sustainable tourism, energy is perhaps the No. 1 focus. And it’s easy to see why. Energy makes up 60% of a typical hotel’s carbon footprint.

But what benchmarks are you aiming for when it comes to energy use? It varies depending on the hotel, but that’s where nonprofit groups and trade organizations come in. One reputable organization, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), provides a resource called “International Ecolodge Guidelines” to members. The organization also provides free guide books, even to non-members.

There’s a few practical steps you can take to make your hotel a lot greener, and save you a lot of green in the process.

2. Water use

In a close second to energy when it comes to conservation is water. The United Nations says that a staggering 783 million people don’t have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion don’t have adequate sanitation. We may take it for granted, but water is still precious to a significant portion of the world’s population.

As with energy use, sustainable water use will vary depending on the hotel, so contact a hotel organization like TIES for specialized guidance on benchmarks that fit your hotel.

How can you help? You’re probably wasting water somewhere, and once again, figuring out this problem could save you some money on top of making your hotel more sustainable.

  • Conduct a water audit to figure out where you’re consuming the most water
  • Leave guests a note stating that you will only clean their rooms on request in order to avoid water waste, and politely ask them to reuse towels so that it’s a team effort
  • Ask your local government for funding or loans to invest in new water-saving technology, or contact the Small Business Administration

3. Sustainable food

If you’re like many hotels, you’ve got a restaurant. And that’s a great place to impress sustainable tourists that could give you a huge edge over nearby competitors.

The Sustainable Restaurant Association says there’s three focus areas when it comes to sustainable food: sourcing, society, and environment.

Sourcing means that you only serve food that is local and seasonal, and animals that were raised ethically. Fish must be farmed sustainably, as overfishing is a worldwide problem, and fair trade — which refers to paying higher wages to producers in developing countries — is another key component.

Society is the second focus area, and it involves adhering the following four principles: treating people fairly, healthy eating, community engagement, and responsible marketing.

The final focus area is the environment. That involves becoming cognizant of how much food you waste, how much energy and water you use, how healthy your supply chain is, and what workplace resources you offer.

In addition to the SRA, multiple organizations will certify your food as sustainable, a stamp of approval you can put on your menu to impress sustainable tourists.

4. Recycling and composting

You’ve got a lot of things on your plate, so it’s easy to just throw stuff away rather than go through the extra hassle of making sure you’re responsible in how you deal with waste.

But if you want to become a magnet for sustainable tourism, recycling and composting are a must. How much is right for your hotel? As usual, it depends on the property, but it will require an extensive evaluation of how much you’re wasting now and how much you could be recycling and composting.

And it’s not actually that hard — it just requires some commitment from management. Check out this case study of hotels in San Diego for ideas on how to get started. Here’s a few actions you can take right now to get a little greener in this area:

  • Cut down on food waste by monitoring what your customers tend to order at your hotel’s restaurant, a restaurant management system is the most automated way to do this
  • With the food you do have to throw away, create a composting bin and use it to start your own garden
  • Place recycling bins throughout your hotel and train your staff to use them properly, and leave notes in your guest rooms to guide them on what should be thrown away and what should be recycled

5. Charitable support for conservation

Sustainable tourists are on vacation, but in addition to not harming the local environment and community, they are more than willing to open their pocketbooks to help out as well. A survey by Tourism Cares in 2015 found that 55% of respondents volunteered or contributed financially to a destination they had visited, and 72% said travel giving is important.

How can you tap into that? This might be the most simple action you can take.

  • Donate to local conservation groups, and invite your guests to do the same
  • Offer pamphlets and other information about local conservation efforts to tourists who are interested in getting involved, demonstrating how much you care about your local community
  • Invite local conservation leaders to speak free of charge at your hotel, and invite your guests to use it as an opportunity to learn more about conservation

What else can hoteliers do?

Sustainable tourism is such a hot topic in the hotel industry that you’ve undoubtedly got some opinions of your own on the subject. Do you have any simple tips we’ve missed that would help hotel managers operate more sustainably?

Are there any cutting-edge technologies to green up your hotel? What about hotel management software that can improve efficiency?

Let us know in the comments below.

Looking for Hospitality Property Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Hospitality Property Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Dan Taylor

Dan is a content writer at Capterra, specializing in hotel management, construction and real estate. Outside the office, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, catching up with the latest offering from HBO or paying a visit to a new place.


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