Is Green the New Black in the Hospitality Sector?

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Hilton Dubai Jumeriah – Winner of “Best Sustainable Hotel of the Middle East” at the annual Middle East Hospitality Expansion Congress

Is green the new black in the world of hospitality and can hotels push the boundaries of sustainability while keeping costs low?

Kathi Everden assesses the extent of environmental measures underway in the Middle East hotel sector…

“Many hotel chains globally have set carbon reduction targets,” said WTTC president, David Scowsill. “Through this initiative the industry is furthering its commitment to corporate and individual consumers by helping them to understand their carbon footprint.”

And, while not located locally, it is heartening that the first carbon neutral hotel worldwide is the Emirates’ owned and operated Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa in Australia, certified as such for the second year when it achieved a surplus of carbon credits.

The resort capitalised on sustainability practices at Al Maha in Dubai, arguably the first green hotel in the region, and was nominated by WTTC as an outstanding case study in the blueprint for future eco-friendly tourism.

Overall, however, the regional hospitality sector has been slow to adapt green principles, even down to the very natural conversion to solar power that the climate might have mandated.

“The Middle East does have some catching up to do when compared to more developed markets, and it’s incredibly important that all government and big corporate organisations commit time and resources to improve on the green initiatives in the region … but it is changing, and at Rezidor we hope we are leading the way,” says area VP, Marko Hytönen.

Not only is sustainability a win-win situation — saving both energy and money — but it is increasingly necessary as consumers are demanding proof of sustainability credentials.

A recent survey by TUI Travel in eight major markets revealed that one in two holidaymakers would book a more sustainable holiday if it were readily available, while two in three would change their behaviour while away if it helped the environment.
As a result, TUI UK, for instance, has set a target for 90% of the hotels that are featured in its holiday programmes to be Travelife certified by 2014.

A survey by TripAdvisor in the US, meanwhile, revealed that nearly half of respondents would take eco-friendly factors in to consideration when making travel plans and a MindClick SGM survey of members of the Association of Corporate Travel Planners revealed that 65% were in various stages of implementing green business travel guidelines.

Of the major European chains, Accor claims to be in the forefront of the green movement, winning the WTTC’s 2010 Tourism for Tomorrow Award for its global sustainability strategy as well as a fistful of other recognition following its Earth Guest programme set up five years ago.

“Our Accor Environment Charter is very much part of our commitment to owners and investors in the region, comprising 65 actions that hotels are doing to reduce their environmental impact — we work hand in hand with owners during construction to propose tailor-made tools and eco-friendly solutions which result in huge energy savings — retrocom audits can also improve energy performance and require no investment,” says regional managing director, Christophe Landais.

Accor is also moving to offer green meeting options in its regional hotels, while Landais says it is already able to provide corporate customers with precise results on their carbon footprint when guests are booking a room night or organising a meeting.

Interestingly, the group is also incentivising its GMs to reach green standards: “Those who achieve or surpass set objectives such as energy saving platforms are given additional monetary compensations,” says Olivier Hick, director of operations Accor ME, explaining that all the Pullman and Novotel hotels are aiming to have EarthCheck certification by next year.

Another chain majoring on certification is Mövenpick, moving fast in the Middle East with all of its 23 hotels here aiming for Green Globe status by the end of the year.
“Generally, the total cost of certification varies between $8000 to $12,000,” says regional VP operations, Gerard Hotelier.

“The certified properties are definitely benefiting by achieving substantial operational savings, and also will answer needs of both corporate and leisure business.”

Cost savings have been underlined by Farnek Avireal which has a five-year Middle East licensing agreement with Green Globe and is assisting properties to meet the 248 standards set out by them.

“All Mövenpick hotels have access to our energy benchmark auditing system which uses internet-based software ‘hotel optimiser’ to calculate CO2 emissions,” says Farnek Avireal general manager, Markus Oberlin, who pointed out that hotels in the region traditionally produced double the amount of CO2 emissions compared with European properties, while using nearly triple the amount of water per guest.

“We estimate that a hotel such as the Mövenpick Tala Bay, for instance, could reduce its carbon emissions by more than 6,250 tonnes annually, while reduced energy consumption could save an average 250-bedroom hotel around $5 per room-night.”

At the Mövenpick El Gouna — recognised by Kuoni-Apollo as the most ‘sustainability conscious’ hotel in its programme — general manager John Wood says that the attitude of developer Orascom has been instrumental in assisting with green initiatives.

Government support
A variety of tourism boards are now pushing hotels to deliver green credentials. Abu Dhabi has prioritised green standards as a USP for its evolving tourism product, with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority mandating all hotels and hotel apartments to operate under an over-riding Environment, Health and Safety Management System (EHSMS) with targets for reduction in energy and water consumption (10% and 20%) and the waste sent to landfill (20%).

According to ADTA tourism standards director, Nasser Al Reyami, sustainability is now an essential part of the world-class tourism experience: “Abu Dhabi’s challenging climate coupled with its emergence as a high-end tourism destination provides us with an excellent opportunity to develop our own environmentally-responsible tourism offerings,” he says. “Sustainability is part of our strategic vision.”

As well as an in-house team to supervise development in this area, ADTA has conducted a series of Green Hotel workshops to showcase best practices, assisted with retraining of hotel staff in environmentally-friendly work practices, and will now be looking at other areas including the operations of desert camps.

All hotels will be ranked for their green credentials but new properties will be ahead of the game with opportunities to build in sustainable operations.

At the new Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, general manager Stuart Deeson says architects implemented many features at the design stage so that green standards were naturally part of the hotel: “Through adoption of green building guidelines, we have been able to set benchmarks that only a few existing hotels can meet”.

The hotel is one of the few properties in the final stage of becoming an LEED-certified luxury hotel — among its green features are the use of natural light through skylights in 75% of the building; capture of prevailing winds for ventilation; 50% dry wadi landscaping to reduce water consumption; coated double glazing to cut heating and cooling loads, and solar panels which cut energy costs by 75%.

“These sustainable measures will pay us back in the long-term, not only in reduced water and energy costs but increased interest from today’s discerning travellers — our global accounts are telling us their goal is to find a hotel company with green initiatives in place,” adds Deeson.


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