There’s no denying that tourism in the Middle East is facing difficult times. Previously popular destinations like Egypt, Turkey and (North African) Tunisia have suffered dramatic drops in visitor numbers in the wake of political instability, terrorist attacks and Foreign Office advice for travellers. For hoteliers a corresponding surplus of empty rooms is bad news.
But the region has a wealth of culture, history and hospitality to offer, and several destinations continue to boom or are steadily growing their tourism industry (think UAE, Oman, Jordan). For those countries which are experiencing a downshift, it’s a great time for businesses to consider investing for the future. To ensure that future has longevity, any investment should be focused on sustainability.
Hotels are naturally big consumers of resources. In hot countries that consumption can be even higher when you consider power for hundreds of air conditioned rooms, higher than average water consumption and the importing of products that today’s guests tend to expect wherever in the world their hotel is located. But that consumption isn’t without a cost; both financial and environmental, and today’s hotels need not just to be great places to stay, they also need to be good neighbours to the communities in which they’re located.
Whilst destinations like Dubai have a reputation for extravagance, and that can be appealing to some vacationers, countries like Oman are keen to build a reputation for sustainability; recently sponsoring the Responsible Travel Awards to help highlight their own credentials.
Building sustainability into the hospitality industry is essential, not least because they’re one of the sectors most likely to be affected by climate change. Consider the fact that water consumption in the UAE outstrips the natural supply. The region was highlighted alongside Brazil, China and India as most needing to act to mitigate water risk in a report published by ITP (the International Tourism Partnership).
Turning a hotel into a responsible business that reduces its carbon footprint and water consumption and becomes a good neighbour to its local community takes just a few simple steps, and will quickly reap rewards both in terms of reduced operational costs and in consumer – and employee – loyalty.
Measuring is the first step to understanding consumption and there is a host of free tools available to businesses keen to learn where their energy and water use is highest. It is possible to invest in technologically advanced building and energy management systems, but even the smallest lodging can make use of HCMI (the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative) the universally recognised tool and metric for measuring carbon footprints per room, stay or meeting. Simple actions like swapping all lighting to LEDs, adding motion sensors to corridors and back of house, using room keys which switch off the power to an empty guest room and using the most energy efficient equipment can make a big difference. Reviewing housekeeping practices and introducing a linen and towel policy as standard will also make big impacts on water consumption. Low flow taps, aerator showers, dual flush toilets and use of grey water systems for flushing toilets or landscaping purposes will dramatically reduce a hotel’s water footprint.
A recent study using PwC’s TIMM (Total Impact Measurement and Management) with TUI and the Travel Foundation found that the biggest positive impact the industry could make on destinations was training and employing local young people. That’s why many hotels – including those in the Middle East - use the Youth Career Initiative to help disadvantaged young people improve their opportunities. An award-winning programme, YCI has an 85 percent success rate of graduates who’ve been through the six months of classroom and skills training in up to 15 different hotel departments, going on to employment or returning to education. Hotels in Jordan like the Four Seasons and Grand Hyatt in Amman and the InterContinental Aqaba are having great success with the programme, and hotels in Egypt and Lebanon will soon be joining.
The Green Hotelier Awards have highlighted some hotels that are leading the way when it comes to being responsible businesses with a clear environmental, social and sustainability programme in the Middle East, and they make great examples for others to learn from and replicate. The 2016 winner – Yassat Gloria Hotel & Apartments in Dubai – has in the past three years invested to reduce energy, water and waste. It participates in the Soap for Hope programme recycling partially used bathroom amenities, as well as a local can collection programme that plants trees, whilst offsetting carbon and doing neighbourhood clean-ups. The Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman UAE has also taken huge strides to reduce its environmental impact including a zero waste to landfill project which sees 90% of its waste diverted to recycling and other solutions, and waste oil converted to biodiesel.
When hotels are motivated as responsible businesses to help preserve our global destinations for future generations, there’s no end to the positive actions they can take. And if your hotel is blessed with 350 sunny days per year, why wouldn’t you cover it in solar panels like this IHG property which will be powered entirely by renewable energy? It’s a fine balancing act for hotels to provide a luxury stay for guests whilst also being environmentally responsible, but it isn’t impossible.
Siobhan O’Neill is Editor of Green Hotelier, the leading voice on sustainability in the hotel industry