How hotels in the Middle East can build a sustainable legacy for the future
In the midst of a complicated picture for tourism in the Middle East, how can hotels work for a brighter, more sustainable future?
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.
Middle East hotel resource consumption in numbers:
- 31,903 kg of CO2 annually per room in U.A.E (compared with 5,954 kg in the UK).
- 680 litres of water daily per guest in U.A.E. (compared with 300 litres average for the local population).
- 3 million tonnes – estimated annual food waste in U.A.E., population 9.3m. (7m tonnes UK, population 64m)
Siobhan O’Neill is Editor of Green Hotelier, the leading voice on sustainability in the hotel industry
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.