Energy & environment Tourism & hospitality

Turn the tide on sustainable luxury

Quality hospitality has traditionally been delivered through the prism of generosity of spirit. However, many luxury hotels are now questioning how they can cut back on frivolous items while still cultivating a luxury experience. Abi Millar asks hotel leaders how the environmental debate is impacting in-room amenities and services, including Jumeirah’s Michael Ellis, Savoy MD Philip Barnes, and Frédéric Darnet, GM of Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort.        

In years gone by, luxury hospitality was practically synonymous with exorbitance. If you were a guest paying premium rates, you’d want something more than a no-frills experience. This might mean an in-room fruit basket, a chocolate on your pillow, or new bottled toiletries every day. And it would go without saying that your linens would be freshly changed for in time for bed.

In short, no expense would be spared in making sure you had the perfect stay. Being asked to reuse your towels or use a soap dispenser was the province of the economy sector.

The basic tenets of luxury hospitality haven’t changed, insofar as there’s a drive to go above and beyond guest expectations. However, hoteliers are now facing a counterpressure – namely to improve their environmental footprint.

“Today’s ecological, economic and social situation requires us to change our behaviours and habits,” says Frederic Darnet, general manager of the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort. “Thinking of future generations, we have to lead an efficient management of resources and banish wastage. The luxury industry has a responsibility to try its best to be sustainable and drive positive change.”

This much may seem obvious. Once treated as little more than a buzzword, sustainability is now becoming a necessity for any industry that wants to maintain a positive image and attract clients.

That said, the word can also imply a kind of parsimony that’s at odds with most people’s idea of luxury. When you think of an ultra-wealthy guest, you don’t think about asking them to reuse and recycle. The question for the sector is clear: is it possible to provide a top-tier experience without harming your environmental credentials?

Find the right balance

For many in the industry, the answer boils down to ‘yes, but it’s complicated’. As Darnet puts it, these kinds of environmental challenges are now part of everyday life.

“The aim here is to strike the right balance between the guest’s need and the impact of our answer to that need,” he says. “We have to be closely attentive to our guests, providing them with an appropriate, thoughtful and personalised answer. This is in contrast with ‘more is better’, which is definitely not an option anymore.”

The Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, which won last year’s EHMA Sustainability Award by Diversey, has a number of sustainability initiatives in place. To name just a few, the hotel uses LED lighting, has banned plastic straws, gets involved in beach cleaning activities, and uses local fruits and vegetables in its kitchens. The aim is always to be as responsible as possible without compromising guests’ comfort levels.

Philip Barnes, managing director of the Savoy, agrees that the industry is shying away from providing unnecessary, and wasteful, extras.

“I think things of that nature are very rapidly going away – we don’t do things of that nature at the Savoy at all because guests have been very clear about what they want,” he says. “ I think the subjects of environment, sustainability and wellbeing are all interlinked, and our guests expect us to be very aware of that and build it into everything we do.”

At the Savoy – which has long aimed to be London’s most eco-conscious hotel – this has had an obvious effect on in-room amenities. For instance, around half of all guests take advantage of the linen and towel reuse programme. The Nespresso coffee capsules are recycled; the minibar products are under review to remove all plastic; and guests can choose to read their newspaper digitally instead of receiving a paper copy.

The hotel is also looking to replace its small bottle toiletries with dispenser alternatives, although there are questions around hygiene and tampering that need to be resolved in the meantime.

Michael Ellis, chief culinary officer of Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island, points out that hotels in general are becoming much more conscious of the environmental impact associated with amenities and services.

“We are constantly re-evaluating how we can make our in-room offering as eco-friendly as possible while still retaining the high standards our guests expect,” he says. “It’s a case of being smart and removing any unnecessary packaging rather than whole amenities. For instance, slippers no longer need to be in wrapping, and we can also offer the same high-quality bathroom amenities just in more sustainable, refillable packaging.”

A new language of sustainability

Though ‘sustainable luxury’ may sound like a paradox, the good news is that guests’ preferences are beginning to trend in that direction. They are becoming far more cognisant about the need to reduce waste, and will at the very least pay lip service to the ideals of responsible tourism.

“Luxury travellers are becoming more aware of their environmental footprint, and they are making their hotel choices because of this, particularly millennial travellers whose spending powers are increasing and who now contribute a substantial amount to luxury travel,” says Ellis.

Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island, which opened in December 2018, has been described as Jumeirah’s first eco-conscious luxury resort. Like many other luxury hotels, it has a programme in place to reduce single-use plastics. Beyond that, though, it positions eco-consciousness as something aspirational and even enjoyable.

Situated close to protected natural due habitats and turtle breeding grounds, the resort has a dedicated marine biologist who runs daily eco-tours and briefings with guests. It is also working to establish strategic partnerships with a number of local food growers.

“This means that we can provide a high quality of local fresh food, whilst at the same time promoting the success of regional businesses,” says Ellis. “We need to think beyond just environmental sustainability – it is also about social and economic sustainability and ensuring that hotels are respecting and preserving the local community.”

In short, sustainability doesn’t have to take away from a hotel’s luxury ethos. It can in fact be a branding tool – the more creative the better. To cite just two examples, the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel has a mascot in its rooms: a green seahorse made out of seaweed, which explains the linen and hotel recycling policy. And at the Savoy, any leftover plastic water bottles are collected and sent to the sustainable fashion brand Vin and Omi.

“Vin and Omi use the plastic in a special process that produces the rPET fabrics they use in their designs – at the moment we have a scarf made out of our plastic,” says Debra Patterson, quality executive at The Savoy. “Here at The Savoy we’re challenging the status quo and changing perceptions of our brand. Using creativity and fashion as a new language of sustainability is a unique approach within the luxury hospitality sector, and we’re thrilled to be a part of this.”

The question of communication

The conversation is evolving fast. For luxury hotels today, the question is maybe less ‘how can we be sustainable?’ (something hotels should have been asking anyway) and more ‘how can we communicate these efforts to our guests and help them get involved?’.

“Fairmont has been at the cutting edge of a lot of these things for many, many years – we really focused on it before it became such a hot topic around the world,” says Barnes. “There’s very little we’re doing now that’s new and big, because we’ve been doing it for so long. But these issues are becoming more and more top of mind with people. People want to know where we’re doing our shopping, what products we’re using, which farmers we’re working with etcetera.”

He says the Savoy likes to communicate sustainability as a quality issue – quality of service and quality of experience. This is a story that is woven into the staff’s day-to-day interactions with the guests, as well as told through social media, the guest directory and the menus.

Ellis says that Jumeirah has been spearheading its sustainability projects for a number of years. For instance, its Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project is now in its 16th year and has released over 1,600 turtles back into the wild. And Jumeirah Frankfurt has had an apiary on its rooftop since its launch, giving the hotel a sustainable source of honey.

“I think its fair to say that effective change does not happen overnight, and at Jumeirah we want to ensure the long-term viability of our green changes,” he says. “We aren’t just doing this to ‘jump on the bandwagon’, but really believe in the importance of this for the future of luxury travel and as such make sure that the changes we are implementing do genuinely have a positive impact on social and environmental sustainability.”

The important thing to remember is that sustainability is not a gimmick, however abruptly it appears to have burst into the public consciousness. Rather, it will be an aspect of luxury travel for the foreseeable future.

“Sustainability will be a key factor in the successful brand management of hotels, as it’s one of the most important issues the world is facing,” says Darnet. “We have to keep on offering our guests comfort and service, while preserving our beautiful planet.”

This article appears in the Spring-Summer 2020 edition of Hotel Management International

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