Six years ago, a report by Sustainable Hospitality Alliance said that hotels worldwide needed to reduce their absolute carbon emissions by 66 pc by 2030 and by 90 pc by 2050, to ensure that the predicted growth of the industry does not lead to a corresponding increase in carbon emissions. The industry will need to go even further to help limit global warming to 1.5°C which scientists now agree is needed to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change.
For most hotel operators and countries around the world with large hotel room supplies that meant a complete refurbishment of their existing properties and retrofitting them with sustainable options. But as any architect or civil engineer would happily say, instead of trying to retrofit a building in order to make it sustainable, it is certainly better to tear down the entire structure and start afresh. As not only is it extremely complex and costly to retrofit structures to minimise their impact on the environment, but also that even the best of them can never achieve a 100 pc satisfactory result.
Thus, in many ways it is a boon for emerging tourism destinations that they have only now begun to ramp up their hotel capacity. And no region in the world is as well placed to benefit from the move to sustainability as the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which have been in a frenzy for the past few years, building new hotels and tourist attractions at a scale not seen anywhere before.
According to a report by hospitality industry tracker STR, a total of 159,424 hotel rooms are currently under construction or have been ordered in the GCC countries, almost 40 pc of the current hotel room supply in the region. Of these, Saudi Arabia has a lion’s share with a pipeline of 100,071 hotel rooms. Next on the list is Dubai which is set to add 27,095 rooms and the third most active destination is Qatar with 17,145 rooms. Green activists would be glad to note that the developers of these new hotel properties in the GCC are not cutting any corners in making their properties the most comfortable and are also equipping them with all that is needed to make these properties sustainable.
‘‘GCC countries are investing in eco- friendly infrastructure, promoting eco- tourism, preserving cultural heritage, and implementing waste management and water conservation programmes. These efforts are significant and indicate a strong commitment to environmental protection and sustainable tourism,’’ Steve Odinga of market research firm Euromonitor International, tells India Outbound.
In many ways, the GCC economies, despite being developing countries, have taken the leadership mantle when it comes to implementing sustainable practices. Randy Durband, CEO of Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), a body working to make global tourism sustainable, agrees. ‘‘Developed economies have some advantages in terms of better waste management, water management, education, access to technologies, and so forth. However, I would not give many of them high grades because they should have been leveraging those advantages to much greater degrees over the decades that we have seen strong environmental and social challenges. Less developed economies are actually stronger in some areas. For example, they have more locally-sourced and organic food than more advanced economies with highly industrialised agricultural sectors,’’ Durband tells India Outbound.
Time Hotels: First mover advantage
Even though most of the new properties in the region are adopting sustainability at the core of their operations, it is not just the new hotels that have been environmentally-conscious. Years before it became the buzzword of the global community, as it is today, some entrepreneurs had recognised the significance of sustainability and the sound economic sense that it made.
Mohamed Awadalla, CEO of Time Hotels, a Dubai-based chain of hotels, is one such businessman who has been consciously putting environment and sustainability at the heart of his operations right from the time that he set up the first hotel of the group, well over a decade ago. Not satisfied with integrating sustainability in the heart of Time Hotels, from construction to operation, Awadalla also ensured that the sustainability credentials were cemented with certification by reputed external organisations.
‘‘Climate change is clearly one of the most important challenges facing the hospitality sector today, particularly for Gen Z and Millennials. Our success as a homegrown brand can be attributed to our progressive corporate strategy of which sustainability is one of our four main pillars. Since launching 10 years ago, one of Time Hotels’ first achievements was to secure international hotel sustainability certification, initially through Green Globe, then subsequently with Green Key, which we have maintained ever since, complying with global environmental standards through annual audits,’’ Awadalla tells India Outbound.
He says that he has tried to ensure that Time Hotels stays at the forefront of transition to sustainability and in 2014, it became the first hospitality company in the Middle East to offer a carbon management programme for its guests, offsetting 326 tonnes of CO2 emissions during the first nine months of that year. He has now taken the axe to single use plastics.
Odinga of Euromonitor says that the hospitality sector in the GCC region has seen a relatively fast switch to sustainability compared to other aspects of the tourism industry. Hotels and resorts have implemented eco-friendly practices such as reducing energy and water usage, recycling waste, and using renewable energy sources. Some have sought certification from international organisations such as Green Globe and the International Tourism Partnership and promoted sustainable practices through awareness campaigns and educational programmes. The high profile of the sector, economic benefits, and increasing demand from environmentally conscious travellers are factors driving the shift, says Odinga.
But there are challenges and the transition towards sustainability is far from being complete. ‘‘There is room for improvement in promoting sustainable food and beverage practices and transportation options for guests. It is difficult to generalise the laggards and leaders in the region’s hospitality industry. Some countries and cities in the region, such as Dubai and Oman, have launched initiatives aimed at reducing the environmental impact of tourism,’’ he adds.
Indeed, even the private sector in the GCC is becoming more sensitised towards sustainability, particularly in the hospitality and tourism industry. ‘‘However, some companies still prioritise economic growth over sustainability. Private sector initiatives such as the Masdar City project and sustainable supply chain practices are making a real difference on the ground. While there is still work to be done, many companies are taking meaningful steps towards promoting sustainability and reducing their environmental impact,’’ says Odinga.