Sustainable hospitality: technology as the best ally

Increasingly, technology is playing a key role in driving sustainability in hotels and restaurants. Little by little, we are seeing how innovative solutions supported by technological advances are changing the way these establishments operate and become more sustainable.

To discuss this topic, we have the privilege of interviewing Gilda Hernandez, Director of the Department of Tourism at IQS School of Management, Universitat Ramon Llull. In this interview, we will talk about what is considered a sustainable hotel and restaurant, the benefits of sustainability in this sector, the impact it has on customer and employee satisfaction and how technology plays a key role in creating more sustainable operations.

1.What is considered a sustainable hotel/restaurant and what are the requirements to be met to obtain this qualification?

Companies in the tourism sector have a key role to play in building a sustainable future, not only by minimizing the negative impacts they cause but also by contributing to creating a better planet for everyone. In order to consider a hotel or a restaurant as sustainable, we should not only think that they carry out specific actions linked to corporate social responsibility policies, but that they are truly committed to ESG criteria (environmental, social and governance) to achieve the SDGs. We are not only talking about ESG in their business strategies but throughout the supply chain, where they can measure, intervene, implement and report on these criteria to investors, owners, intermediaries, suppliers, employees and customers.

We will find hotels and restaurants that were created from their origin, mission and vision in line with being sustainable, for example from the moment of their construction using environmentally friendly materials, and others that for different reasons have decided to transform towards sustainability (from an increasingly demanding demand on these issues, to the regulations that force them to comply with certain requirements or the motivation that being sustainable helps them to be more competitive and reduce costs).

What are the key indicators that hotels and restaurants should measure to assess their sustainability impact?

There are different certification programs around the world (such as Leed (leadership in energy and environmental design, GST or Biosphere) and legislation such as ISO 14001 (environmental management tool) that propose different indicators and criteria that hotels or restaurants must meet in order to be certified as sustainable. However, it is necessary to evaluate whether these indicators are really being met, whether the audits really demonstrate the day-to-day operations of the companies and to what extent the commitment to environmental and social sustainability of these companies is real or a case of greenwashing.

In general, we could say that indicators are related to the environmental, socioeconomic, cultural and governance impacts of a hotel or restaurant. For example, we can use indicators to analyze the use of energy, water, gas and other natural resources, facility emissions, light or noise pollution, waste, food waste, working environment, staff conditions, the impact of the company on the community and the sustainable management actions implemented.

As we can see, we are not only talking about measuring and quantifying our impact on the environment, but also on social and cultural issues. We cannot claim to be sustainable just because we comply with certain recycling indicators and use environmentally friendly materials if we then pay our employees precarious salaries and force them to work schedules that do not allow for family reconciliation, for example.

3. Are sustainable hotels and restaurants more attractive to customers and are they more valued? Why?

Nowadays I would say that most hotel and restaurant customers are no longer indifferent to the issue of sustainability, to the point that doing something wrong on this issue could cost us brand reputation, brand boycott and consequently loss of customers.

There will be consumer segments that, due to their values, customs and lifestyles, will be directly attracted to those actions that promote sustainability and value them very positively. Where sustainable practices can be said to influence their decision making or perception of value. But we must also be aware that there are other customers who, for example, will value the quality of the food or the speed of the service, without paying attention to whether we have a sustainability certificate or not.

In these cases, companies have to understand that being sustainable has an impact on the quality of the food and on that friendly and efficient employee, and therefore, indirectly, we are contributing to the satisfaction of this segment.

When deciding between two restaurants or hotels, being sustainable may not yet be a direct reason for the customer's choice, but it contributes to having a better service and therefore contributes to being more efficient, innovative and competitive.

4. Do you believe that technology plays a crucial role in the sustainable practice of hotels and restaurants, and what technological measures exist, are commonly used or do you recommend?

Technology, as we already know, can help us to be more productive, efficient, optimize resources and differentiate ourselves. For me, the key is training in these technologies. We can have software that helps us calculate food losses, but if we don't know how to use it in the best way or how logistics itself can contribute to improve the situation, there is no point in continuing to implement technology.

First we have to plan what we want, what problems we have, where we can be more sustainable, reduce costs and then choose the right technology. You can have a robot to deliver breakfast to the hotel rooms, but if you don't have someone in the kitchen to deliver breakfast on time or if the maids are not able to clean the rooms, even if we have robotized a certain part of the service, the whole image is not coherent.

Technology can help adapt services to people with disabilities, reach new audiences and improve accessibility. The digitization of processes will enable employees themselves to spend their time creating value, innovating and thinking about how to deliver a better experience in terms of sustainability.

Artificial Intelligence and data analysis allows us to make better use of available resources and make better decisions, having real-time data to know for example product stock, shortages, shrinkage, and being able to have communication channels with different departments, suppliers and customers helps to improve the entire value chain.

For example, technology offers the tourism sector many opportunities to advance on its path towards decarbonization. For example, the Iberostar Group uses Winnoe technology to reduce food waste and therefore stop emitting tons of CO2. Other technologies that also allow travelers themselves to calculate their carbon footprint, for example Troop

5. What is your top tip for hotels and restaurants wishing to improve their sustainability in the future?

It is interesting to know that listed companies with more than 500 employees and large companies will be obliged in 2025 to report regularly on sustainability (Directive (EU) 2022/2464 of the European Parliament), with the aim of knowing the effects that the activities of European companies have on people and the environment, equating it to financial information. I am sure this will also reach SMEs and other companies in the coming years. It is no longer optional to be sustainable; it is non-negotiable.

Therefore, my main advice is to be aware and prepare ourselves for this transformation of companies in terms of sustainability, in the way of designing, doing, managing and reporting, not only to comply with regulations but also to innovate and increase competitiveness, in a transversal way (it must be integrated into each and every one of the processes and decisions of the company). These new measures can be a key and significant opportunity for the ecological and social transition of hotels and restaurants to reduce costs, become more efficient and increase revenues.

What are the benefits of implementing sustainability in hotels for both business and the environment?

Implementing sustainable strategies and practices has benefits in different dimensions (environmental, financial, marketing, human resources, logistics, social, cultural). Being sustainable helps us to:

-optimizing resources (better use of water and energy)

-reduce negative environmental impacts (recycling)

-reduce costs in the value chain (more efficient transportation)

-reduce costs (e.g., reduce food waste)

-better meet consumer needs

-to innovate and become more competitive, different from our competitors.

retaining talent, professionalizing the sector, -retaining talent, professionalizing the sector

-reaffirming the authenticity of the offer, customs and traditions

-synergies with the community and the territory

-Collaboration to solve common problems (e.g. insecurity).

What are some common challenges that hotels and restaurants face when trying to implement sustainable practices? 

Barriers: legal requirements that are not adapted to the reality of each company; problems with value chains (investors and intermediaries are beginning to demand a minimum to comply with legal and social requirements); an increasingly demanding consumer, demanding quality, variety, creativity, good value for money, immediacy, transparency, authenticity, etc;

The main challenges mentioned have to do with economic resources and access to the necessary financing to be sustainable, for example by having to invest in solar panels, appliances that consume less energy, water and waste recycling systems, improved salaries, etc. On the other hand, the lack of knowledge about sustainability and the time needed to train staff in the new way of doing things, how to organize and manage. The change process can be slow and cumbersome

Finally, I think that another obstacle is the difficulty because the entire value chain follows the same guidelines. If I am a green restaurant but the tomatoes I use in the menu were sprayed with pesticides because organic tomatoes cost me twice as much, it will be difficult to have consistency between what I propose and how I get there.

And finally, can you share an example of a sustainable hotel or restaurant and explain how they have successfully implemented sustainable practices in their operations?

Ilunnion Hotels, Hotel Princess Negresco, Hotel 1898, Restaurant La Font de Prades, Torres Brothers Cuisine

The Green Spot

Many of these companies have criteria and indicators that have certainly helped to change and improve their operations and ways of doing things. But above all, I believe that what is decisive in their success is the type of leadership and governance they implement to carry it out. We can say on paper or in the media that we are sustainable, but if we are not capable of implementing it in reality, of overcoming obstacles and being firm with the mission, it will be very complicated. The company as a whole, the hotel manager, the receptionist, the waiter, the room manager, the chef, etc. must be immersed in this transformation from minute 0.



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