Op-Ed: ‘Sustainable tourism: A challenge that is well worth the reward’ – Alexandros Vassilikos, HOTREC
President, Hotels, Restaurants and Cafés in Europe (HOTREC)
The full recovery of European hospitality is already in the making. The industry is still facing a challenging time due to high inflation and energy and food prices. However, businesses have reopened their doors and are starting to deploy the Transition pathway for tourism by adopting green solutions and embracing new technologies.
“Being sustainable”, in terms of the tourism and hospitality ecosystem, has an economic, social and environmental component, and comprises a wide range of practices and initiatives. Reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, tackling the carbon footprint and developing sustainable skills for employees and managers, just to name a few.
We must keep in mind that the sustainable development of the industry is directly linked with the UN Sustainable Development Goals that form the backbone of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
Many businesses in the industry understand this concept, but are encountering issues in implementing sustainable practices: some may lack expertise, while others might not have enough resources to invest in sustainability.
Let’s not forget what types of businesses make up our industry. Hospitality includes big hotel chains and large franchise restaurants, but over 90% of companies in the sector are SMEs. These companies are more susceptible to ongoing challenges and have fewer resources to face them. We must keep this in mind and make sure the European Institutions and local governments continue supporting them in this transition with the necessary guidance and EU and national funding mechanisms.
There are several challenges that businesses in the industry may face when trying to become more sustainable. An excessive administrative burden, for instance, could represent a barrier for companies – especially when talking about SMEs.
Implementing sustainable practices can also require significant investment, which will only produce benefits in the long term. This can be a major challenge for businesses with limited financial resources.
Fighting skills and labour shortages will play a major role in this transition. Many businesses may not have the knowledge or expertise necessary to implement sustainable practices effectively. Upskilling and reskilling will be critical to ensure that managers and employees will be able to lead businesses in the right direction.
Last but not least, increasing energy efficiency – for instance, by renovating establishments – and complying will circularity through reducing food waste and the use of single-use plastics will be crucial steps on the path towards greener hospitality.
The deployment of EU and national funding will be necessary to help the sector overcome these barriers. SMEs in particular will need special support, in the form of fiscal incentives, reduced tax rates, and economic instruments incentivising the application of circular measures.
Overall, smart regulation; the development of investment capacity and massive training are necessary to support the sector in this transition.
European hospitality needs to embrace innovation as a crucial part of our business today. Innovation helps us solve problems and make progress, and companies in the sector will need to invest in technology. The goal is to create a European ecosystem that will bring added value to young creative people who invest in digital technology and, at the same time, to hoteliers and restaurateurs who must evolve with the latest trends.
The current concerns around finding staff and skills will be a priority. In the coming years, our sector will have to accelerate a significant transformation of the workforce to meet rising clients’ expectations, strengthen sustainability efforts, adapt to demographic changes and embrace data & digitalisation.
We need to invest in the next generation, and we need to change our image as an industry and as a profession.