The Sustainable Choice for Hotel Supplies

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4 key success strategies of hotels reducing single-use plastic

March 23, 2021

Before setting up Greener Guest, one of our founders worked in single-use plastic reduction with hotels since 2011, way before it was on the agenda of businesses, governments and the general public in the way that it is today. Since then, it has been interesting to observe a number of recurring traits that are common amongst those businesses who are achieving success with their plastic reduction strategies.

The overarching reason for success is actually quite simple – they really, really mean it. They truly believe that single-use plastic has no place in their business and they are proactively doing everything they can to change to processes and procedures that reduce waste.

When a management team has this attitude, it becomes part of the DNA and it makes it much easier to take staff and customers on that waste reduction journey with them. Whilst the belief is absolutely key, the strategies provide the framework to bring it to life. These are the four most common success strategies that we see amongst hotels that are achieving success in reducing single-use plastic and overall waste.

1) Have clear goals and a commitment to achieving them

Hotels and hotel chains that are achieving success have an unfailing commitment to change. They have a crystal clear vision for the future (e.g. the goal to be free from single-use plastic in customer facing areas, to be free from single-use plastic completely or to be free of certain types of single-use plastic products such as water bottles for example).

They put a timeframe on that goal which gives everyone something to work towards and adds a sense of urgency to the approach. They create a clear action plan to achieve it, this means that staff, suppliers and even guests are aware of the actions that they can take to support the hotel in achieving its goal.

Some great examples of this include Six Senses, Iberostar, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Footsteps Eco Lodge in The Gambia. In some cases plastic reduction programmes are stand-alone initiatives, in others they form part of a wider sustainability agenda, both approaches work just as well when the vision is so clear.

2) Review and adapt brand standards and operational procedures

We often hear that brand standards and operational procedures are a barrier to implementing change. For example the “brand standard” states that water must be provided in guest rooms and the operational procedure has always been to provide this service using single-use plastic bottles.

When a management team is not truly engaged in waste reduction it can be easy to allow these standards and procedures to become a reason not to change. On the contrary, successful hotels review and adapt their brand standards so that they support waste reduction, they look at whether the products are really necessary, they prioritise elimination over replacement. Where replacement is necessary they look for reusable, refillable alternatives rather than switching from single-use plastic to other single-use materials which does nothing to reduce overall waste. They are their own critical friend and they use this approach to break old habits and create a new DNA.

When hotels are just starting to review standards and procedures we suggest doing this as a team, to include key members of all operational areas and ask themselves “If waste reduction was the highest priority, how would we change our standards and procedures to help us achieve this” and then be open to all potential opportunities.

3) Collaborative approach and relationships

What we notice about these successful businesses is that they actively seek help and advice, they know that they can’t do it alone and that by sharing knowledge, ideas, successes AND FAILURES, they will move ahead more quickly. They acknowledge that not all changes will go according to plan but they don’t let that prevent them from trying.

They create customer communications to explain what they are doing and why, and in the face of negative feedback they invite conversation to find out what went wrong. Nine times out of ten it is not the solution that guests don’t like, it is the fact that the change created some inconvenience or required unexpected effort on their part and they weren’t ready for that. It is a communications issue and by listening to their guests they get a great understanding about to frame changes so that they are more readily accepted in future.

Similarly, these hotels engage with suppliers, they ask for help in identifying new services that put processes before products, they ask for help in identifying reusable and refillable alternatives, they take their time to understand if single-use alternatives made from non-plastic materials are suitable for the waste infrastructure in their destination and they make their purchasing decisions accordingly. They proactively use their influence to create positive change and to lead by example.

A great example of collaboration on this topic in the tourism sector is the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative. The spirit of openness and collaboration is a breath of fresh air.

4) Proactive customer communications

Once you are clear on your vision and you are committed to it, you can engage with guests in a meaningful way so that they are happy to support you. There are some common approaches here too.

Successful hotels have taken the time to understand what their guests expect, and whilst it is obvious that most people’s primary motivation to travel for a holiday is to relax and unwind, it is also true that more and more people feel better doing this if they know that the sustainability impacts are taken care of by the holiday companies they choose to travel with and by the hotels and accommodations where they choose to stay. The challenge is to do this with the least amount of inconvenience for guests.

They also tell people WHY they are making changes, this is really important as guests are more likely to support changes when they understand why you are asking. If a change is positioned in such a way that the guests also benefit, then they are more likely to want to make the effort to support you.

For example, instead of a generic message such as “Help to keep our beaches clean” choose a more personalised message such as “Refilling your reusable bottle helps to keep plastic bottles out of the environments where we live and the beautiful beaches that you have travelled her to enjoy”

For detailed insight into how to communicate your sustainability initiatives, you might be interested to purchase the Sustainable Communications Guide from Travel Without Plastic that you can find in our Marketplace.

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Jo Hendrickx
Jo Hendrickx
Jo is a sustainability professional living in Gran Canaria with over 20 years of experience in the global tourism industry. She has worked extensively with hotels and accommodation providers around the world since 2001 helping managers to navigate the health, safety, quality and sustainability expectations of tour operators. Increasingly concerned with the impacts of unnecessary plastics, Jo was motivated to create Travel Without Plastic to support those hotels that want to make a difference.
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