Sustainability is not just about minimising environmental impact, it’s also about providing a stable economic base for local communities and harmonising sociocultural values.
As hoteliers, we need to understand our place within the wider ecosystem to ensure that our sustainability policies are helping to maintain a destination that is attractive to guests where the whole community can flourish.
In the fourth of The Growth Works Network’s Thoughts on Thursday discussions, Eva Holt-Rusmore, Global Impact Director of CSR at leading disruptive hospitality brand, Selina, gave an inspiring presentation on why hospitality brands need to take a holistic approach to their sustainability practices.
You can watch Eva’s fascinating talk below.
After the presentation, The Growth Works Network, a global community of hospitality mentors and mentees from brands such as Hilton, IHG, Taj, Eco Hotels and Les Roches, took part in an exclusive discussion on what impacts the pandemic is having on sustainability plans.
Our next webinar, led by James Lemon, will focus on the role of partnerships, given the lean investment environment in the recovery, on June 25th.
Thoughts on Thursday is a weekly discussion exclusively for members of The Growth Works Network. Our mentoring programme and webinar series is free for individuals. If you’d like to participate as either a mentor or a mentee, sign up here.
Selina is a hospitality brand that places sustainability at the core of everything it does.
During her presentation, Eva shared Selina’s mission statement:
“To inspire meaningful connections with people, places and communities around the world.”
This drives all decisions and informs a four-part strategy that involves:
- Job training in the community
- IMPACT programmes focussing on environmental, economic & social benefits
- Developing relationships with community groups & local stakeholders
- Staff contribute 2% of working hours to volunteer causes
Eva explained that it’s important to examine the challenges and opportunities specific to each individual community in order to maximise the impact of sustainability policies across different markets. With this in mind, Selena’s flagship IMPACT Corporate Social Responsibility programme aims to provide economic opportunity for all, strengthen initiatives for quality education, and create a thriving environmental where tourists and communities interact positively.
The results are quite impressive. In 2019, the programme benefitted over 100,000 people across 35 different local communities with 495 people graduating from the employment scheme.
Responding to the Pandemic
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eva explained that Selina has prioritised providing support to staff and their families.
A $38,000 emergency relief fund has helped over 230 staff cope with the crisis in countries lacking government support. Economic assistance was provided to help families put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and provide essential medical care to loved ones.
Additionally, Selina has continued to develop relationships with local community stakeholders and has created an online hospitality scheme to sustain its education drive.
It was really interesting to see the crossover between sustainability and staff engagement strategy, echoing sentiments from our previous discussion on providing care to employees during the crisis (you can watch the video here).
Disrupting CSR: A Regenerative Approach
As a disruptive brand in the travel industry, it was no surprise to hear that Selina has taken a rather disruptive approach to Corporate Social Responsibility.
Eva discussed why it was important for hospitality brands to take a holistic approach to CSR by moving from a focus on preventing further damage to regenerative practices.
She described the prevailing attitude as:
“Meeting the needs of our generation without compromising the needs of future generations.”
But urged brands to move towards a strategy of:
“Restoring the harm that our systems have done to the natural world by using nature’s principles, to create the conditions of life to flourish.”
This involves finding ways to reduce material waste by setting impactful recycling and upcycling targets. It means sourcing local materials and involving local artists and workers in development plans. It’s also about helping guests share skills with local communities through the creation of well thought out voluntourism projects.
All of these actions play a positive role in the wider ecosystem, allowing the whole community to flourish.
However, Eva highlighted local food procurement as one of the most impactful ways to protect communities.
She explained how sourcing food locally benefits not just the local farmers, who can feed their families and send their kids to school, but also the environment by reducing F&B carbon footprints. In the age of COVID-19, communities will also appreciate the reduced risk of transmission by cutting out long-distance food delivery vans.
Playing an active role in local food procurement also opens the door to new guest experiences opportunities in the agritourism sphere.
How Does the Pandemic Impact Sustainability Strategy?
Following Eva’s brilliant presentation, The Growth Works Network discussed what impact COVID-19 is having on sustainability plans.
James Lemon, Founder of The Growth Works, asked whether Selina has had to compromise on sustainability practices as the business handles the crisis?
Eva Holt-Rusmore said that investors know the value of having a sustainable location and healthy community. Selina has maintained its proactive approach to sustainability with a specific drive to cut running costs by solving water and energy waste issues. She suggested some brands could suffer negative PR and struggle to recapture demand if they didn’t take this time to resolve existing environmental concerns.
James Lemon asked if this meant a focus on return on investment-led sustainability?
Eva Holt-Rusmore agreed that return on investment was important for sustainability agendas, but explained that it’s not just about the numbers. Regenerative sustainability work helps to sustain a community that people want to visit. A destination’s value often lies in its beauty and harmony.
Jon Wardman, Vice President of CRM at Hilton, asked how sustainability goals can be made compatible with COVID-related measures such as single-use items and chemical water treatment?
Eva Holt-Rusmore replied that these were significant challenges and suggested it was vital to research different suppliers to identify the best solution. It’s difficult to avoid single-use items, but partnering with the most efficient and cleanest eco agency can at least give you peace of mind that water and chemical contamination will be minimised.
Sustainability Travel Trends
James Lemon asked whether customers choose Selina for the sustainability activities available?
Eva Holt-Rusmore said that anecdotal evidence suggests they do and mentioned that Selina witnessed an uptick in demand when it started offering loyalty rewards for community support activities.
Gibran Crismatt, B2B Manager at Selina, added that there is a growth in niche sustainability OTAs, and that ecotourism, voluntourism and agritourism guests offered great value in that they often booked longer stays of two weeks to a fortnight when they wished to carry out community work.
Stefen Schreier, formerly of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and now Managing Director at Laut, asked how can brands find waste management solutions in developing markets where government support isn’t strong?
Eva Holt-Rusmore advised brands to reach out to local waste management agencies to open a line of dialogue and partner up where possible. She suggested that, in some markets, environmental clean-up could actually provide opportunities for experiential travel activities where guests give back with their time and a small monetary contribution.
Sabah Mehta, a student at Les Roches, asked what skills were most appreciated for volunteer projects.
Eva Holt-Rusmore mentioned that passion was the most important factor but made the interesting point that technical skills could provide a great return on investment in the community.
The discussion concluded with Eva suggesting that post-COVID, travellers may feel more responsibility to give something back, especially in markets experiencing economic downturns. She urged hospitality brands to look at how they can facilitate meaningful interactions and voluntourism opportunities as we move forward.
The Growth Works Network is hosting three more Thoughts on Thursday discussions over the coming weeks. Sign up here to join our community to broaden your network, gain expert insight and participate in the debate.