Myth or true: Following safety protocols will transform tourism operations less sustainable

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Recently, I had the opportunity to see how safety protocols changed the tourist experience. I confess that, I had mixed feelings about that (sometimes feelings safe; sometimes felling at risk everywhere I went; feeling bad with generation of waste; feeling protected because my room wasn’t clean every day and at the same time bothered by all garbage accumulating day by day in the room. This situation made my think about the relation between safety protocols and sustainability.

Well, we have a new context, which called for new procedures and therefore generating new impacts. I’ve heard that safety protocols are not sustainable, because Hotels are now using more plastic and cleaning products for sanitizing surfaces.

When, we think about consumption of plastic to protect food or objects in accommodation establishments it’s refers a new procedure adopted and of course we can see that are more plastic being used, as plastic films or new packages than before. But in this case, is relevant to guarantee that consumption of plastic will really protect the guests and not used it just to give a perception of protection. According UNWTO, “Plastic film is not a sanitization measure in and of itself. If the wrapped-up remote control is touched by a member of staff who has not cleaned their hands, this could become a point of transmission of COVID-19:

  • Instead of wrapping in plastics, all items available for guests to use should be properly sanitized.
  • Equally, clear procedures should be developed to ensure that staff avoid touching any objects such as remote controls with unsanitized hands.
  • As a plus, this will avoid the need to properly dispose of the plastic film, which is a nonrecyclable plastic material.
  • Where items must be wrapped in plastic, these too need to be sanitized.”

But are the Hotels being more or less sustainable? Let’s reflect together about that.

First of all, safety is part of sustainability, including all kind of health risks and to prevent them is part of sustainability approach for all tourism enterprises that want be sustainable. Also, the government measures are very important. Nowadays, more than ever, tourism sector needs to move forward together adopting safety measures in compliance with laws and guidelines to prevent COVID 19.

ISO 21401 – Sustainability Management System for Accommodation Establishments contain a set of aspects, for all dimensions of sustainability. One of them is Health and safety of guests and workers, which describe “Accommodation Establishments shall implement procedures for continuous risk identification, risk assessment and the implementation control measures.”

How to recover tourism sustainably

Secondly, it is important to understand how sustainability works! The tourism activities have aspects, characteristics such as: consumption of water, guest satisfaction or local community. These aspects produce a several different impacts and risk and opportunities too. This is a dynamic process that occurs every day that and every business should try to control.

What companies normally do, is to implement control measures, reducing negative impacts and risks. But it is quite more complex than it appears, because the context always is changing and because we are talking about all dimensions of sustainability, which means that adopting control measures sometimes is a tradeoff.

When businesses are implementing safety protocols to protect tourists and workers, they are in fact, implementing new control measures. At the end of the day, which is important, is Hotel’s responsibilities to guarantee that guests are safe.

Thirdly, the process of identification, analysis and evaluation of impacts shall take account: negative and positive impacts; probability and consequence of each impact and relevance criteria

So, keep in mind, that it is part of the concept of sustainability the relevance and size of impacts. There is a correlation between size of impact and volume of consumption which depends on the occupancy rate, as well. More people, more impact.

Besides that, as everybody knows, the number of guests is smaller than before the pandemic. So, to say that a Hotel is more or less sustainable depends on the size and kind of impacts they have been producing.

But How this new context can be managed? How could Hotels be more sustainable? In my opinion, adopting a management system approach that will allow each Hotel to identify and control the risks and impacts which are relevant for their operation. In fact, I have noticed that those Hotels had implemented a management system were more efficient in adopting new controls and procedures.

Finally, I would like to say that the pandemic showed us that we can’t live without a holistic (or integrated) view of the world as a hole. We are more connected than we could have imagined. That’s why, I believe (more than ever) in the sustainable tourism approach for companies and destinations.