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.

SUSTAINABILITY PRACTICES AND RESULTS

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There are numerous measures that we can take to improve the sustainability of the business. These measures, called sustainability practices, are quite common in the tourism sector, especially in hotels. Here are some examples:

  • communication and engagement:

a) raising guest awareness through the website, reservation system, check-in, accommodation facilities, social areas, verbal information, displays, signs, brochures or guides;

b) conducting education activities with the local community through site visits, lectures, competitions, practices promotion in the local media (e.g. newspapers, radio);

c) training employees through, for example, meetings, workshops, courses, lectures, seminars, conferences, volunteer programmes;

  • social and economic development of destinations

a) solidarity economy actions;

b) used products and equipment donations for the community;

c) giving preference to and developing local suppliers.

  • solid waste reduction

a) preferential bulk purchasing, when compatible with the organization’s operations and environmental conditions, taking into account safety, quality and economic aspects;

d) separation, selective waste collection and proper disposal;

c) secondary waste separation, having temporary storage containers for waste;

d) reuse of organic waste, for example as an production input for local communities;

e) contractual agreements with suppliers to collect unused products and packaging (reverse logistics).

  • energy efficiency

a) use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind;

b) optimizing the use of natural lighting;

c) use of heating or cooling equipment and devices with maximized energy efficiency;

  • management of water usage

a) use of water-saving devices (e.g. taps and valves to reduce water consumption in bathrooms, toilets, showers and flushing systems);

b) periodic inspections to identify leaks;

c) towel- and linen-reuse programmes;

d) rainwater harvesting;

  • interaction with the native population

a) informing guests about the peculiarities that relate to native populations;

b) returning or compensating native populations for the benefits earned from the use of resources, traditions and cultural knowledge;

c) supporting actions to improve the living conditions of native populations, according to their priorities;

d) promoting respect for the culture and privacy of native populations, avoiding the violation of privacy, destruction of archaeological or historical sites, disrespect for sacred rituals and places, or the imposition of festivals and rituals outside the traditional calendar;

  • information to be provided to the guests

a) basic local historical, cultural and ecological information on environmental protection actions developed in the region;

b) information on the various protected natural areas and other natural attractions of interest in the region;

c) information about the consumption of local products, including emphasizing the cuisine of the area;

d) safety and security measures and procedures for guests;

e) information on how to behave in local communities and about the responsibilities to be followed in the places visited;

Looking at these examples of sustainability practices, you could ask: How many practices do I need to implement in my business? Which practices would be most suitable for my business? What kind of results that I will be obtained?

Also, as sustainability practices implies investments in the business, it is important to evaluate the expected results. Some sustainability practices that require little investment and others that require significant resources. Thus, it is always healthy to choose practices that are within the viability of the business and that will produce the desired results.

For that, it is important to establish objectives for each of the aspects of sustainability, such as: reducing water consumption in the Hotel by 5%. Thus, it will be easier to monitor the results and assess whether the practicability of the practices implemented.

Within this logic, you can measure the current situation (for example: current water consumption), select and implement practices to reduce water consumption and, finally, measure the new consumption situation, to then assess whether the objective was fulfilled. It is recommended to establish a process to evaluate the results obtained, using indicators (example: liters of water / guest / night).

Finally, adopting and implementing sustainability practices is always important, as well as managing a business seeking to be increasingly sustainable. But to assure that the business is being more sustainable, it will be necessary to assess whether there are concrete results in minimizing negative impacts or in increasing positive impacts of sustainability. See also:What is a sustainable hotel?

What is a sustainable hotel?

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Nowadays, it is very common to find hotels with sustainability practices. The most common are those aimed at the use of water and energy, but there are many others related to waste, generating income for communities, promoting local culture, using biodegradable cleaning products, among others.

Staying in a hotel or searching on the internet is easy to locate these types of practices. But is a hotel that has 15 types of sustainability practices more sustainable than other which has only 3? Or, a hotel that has implemented sustainability practices for the use of water, energy and waste is more sustainable than another hotel that has implemented sustainability practices only for the use of energy?

In fact, there are certification schemes that use this premise to grant a label, establishing levels of certification: gold, silver and bronze. The hotel that has more sustainability practices receives more “points” and, therefore, receives a “better” label, for example, the gold label.[Certification of sustainable tourism]

However, this idea does not make much sense. Sustainability practices have the function of minimizing the negative impacts generated by the hotel, whether these are environmental, socio-cultural or economic. So, what matters is not quantity of practices, but how much the hotel has managed to reduce the impact generated. A given hotel may need to implement 5 or 6 sustainability practices to significantly reduce water consumption. However, another hotel may achieve the same result of reducing water consumption by implementing only 2 of these practices.[ISO 21401:2018 – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments and Sustainable development Goals (SDG) from UN (United Nations)]

In addition, each hotel has its own characteristics (number of rooms, leisure infrastructure, type of plumbing, operating time, etc.) and the reduction in water consumption can be totally different from one hotel to the other. Thus, what matters for a hotel is to achieve its goal of reducing water consumption in relation to what it consumed before implementing sustainability practices. The number of practices adopted is irrelevant and the comparison between hotels, without the use of a standardized indicator, is unrealistic.

In this way, the ideal is for the hotel to establish a measurable goal to minimize the impact generated, for example, to reduce water consumption by 5% this year and, from this, use an indicator to measure current consumption (Liters or M3 of water / guest / night).

Using this logic, the hotel will be able to connect sustainability practices to business management, making decisions that generate actions to minimize environmental impacts (reducing water consumption) and economic impacts (reducing costs), as following:

Example of the basic logic for Sustainability Management

Aspect of sustainability  

water consumption

 

Impact of sustainability  

reduction of natural resource

 

Sustainability goal  

to reduce water consumption by 5%

 

Sustainability practices  

to install water flow reducers in showers; implement a program to change towels every 2 days and establish an inspection routine to identify leaks from the facilities

 

Sustainability indicator  

Liters or M3 of water / guest / night

 

Result (before practices)  

150 liters / guest / night (March 2019)

 

Result (after the practices adopted)  

142.5 liters / guest / night (March 2020)

 

Final result obtained  

5% reduction in water consumption

 

 

Finally, we can say that it does not matter the amount of sustainability practices adopted, but the management of sustainability.

To learn more about Sustainability Management see ISO 21401 – Sustainability Management System for accommodation establishments.

 

A road map to Sustainability Management System for accommodation establishments: Part III How to implement a Sustainability Management System based on ISO 21401? (continuing Part II)

Road map Diagrama para ISO 21401.002

12. Competences

A Sustainability Management System include to develop competences of the workers which is very important to achieve that objectives of sustainability established. For that, we start to be defining which are competences desirables for each function in the accommodation. After, we will compare it with the actual competences identifying potential gaps, following prepare a plan to improve competences that we needed. The implementation of this plan includes do capacitation or other actions and evaluate the effectiveness of those measures.

13. Awareness

Also is important to assure that workers be aware their contribution to the effectiveness of the sustainability management system, including the benefits of improved sustainability performance and the potential consequences of non-observance of specified operating procedures and actual or potential significant environmental, socio-cultural or economic impacts of the accommodation’s activities.

14. Communication

According ISO 21401 the processes of communication with interested parties shall be defined to help the effectiveness of the sustainability management system. Accommodation shall understand and define on what it will communicate, when to communicate, with whom to communicate and how to communicate.

15. Supply chain management

To understand this step is important to realize that some impacts are generated by suppliers, but the accommodation can exert influence. In this case the accommodation shall establish and communicate the criteria for its selection of suppliers, taking into consideration the sustainability aspects, impacts and objective

16. Documented information

The accommodation shall determine which documented information are being necessary for the effectiveness of the sustainability management system. Also, it is important to control of documented information to assure that information available is current and reliable.

17. Internal audit

At this time the accommodation shall implement a process of internal audit, which will check if the sustainability management system is comply with ISO 21401 and if is effective in achieve the objectives established.

18. Nonconformity and corrective action

The results of internal audit process could be finding some requirements are not being comply. In this case the accommodation shall implement corrective action to eliminate the cause(s) of the nonconformity, in order that it does not recur or occur.

19. Management review

Based on audit results, customer perceptions, monitoring and measurement evaluation results, communications with interested parties and others information the accommodation shall review the sustainability management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.

20. Improvements

Finally, the accommodation shall identify opportunities and take action to continually improve the suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the sustainability management system.

A sustainability management system could be understood as a tool for anticipate and prevent problems, plan how to fix these problems and use it to implement improvements and strengthening the own sustainability management system.

Certification of sustainable tourism

 

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Certification of sustainable tourism is very popular nowadays, but what does it means? Certification is a mechanism to ensure that particular company, product or service comply with specified requirements. In the case of sustainable tourism, certification means that a company adopt sustainable practices or has a sustainability management system.

In the last 15 years a lot of certifications schemes about sustainable tourism has been developed. Today is easy to find more than a 100, but most of them fall into two groups: the first focused on attesting that the company has certain sustainable practices and the second that the company has a sustainability management system implemented and effective. The main difference between this two groups is about sustainable practices where the first take in consideration specific and predeterminate sustainable practices and the second looks for the business management and results.

To achieve certification, the company must demonstrate that it meets the requirements. Obviously, to begin this process, the company needs to do its homework, initially knowing the requirements that base the certification desired, going through a self-assessment of its business and, mainly, implementing measures to meet these requirements. Thus, the company will increase the chance of being certified and may use certification as a marketing and communication tool with the market in which it operates or intends to act.

The certification is performed by an independent organization, called certification body, whose business is assessment and attest to the market that the company is sustainable.

However, it is important to note that certification should not be an end in itself, but rather the natural consequence for the company that meets the requirements and therefore can be called sustainable. In fact, meeting sustainability requirements has the power to transform the company and bring benefits far beyond the certificate itself.

Examples of certification benefits:

  • Improved image
  • Brand Strengthening
  • Improved business management
  • Strengthening partnership with stakeholders
  • Spontaneous media
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Reduction of operating costs
  • Improved results

Another relevant aspect of sustainability certification is that invariably the company has a very positive influence on the territory in which it is operating. Thus, sustainability ends up creating a network, where all stakeholders gain, be they collaborators, local community, suppliers, tourists, NGOs, local public power, among others.

A business certification process involves, in general, the following steps:

  • Request for certification
  • Sending company documentation
  • Technical analysis of documentation
  • Conducting an audit
  • Analysis of results
  • Grant of Certificate
  • Maintenance audits (during the period of validity of the certificate)

There are many types of certification in sustainable tourism and the company must evaluate which certification adds value to your business and helps in communication with the market and clients.

Certification of Accommodations

The certification of accommodations has the function of ensuring that the accommodation has a sustainability management system implemented and effective. This certification is valid for any type, size and geographic location of hosting medium and is based on an international standard, ISO 21401: 2018 – Sustainability Management System for Hosting.

By implementing the requirements of this standard, the accommodation will have the benefits of strengthening its business and improving the decision-making process, which will be done in a more modern and complete way, simultaneously looking at the three dimensions of sustainability (environmental, socio-cultural and economic).

A sustainability management system assumes the development of sustainability policy and objectives, based on the internal and external contexts of the enterprise, stakeholder needs, risks and opportunities and based on the negative and positive aspects and impacts of the business. Obviously, this should be led by the top management of the accommodation, which should demonstrate its commitment, provide resources, define responsibility and authorities, and plan sustainability actions in an environmentally responsible, socially just and economically viable way.

In addition, the Sustainability Management System must include the competencies of employees, the implementation of work process controls, communication methods and the development and evaluation of suppliers. It is essential for it to be used effectively, documented and has classic monitoring, analysis and continuous improvement elements in management systems: performance evaluation, internal audit, critical review, non-compliance and corrective actions.

An accommodation managed through a Sustainability Management System will allow the development of a truly sustainable business and adapted to the current challenges of tourism.

After the implementation of this standard, the accommodation that wishes to be certified will pass an audit process planned by the certification body, which will send auditors to assess the compliance of the management and the practices adopted in relation to the sustainability requirements.

Certification of adventure tourism providers

For adventure tourism companies it is possible to be certified based on the international standard ISO 20611: 2018 – Good practices of sustainability. In this case it is not necessary to implement a complete management system, but rather to demonstrate that it adopts sustainable practices in its operation for the three dimensions: environmental, social and economic.

Practices should be adopted with the objective of reducing the impacts generated by the company’s tourism operations, such as:

  • Environmental dimension – use of natural resources, water and energy consumption, protection of biodiversity and natural habitats;
  • Social dimension – respect for employees and the local community, promotion and respect of local culture, working conditions;
  • Economic dimension – adoption of fair trade practices, management of financial risks of the business, generation of work.

A roadmap to Sustainability Management System for accommodation establishments: Part I

Road map Diagrama para ISO 21401.002

How to implement a Sustainability Management System based on ISO 21401?

First of all it is important to say that a road map present here is not the only way to implement an Sustainability Management System, but this logical structure could be a path to align and transform sustainable practices to improvement competitiveness in your business.

  1. Context internal and external

Start with analysis of the context considering need and expectations of interested parties, identifying key factors related with Marketing, legal, technological, cultural, social, environmental and economic aspects. It is important to understand the context, including how these key factors and interested parties influence your business.

  1. Aspect and impacts

According the type, size and geographical location an accommodation establishment has many aspects to be considering in a Sustainable Management System and each aspect produce one or more impacts in the three dimensions of sustainability (environmental, social and economic). So it is fundamental to analysis the works processes, identifying aspects and evaluate his impacts, specially the significant impacts which it will be control.

  1. Risks and opportunities

Based on the two topics above is possible identifying and understand what are the risk and opportunities for the business. The Sustainable Management System should be able to minimizing risks and maximizing opportunities and help to achieve the business objectives.

  1. Scope

Establish the Scope and define the boundaries and applicability of the sustainability management system.

Note: Besides the first four topics above has been organized in a logical sequence it is useful to understand that all issues are connect.

  1. Policy

A policy for sustainability management system is a kind of declaration made by the top management and needs to be appropriate to the purpose of accommodation establishment and provide a framework for setting sustainability objectives.

  1. Sustainability objectives

Considering all topics bellow now it is time to define objectives which shall be used to become the business more sustainable. Whenever it is possible the objectives should be measurable and it shall be establish plan about how the objectives will be achieve, including activities, responsibilities, resources and deadlines.

(soon part II)

Sustainable Management of accommodation establishments according ISO 21401: 2018 – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments

novo Infografico para norma ISO 21401.004

The client experience in an accommodation establishments is built through a series of events that begin with selecting the hotel, going through booking and hosting to the relationship with activities pos sales.

As shown in the diagram above part of the construction of this experience can be observed when the client accesses the reception to check in, using the infrastructure and the services available until the check out process. Thus the reception, accommodation, food and beverages and leisure processes are those where there is direct contact with the client. However, many other fundamental processes for the operation of accommodation establishments occur behind the scenes such as: commercial, cleaning services, maintenance, reservations, F & B, procurement, for example. This whole set must be managed with a focus on the business objectives and aligned with the strategy and in compliance with established policies.

The sustainable management of the business involves considering the sustainability aspects, represented in the diagram above, during the processes of take decisions. It is important taking actions to achieve the objectives, minimizing the negative impacts of sustainability for each one of these aspects.

ISO 21401: 2018 (Sustainability Management System for Hosting) describes the elements of a Management System focused on transforming the accommodation establishments into a truly sustainable business.

ISO 21401:2018 – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments – Requirements

Novos Infograficos para norma ISO 21401.002