Sustaining Tourism – one hotel at a time!

The tourism industry is often ignored when the world thinks of the big polluters in industry. Visions of smokestacks billowing black smoke tend to come to mind but the industry which includes cruising, accommodations, attractions, tour operators, casinos and airlines does its fair share to hurt the planet.

Accommodations collect a large piece of the tourism pie and are located pretty much everywhere. From a sustainability point of view, however, they have the highest environmental impact after hospitals – as they operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.  Hotels use an incredible amount of water, energy and produce large quantities of waste. The average hotel guest creates approximately 2-3 kg of waste per person per night. They also use approximately 350 litres of water per guest per night. A luxury hotel uses up to 1800 litres per guest per night. Putting this into perspective – a medium size hotel uses the same amount of water in one day as a small village of 100 families would use in one year. And the hotel pays for their water twice – once to bring it in and once to dispose it.  Socially, and depending on where in the world the hotel is located, numerous other issues arise. Low wages, insufficient breaks, community injustices and disregard of planning legislations can name a few!

Of course, not all accommodations have a negative effect on the environment or the community they operate in. There is a definite business case for hotels to become more sustainable. The most cited reason is often cost savings. Hotels can save 10-20% on their energy bills by without seeing an adverse impact on their guests and they can reduce their water and waste substantially too. The Holiday Inn on King in Toronto reported a saving of Cdn $14 852 per year through the installation of low flow showerheads and faucet aerators[1]. The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto diverts 67% of its waste from landfill and replaced 7,500 bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs saving over $57,000 U.S. annually in lighting costs[2].

The business case is not just cost savings, however, many hotels have realised that five star service and 600 count cotton sheets doesn’t matter if the beach that their guests want to lie on is dirty or they feel unsafe walking outside their doors. More and more hotels across Canada have signed up for the Sustainable Seafood Initiative and the Marriott is the largest global hotel chain to have signed up – 780 full-service hotels are expected to source at least 50% percent of their seafood from certified sustainable, responsible fisheries and aquaculture farms by 2010[3].

Employee loyalty is another benefit. The Fairmont group of hotels displays that employees are increasingly caring about the environment and this is evident through their extensive Green Partnership Program. Staff come up with new ideas and the best ones are implemented. Currently there are 44 joint hotel and community partnerships throughout the Fairmont portfolio addressing issues such as species conservation, deforestation, and coral reef research.

Although many hotels see the benefits from an employee engagement, risk mitigation or cost savings perspective, many others see consumer’s perceptions and preferences changing and are changing with them. The Germaine Group of hotels have introduced a new eco chic brand called ALT. The hotels will be heated and cooled with geothermal systems, be equipped with energy efficient lighting including having central light switches for controlling electricity, and a system of direct digital controls for ventilation, cooling and heating[4]. They see the venture as smart business practice.

It seems there is a business case for being more responsible….

Rachel Dodds is Director/Owner, Sustaining Tourism & Associate Professor, Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management


[1] Graci, S. & Dodds, R. (2009) Why go green? The business case for environmental commitment in the Canadian hotel industry Anatolia: An International Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Research Vol. 19 (2) pp 250-270.

[2] Fairmont Royal York personal communication, 2010

[3] http://travel.usatoday.com/hotels/post/2010/12/marriott-international-launches-sustainable-seafood-program/134426/1

[4] Green Lodging News 2008

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