Accor is one of only three hotel groups that has made significant headway in addressing the social and environmental issues facing the industry, according to a new report.
But despite progress, the hotel industry still lags behind other sectors – airlines in particular. This inertia might prove costly.
According to the 2009 Tomorrow's Value Rating of the world's largest hotel groups, from sustainability consultants Two Tomorrows, Accor has designed a comprehensive approach to managing social and environmental challenges, is measuring performance and has put in place performance targets for many issues.
Accor, alongside InterContinental Hotels and Marriott International, are leagues ahead of the remaining seven of the 10 largest chains when it comes to addressing social and environmental issues. And, according to the study, some hotel groups are risking making unsubstantiated claims of sustainability and responsibility in their marketing.
The report says that while most hotel groups have noted the big issues, management approaches are immature: "Climate change, employment practices, community welfare, waste and sustainable buildings are the issues recognised more frequently. Evidence of diligent management of these issues, however, is scarce."
It goes on to say that while other issues, such as sex tourism, integration into local cultures, the sustainability of franchisees and the climate change impacts of tourism and travel are of well-documented concern to stakeholders, less than a quarter of hotel groups are responding to the issues. It also points out that while most hotel groups demonstrate some good sustainability practices, only the leaders are beginning to roll these out across their portfolios.
"Hotel groups are focusing on the cost savings from corporate responsibility efforts, but they seem less concerned with reputational risk management or the brand differentiation opportunities that sustainability offers," it claims.
This attitude is in stark contrast to the airlines industry which just last week challenged governments to take four specific actions to support its responsible approach to climate change.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling for governments to
Adopt challenging industry targets to stabilise and eventually reduce aviation's carbon emissions
Manage aviation's carbon emissions through ICAO under a new Kyoto II framework by treating aviation as a global industry sector
Invest in efficient infrastructure, particularly air traffic management
Establish fiscal and legal frameworks to promote the rapid development of bio fuels for aviation
Speaking at the Greener Skies Conference in Hong Kong last week, the IATA's director general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said: "The aviation industry takes its environmental responsibility seriously. Our vision is for carbon-neutral growth on the way to a carbon-free future and we have challenging targets to guide us."
In the same week, IATA members, including the airports, air navigation service providers and manufacturers, presented a working paper to the Civil Aviation Authority at its Montreal High Level Meeting on International Aviation and Climate Change. The paper set out the following three main targets:
Improving fuel efficiency 1.5% on average per year through 2020
Stabilising emissions with carbon-neutral growth from 2020
Reducing emissions by 50% by 2050, compared to 2005
Around 230 airlines are members of IATA – representing 93% of scheduled international air traffic and Bisignani was quick to point out that… "when it comes to environment, no other global industry is as united, ambitious or determined. Our message to governments at ICAO is simple. We need a global sectoral approach to reducing aviation emissions. And governments should incorporate our industry targets as part of their solution."
He said a global sectoral approach would ensure governments accounted for aviation's emissions at a global level and as an industrial sector rather than within national targets. "This would ensure that airlines pay for their climate cost just once, not several times, and it would drive emissions reductions with global standards on a level playing field."
But the global hotel industry is far from this unified approach. 2009 Tomorrow's Value Ratings said even within individual companies there was often no clear designation of responsibility for managing social and environmental issues and just the three largest groups published sustainability reports.
HA Perspective: There are two broad approaches to dealing with what economists call externalities: carrot and stick.
A lot of the focus so far has been on carrot and very little has been accomplished. While marketing your green credentials provides a warm, fuzzy feeling it has not so far delivered much thanks to consumer apathy. As an example, the UK Government's Environmental Audit Committee in July 2007 described British Airways' carbon offset scheme as "risible" as it offset just 0.01% of carbon emissions.
The stick, however, is coming. Governments need to raise taxes to alleviate the massive deficits run-up in the recession. Green taxes are particularly appealing for governments as they can be seen to be charging us more to help save us. Green taxes on companies are even more appealing as companies do not vote and companies can more easily be portrayed as the bad guys of global warming.
In addition, corporate clients of hotel groups are themselves under particular pressure to "green" their activities, including travel. Hotel groups that can offer a coherent answer to the question "how green are you?" will have a distinct advantage going into negotiations with corporate clients.
Travel and tourism needs to fight back against excessive taxation and restrictions. But its case will be weakened if the big corporates are seen as not doing the basics. The airlines, despite their enormous financial challenges, are seizing the opportunity to push governments in a more favourable direction. The hotel sector should be doing likewise.