In mid-August, Siddharth Chakravarty—Sustainability Director at Six Senses Fort Barwara—got on a monthly call with the global sustainability team of Six Senses Resorts. The topic of discussion was a sunscreen that had been removed from all its properties globally because it was discovered that when mixed with ocean water, it impacted corals. “I am nowhere close to an ocean, so why should I discontinue that particular brand, I asked,” says Chakravarty. The Six Senses Fort Barwara has an STP (sewage treatment plant) and all grey water is treated before being used for gardening. “The sunscreen would disturb the biome, or the colony of bacteria in the STP plant, I was informed,” says Chakravarty, adding that that is the level of detail that Six Senses goes into when it comes to sustainability.
At Fort Barwara—the only Six Senses Spa and Resort in India that opened late last year and made news as the venue of the Vicky Kaushal-Katrina Kaif wedding—Chakravarty has stopped ordering commercial cleaning supplies for housekeeping as they use a lot of chemicals. “We are making in-house bio enzymes (non-pathogenic bacteria to digest waste). These take around two months to ferment,” he says. The resort creates its own toothpaste and lip balms, and guests are taught how to make them. “Sustainability is a lifestyle change and one that we need to encourage amongst our guests,” says Chakravarty.
Gone are the days when luxury hospitality players gave lip service to sustainability, asking guests to reuse their towels. “We decided to take the road less travelled and bring luxury and sustainability together in a way that the guest experiences luxury and contributes to a planet-positive world,” says Anil Chadha, Divisional Chief Executive, ITC Hotels. And so it was that ITC Hotels became pioneers of the sustainability drive. Beginning at the design stage, steps are taken at all ITC hotels to ensure that energy, water and solid waste efficiencies are maximised. From optimising the use of natural light to meeting electrical demand through wind and solar energy; conserving water through rainwater harvesting; treating and recycling water; and attaining near-zero waste generation status by reducing, reusing and recycling the solid waste generated—every effort is made to preserve the ecosystem. While all ITC premium hotels are rated LEED Platinum—a rating awarded by the US Green Building Council—some, such as ITC Windsor and ITC Gardenia in Bengaluru and ITC Chola in Chennai, are zero-carbon properties.
“More than 57 per cent of our electrical energy is met through renewable sources, offsetting more than 50 million kg of CO2 emissions annually,” says Chadha. ITC Hotels has reduced considerable consumption of freshwater over the past five years by treating all wastewater through on-site STPs and then using it for irrigation, flushing and cooling tower requirements. ITC found that luxury hotels generated 250,000 kg of single-use-plastic a year—including 15 million water bottles; these have since been replaced with Shunya, ITC’s in-house water brand which is the result of water purification and glass bottling plants at all its luxury hotels. “We got rid of all plastic toiletries across hotels in 45 days. Our survey showed that most business travellers carried their own toiletries,” says Chadha.
Travellers today are also more conscious. A global study of 9,000 adults commissioned by IHG Hotels & Resorts revealed that consumers are more mindful than ever about travelling responsibly, with 82 per cent saying it is important to choose a hotel brand that operates responsibly. The research found that consumers will spend, on average, 31 per cent more on accommodation that does this. And while those are global figures, a survey among Indian travellers by Booking.com revealed a similar sentiment. According to the 2022 Sustainable Travel Research Report, 91 per cent of Indian travellers say that they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months—a 76 per cent increase over the company’s data last year. And 68 per cent cited that recent news about climate change had influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices. To that end, 64 per cent of Indian travellers say that the sustainability efforts of accommodations and transport providers play a strong role in their property and transport decisions, respectively. In fact, 88 per cent of Indian travellers say they would be more likely to choose a sustainable accommodation—irrespective of whether they were specifically looking for one or not.
“Customers are beginning to demand it... And they want to know what you are doing to reduce it [your carbon footprint]. Consumers are significantly influencing the sustainability movement,” says Dilip Puri, Founder and CEO of the Indian School of Hospitality, and a veteran of the hospitality industry.
Anuraag Bhatnagar, COO of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, agrees. “Sustainable luxury today is changing the paradigm as guests seek fulfilling experiences in harmony with nature and socio-cultural surroundings. Purposeful travel is becoming a trend and guests are choosing brands based on their sustainability initiatives and are, in fact, willing to pay a premium,” he says. The group has set aside Rs 40 crore to reduce its carbon footprint. Currently, its five owned hotels (it manages another seven) are running on 36 per cent renewable energy and will be 100 per cent renewable by 2030. Leela already has two LEED Platinum-certified hotels and plans to have all the hotels certified by mid-2023.
The Oberoi Group, too, is focussing on renewable energy with several of its hotels utilising power from only renewable sources. For instance, The Wildflower Hall and The Oberoi Cecil, Shimla, procure 100 per cent of their power requirements from local hydroelectric power stations, while The Oberoi Bengaluru and Trident Chennai get it from wind power sources. Likewise, The Oberoi Gurugram and Trident Gurugram source 100 per cent of their power requirements from off-site solar power plants. Even luxury properties such as The Oberoi Udaivilas and The Oberoi Vanyavilas source up to 50 per cent of their power requirements from recently commissioned solar plants within the hotels’ premises. Several hotels have efficient systems for the management of water resources and quite a few have installed rainwater harvesting systems and STPs.
Technology, too, plays an important role. At Leela, for instance, sustainability goals are on the general manager’s (GM) scorecard. “We work with Schnieder on an app-based tool called Resource Advisor that helps us track our decarbonisation efforts. So, each GM knows how his/her hotel is doing,” says Bhatnagar. Similarly, Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), better known as the Taj group—India’s largest hospitality company with a portfolio of 242 hotels including 62 under development—has a strategic collaboration with IFC TechEmerge, where new technologies funded by IFC are being piloted across its hotels. “These new technologies are helping us increase efficiencies, which in turn will reduce costs. Some of these are IoT-based and can be easily replicated across our hotels,” says Gaurav Pokhariyal, Executive Vice President (Human Resources), IHCL.
IHCL had earlier this year introduced its ESG project, Paathya, as part of which it set a number of short- and long-term sustainability goals with the intention of making the hotel chain completely sustainable by 2030. In addition to going single-use-plastic free, adopting sustainable water management practices and renewable energy sources, IHCL’s sustainability journey will also involve a 100 per cent adoption of UNESCO’s cultural heritage projects in the geographies it is present in, according to Pokhariyal. It has also weaved into its operations sustainable practices—through new offerings and changes in existing processes.
IHCL has entered into agreements with various players for sourcing green energy. “This source of energy is not just green but also costs lesser [than conventional energy], making it an additional incentive for our properties. For example, we have joined hands with Tata Power to provide solar energy for our Mumbai hotels for a period of 25 years, which will get approximately 60 per cent energy from green sources, reducing nearly 23 million kg of CO2 emissions on an annual basis,” explains Pokhariyal.
Of course, sustainability comes at a cost. “Up to 2030, there will be an annual investment in green initiatives, which is a major part of our capital expenses going forward,” he says.
Puri of the Indian School of Hospitality believes that guests are willing to pay extra for sustainable measures. “There is a cost attached to sustainability but then you charge the customer more. While there is more of an investment in the initial stages, hotels will benefit more from it. They can charge a premium for their sustainable initiatives. Consumers are demanding it, consumers will pay for it.”
Sustainability is big globally. IHG Hotels & Resorts—which owns brands such as InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, etc.—launched its ‘Journey to Tomorrow’ programme last year. “We call it a journey as we haven’t got all the answers yet, but we see this as an important framework to bring together all who stay, work and partner with us to shape the future of responsible travel,” says Sudeep Jain, MD (South West Asia), IHG Hotels & Resorts. The plan includes a target of 100 per cent of all newly-built hotels to operate at very low- or zero-carbon emissions by 2030. “To address this challenge, we are adding key efficiency measures into our newly-built brand standards, and are integrating revised energy efficiency targets and design features into the construction standards of those hotels already in the pipeline. In parallel, we have begun an extensive study into how our current design and construction practices can be modified to minimise emissions for both operational and embodied carbon,” says Jain.
At Raffles Udaipur, the first Raffles hotel in India that opened last year, sustainability is also about maintaining the environment around the property. Set on a 21-acre island in the middle of Udai Sagar Lake, it becomes imperative that steps are taken to ensure that the lake is not polluted. The property has an STP and all sewage water is recycled for irrigating its 17 acres of gardens, with no waste water going into the lake. To not impact the flora and fauna in the lake, home to several migratory birds, a battery-operated boat brings the guests from the mainland to the property. It runs on a fixed path where disturbance is least. “We are a zero-waste property,” says Ritesh Mudgal, Resort Manager of Raffles Udaipur. To cut down on plastic, the hotel has shortlisted vendors who provide grains and spices in jute and cloth bags. “The idea is to avoid plastic coming on to the island,” he says.
Giving back to the community is a key aspect of sustainability. For instance, Ananda in the Himalayas recently set up a not-for-profit institute in Rishikesh to provide free spa training to underprivileged girls. Aashica Khanna, Vice President of IHHR that runs the wellness resort, says: “Sustainability has to be addressed from various angles whether it is waste, community, eco-sensitivity, conscious consumption, etc. It’s an overall ecosystem that you need to create.”
With luxury travellers demanding and willing to pay for it, sustainability is no longer just a catchphrase, but fundamental for luxury hospitality players.
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