Tourism and leisure
Tourism and leisure companies can have major impacts – positive and negative – on local communities and environments. But so far, a few leaders aside, the industry has been slow to respond.
Key challenges and opportunities
The tourism industry has a number of potentially negative environmental impacts on, for example, local biodiversity, water use and climate change (through travel-related emissions as well as emissions from buildings). At the same time, tourism companies rely on the quality of their destinations and so have a vested interest in preserving the environments in which they operate.
The industry is starting to respond to these challenges. Some hotel companies, for example, are seeking to reduce their environmental impacts through better building design and management, aiming to reduce energy and water use. However, rolling out good environmental practices across highly decentralised operations is a major challenge. On one hand, such practices may be seen as detrimental to the comfort of guests and therefore may be seen as commercially damaging. On the other, sound environmental practices frequently produce significant cost savings. Striking the right balance is the key.
Beyond these issues, tourism companies have many indirect impacts, from the effects of the construction of buildings to the impacts of clients travelling to and from and staying at their destinations. Sustainability leaders in the industry take a broader view of their impacts, seeking to ensure good environmental practices in the supply chain, and seeking to influence the choices of their customers, from modes of travel to their activities at the destination.
Local economic development
Responsible tourism companies will look at maximising the economic benefit of their activities to host communities through the way they procure goods and services, and through their employment of local people.
While almost all large hotel companies engage with local communities in some form, this is usually done in the form of philanthropic investments or staff volunteering programmes, often limited to the companies’ home regions. While we don’t want to discredit such efforts, alternative approaches often yield better results, for the company and the community. Hotel companies can, for instance, work with and help develop small local businesses, or contribute to local professional skills training. Programmes providing seed-funding for social enterprises that address local issues while being financially self-sustaining can also make a lasting difference to the welfare of the community.
Overall, helping local communities to thrive will also benefit guests’ experience by enhancing the they receive from the local community, and thereby providing a more authentic holiday experience – a key differentiator in today’s leisure industry.
From a slow start, tourism companies, in particular hotel operators, have begun picking up the pace of their responses to economic, social and environmental challenges. We are beginning to see some deeper understanding of the issues and strategic responses to these. However, most hotel companies still have a long way to go towards integrating sustainability management within their core management processes, applying it effectively, tracking performance, and engaging with stakeholders to identify and address shared sustainability challenges.
Given the size and visibility of the industry, uptake of global standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G3 sustainability reporting guidelines and the AA1000 Assurance Standard has been surprisingly slow. Until standards like these are adopted more widely, the industry will continue to lag behind.
- We helped Intercontinental Hotels Group, the world’s largest hotel company by number of rooms, to develop its CR report in line with the requirements of the GRI G3 guidelines.
- We supported Jumeirah Group, the Dubai-based luxury hotels and resorts operator, on its first CR report, and provide ongoing strategic CR advice. We have also been helping Jumeirah develop its community investment policy.
- We advised ISS UK, a large commercial provider of facility services including hospitality, catering, cleaning and security, on materiality analysis, stakeholder engagement and policy development. We provided independent assurance of the ISS UK 2009 corporate responsibility review.