Conserve to Serve

As the world returns to travelling, BW HOTELIER traces how ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’ dominates the touchpoints of a journey

Over the past two plus years, when people were cooped up in the confines of their homes, for work and/ or pleasure, they had time to ponder over several issues, some they hadn’t ever thought about. Of the many, one of the most important issues was sustainability. With reports of enrichment of environment coming in from all corners of the world, deliberations began as to what needs to be done to sustain it after restrictions are lifted.

At the same time, the pandemic brought unprecedented levels of reliance on technology so much so that people now expect to get most services via technology minus human touch. Also, people realised the importance of travelling and vacations in their lives during this phase. The world had never before seen a mass situation where taking vacations and getting away from homes would become so inaccessible. But it happened. The travel and tourism industry, one of the worst hit during the period of the pandemic, adopted the challenge of becoming ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’ to meet the ever-changing requirements the guests requested or demanded. And they did it in no time. 

CGH Earth Coconut Lagoon

A journey for a leisure traveller begins either at an airport, a railway station or a bus station. Let us assume at an airport here. It moves to a flight and thereafter to a hotel which includes F&B. Now, these locations have innumerable touchpoints which have been focussed by the industry while thinking of sustainability as well as smart measures. 

The maiden experience

Up until two decades ago, flight tickets came as booklets. Not anymore. In an era of technological advancements, a traveller can now book and choose a seat, do a check-in before arriving at the airport and carry printout of the boarding pass too. All at the click of a mouse or on a smartphone. Alternatively, one can opt for a self-check-in at the airport to save the hassle of waiting in a queue. Of late, travellers can get check-in baggge tags without even getting to the counter at select airports in the country. All they need to do is leave the luggage at the check-in counter after getting the baggage tags. 

CSMIA, Mumbai

As it happens at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) with Common Use Self-Service (CUSS) kiosks for passengers to check-in and generate baggage tag themselves. Self-Baggage Drop (SBD) counters to e-gates that allow passengers to scan their boarding pass before proceeding to security check are proactive initiatives which highlight CSMIA’s commitment to adapting the next generation digital framework. With a focus on promoting a contactless journey, the airport expedited its planned developments and launched initiatives like introducing a touchless feature via QR-code-based technology and its self-check-in kiosks, as well. Another aspect that comes with hi-tech features is of carbon footprint. 

Noida International Airport is being developed in Jewar in Uttar Pradesh as one of the leading airports in the world in terms of customer-service, operational efficiency, digital services and commitment to minimal environmental impact. “There are plans to implement technologies and processes like zero-emission fuels and maximum use of renewable energy (solar), waste treatment, recycling and waste-water recycling and environmental management system to realise this goal,” shares Christoph Schnellmann, Chief Executive Officer, Noida International Airport. 

He adds that Yamuna International Airport Pvt Ltd (YIAPL) developed four sub-concepts (energy, fuel, waste and water) and developed feasible solutions to pursue in design, construction and operation of the airport. The NIA masterplan has earmarked eight hectares of land to develop a forest park using trees from the project site. “It will serve as a space for travellers and visitors to spend leisure time and become an attractive destination for health/ fitness activities as well as for nature-focussed recreational activities. The airport plans to preserve all native species and be nature positive throughout the development of the airport,” adds Schnellmann. 

Proposed Noida International Airport

Meanwhile, CSMIA has constructed rainwater tanks with a capacity of 26 lakh litres and 229 rainwater harvesting pits across the terminal for recharge of groundwater table to ensure water efficiency. Additionally, it aims to maintain 100 per cent recycling of treated wastewater for cooling, landscaping and washing.

Up in the air

Flights are a bit of a sore spot for those who love sustainability due to high fuel consumption but changes are in the offing here too. Turkish Airlines, for instance, recently introduced a special design element with leaves on its Airbus 321 type TC-JSU tail numbered aircraft to operate its maiden environmental fuel operation flight. The aircraft used biofuel and followed zero-waste principle while using eco-friendly materials on-board for services.

Sustainability-themed Turkish Airlines aircraft 

On the other hand, IndiGo has been working towards emission reduction initiatives, options to conserve and reuse water and solid waste management. As part of this effort, the airline is investing in more energy efficient fleet, replacing older A320 CEOs with NEO aircraft. This is expected to reduce fuel usage by 15 per cent as well as greenhouse gas emissions during flight. The feasibility of using biofuels is also being tested. Another successful project implemented by the airline was automation of ground support equipment which reduced carbon emissions by almost 5 per cent and equivalent to 1,246 tonnes, considering business proportionality.

Smart and sustainable accommodation

Hotels are the backbones of hospitality industry and major groups in the business have been introducing smart and sustainable measures to ensure environment-conscious travellers don’t overlook them. In India, ITC is among the first brands to have sustainable measures at their properties. Three of ITC hotels – ITC Windsor and ITC Gardenia in Bengaluru and ITC Grand Chola, Chennai are ranked the world’s top three LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Zero Carbon certified hotels, a first-of-its-kind achievement globally. From using renewable energy and recycling solid waste to conserving water, actively mitigating single-use plastic and reducing the carbon footprint at every step, ITC Hotels has been undertaking sustainability initiatives for years now.

ITC Windsor 

The Oberoi Hotels has a Green Team comprising heads of departments to conceptualise and implement innovative ideas to conserve energy and preserve environment. The employees and their families undergo environmental awareness training and gardening as well as horticulture form an integral feature of every hotel. 

IHCL, one of the biggest hotel companies in India and the company which owns the iconic Taj Hotels, is a leader in terms of sustainability. “Sustainability for us is affirmative action, a holistic look at people, planet and profits, for the good of all stakeholders. The Indian hotel industry has taken a hit of over Rs 1.30 lakh crore in revenue for the fiscal year 2020-21. Moving forward, we need sustainable plans to keep livelihoods intact, save the planet, and lighten our carbon footprint. Through Paathya, we are looking at six pillars for sustainability – environmental stewardship, social responsibility, excellence in governance through inclusivity, value change transformation, scalability in business and digitisation and preserving legacy and heritage,” says Gaurav Pokhariyal, Senior Vice President and Global Head - Human Resource, IHCL. 

On environment front, by 2030, he adds, 50 per cent of energy will come from renewables. “All our hotels will have on-site organic waste management systems, all hotels will be single-use plastic free and all hotels will be earth check certified. Fifty per cent of hotel guest parking areas will be committed to EV charging stations. At social level, we are looking at adding livelihoods. A total of 40,000 livelihoods will be impacted through skill-building. We are looking at every action from the lens of what is gender progressive. There will be 25 per cent women representation on the Boards. All our hotels will have at least one initiative to preserve heritage, arts and crafts. ESG is the evaluative framework that will guide our investment decisions in the coming years.”

Meanwhile, Zubin Saxena – Managing Director & Vice President of Operations, South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group (RHG), explains how several routine aspects of running a hotel can be made more sustainable. “At RHG, we have informed management plans in place at hotels with latest technology upgrades. We train employees to ensure efficient use of resources. Our hotels have actively adopted water-saving technologies – we have been successful in engaging guests and employees in activities to shrink water consumption by considerable margins. Even our infrastructure supports natural cross-ventilation, thus reducing the use of electricity. Nature and architecture harmoniously coexist in our properties. The design language itself is a combination of sustainable practices and local art and craft. We are proud to share that Radisson Hotel Group is the world’s first hotel group to make meetings and events across 400+ hotels in its EMEA portfolio carbon negative. We also have a renewable energy transition strategy in place. At present, more than 56 of our properties run 100 per cent on renewable electricity,” shares Saxena.

Novotel Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Sustainability is at the core of what Accor does. “A lot of conscious effort is made to ensure that our operations are managed responsibly. When it comes to routine aspects such as housekeeping, we take several steps to stay on track of our sustainable development approach,” says Puneet Dhawan, Senior VP Operations, Accor India and South Asia. He cites the example wherein the Group encourages reuse of linen for stays longer than a night. 

“We offer at least two eco-friendly toiletries and use eco-label cleaning products. Accor has pledged to remove all single-use plastic items in guest experience by end-2022. When it comes to operations and maintenance, electricity and water supply is managed efficiently and it is ensured that there is right allocation. When banquets or other meeting spaces are not in use, we ensure there is no power wastage. Without compromising on guest experience, we measure and analyse water and energy consumption on a monthly basis to address any malfunctions.”

Tree of Life Ecotainers, Agra

A number of independent and niche brands are functioning around the idea of sustainability too. Like, Tree of Life Resorts and Hotels aims to make a conscious contribution towards eco-recycling. The Tree of Life Ecotainers, Agra, is a property offering accommodation remodelled out of shipping containers. Each room has amenities such as air conditioners, flat-screen TVs and mini bars among others. Commenting on creating awareness among guests, Akhil Anand, Director, Tree of Life Resorts and Hotels, says, “Communicating your efforts to potential guests and seeking their buy-in is crucial because you cannot clap with one hand. The guest’s engagement and appreciation on things like using only homegrown seasonal produce to design menus, being mindful of minimising consumption of resources such as electricity and water are critical in making this a holistic success. The guests must have this as a way of their own normal life and I do see a shifting trend where a large majority of guests are now visiting us with this outlook and expectation.”

CGH Earth Experience Hotels, on the other hand, is a chain of hotels that works around nature and with local communities as well as while caring for the environment. “CGH Earth’s Hotels & Resorts has been the first to start creating Christmas ornaments with upcycled waste. This upcycling concept is in line with two of the three fundamental principles of CGH Earth which are conserving the environment and working with the local community. This upcycled decoration process is done every year to also inspire other hotels, organisations and individuals on how they can use waste creatively. Furthermore, it helps reduce plastic decorations that only add to the waste on our planet. We were one of the early implementers of water bottling plants in the hotel industry, starting at Brunton Boatyard. With the help of advanced technology, treated water is packaged hygienically in sterilised glass bottles in a controlled environment. We then implemented this at Coconut Lagoon, Spice Village and our other properties. These steps enabled us to bring down plastic waste generation considerably, a big leap in our efforts to reduce use of plastic,” feels Michael Dominic, CEO, CGH Earth Experience Hotels. 

CGH Earth Spice Village

However, hotels need to be smart as has become the need of the hour. Some Marriott hotels, for example, don’t require guests to carry plastic key cards any more. The keys can be carried digitally in their smartphones and doors can be unlocked using these. Talking about smart initiatives undertaken by hotels, Sudeep Jain, MD – South West Asia, IHG, says, “We have invested in cloud-based technology and accelerated the rollout of digital enhancements to improve guest experience and ensure it is safe and secure. Our cloud-based platform, IHG Concerto, is critical to the work we are doing in this space, serving as the foundation for much of how we are creating digital advantage. Blending core hotel applications into one seamless, powerful platform capable of enhancing the guest, owner and colleague experience, Concerto gives us the ability to add regular releases with new functionality at pace and scale.” However, what an architect does during the construction of a hotel plays an important role in sustainability. 

Post-pandemic, there has been a considerable shift in rethinking hospitality design with respect to users’ health and well-being, thereby focussing more on holistic wellness, says Mitu Mathur, Director, GPM Architects and Planners. “Today, we comprehend a new meaning for leisure. From inception of any project, at GPM, we assess all possibilities to ensure a climatically responsive design with desired orientation and integration of the built-form within its context while capturing the beauty of the immediate surroundings. The site and its culture are our most significant drivers. Hence, highlighting the essence of a place and merging the same with contemporary design ideas to create a range of experiences for visitors is of utmost importance,” she shares.

To ensure sustainability, Akshat Bhatt, Principal Architect, Architecture Discipline, explains what materials and processes can be chosen during construction phase. “Keeping sustainability in mind, locally sourced, recyclable and long-lasting material must be prioritised. The design process often involves sourcing multiple samples locally and testing them for durability before use in the building. At Justa Nuo, the interiors feature striking floor-tech carpets that are locally sourced and recyclable wood fibre-boards that are used to attenuate excessive noise of the bustling city outside.”

Westin Resort and Spa, Jaipur, built by GPM Architects

Food and environment

If travel is for the soul, food is the heart of every journey. It is, however, unfortunately one aspect overlooked the most when it comes to sustainability. Food wastage is no unknown concept and as more and more international cuisines become popular, importing products has been a new trend. However, this witnessed a change during the pandemic as the supplies were either limited or not available. The F&B industry had to find local alternatives to global ingredients as imports and exports came to a halt. 

“Keeping sustainability at the core of our operations, we have implemented several measures to counter issues. We conduct a waste audit exercise where factors such as how much food is being wasted and the number of people visiting our restaurant are taken into account to minimise food wastage,” says Nikhil Sharma, Regional Director for Eurasia, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, while talking about F&B initiatives. 

“In addition, we evaluate inventory to learn if the food sits around too long in storage and ensure that the hotel is not over-ordering to maximise shelf life of perishable products. Our traffic log system maintains a daily log of how much traffic the hotel has received, the weather and other helpful information for planning the following year’s guest traffic and how much to order. We train our staff to be waste-conscious and efficient and create a food waste strategy with the team’s help to minimise waste in ways such as repurposing ingredients,” he adds.

“F&B is an area where there are several opportunities to make sustainable choices and reduce carbon footprint. Lemon Tree has put into practice many such initiatives and going forward we are piloting new ideas which can then be scaled up across all hotels. Current initiatives include plastic-free takeaway boxes and straws, waste segregation, recycling and reuse (where possible to make compost), use of green energy and fuel in the kitchens as far as possible. Our pilots include moving away from plastic bottles to glass bottles (at a hotel level), greater reliance on local and organic produce and where possible, a supply chain that offers a ‘farm-to-fork’ experience,” says Aradhana Lal, Senior Vice President – Sustainability & ESG, Lemon Tree Hotels Limited.

It is no secret that moving forward, sustainability will be the key, especially to ensure the future generations enjoy pleasures of the world to the fullest. These efforts have been long coming and as major brands move towards more environment-friendly model of operations, the efforts taken to preserve environment are only going to improve, be it in terms of conserving natural resources, setting off carbon footprints or just the overall enrichment of the environment.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER MAY-JUNE 2022'


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