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Communicating Sustainable Sourcing to Live On Past the Vacation


The United Nations designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector. But how will we, all of us whose purpose is to innovate and drive change in corporate social responsibility, affect change among consumer behavior? It is not enough to just do these things. Communicating our actions to guests is the key to inspiring change in everyday behaviors. The United Nations designation provides a platform to communicate the great programs and initiatives happening all over the world, especially within sustainable sourcing.

This journey begins with the decision to source sustainable goods and services in the first place. We live in a world where operating a sustainable business is not only commended by consumers, but is expected. The demand for sustainable operations from consumers has become more and more customary and businesses in the travel and tourism industry must keep up with this demand. As accessibility to secondary and tertiary cities open up and travelers seek unexpected destinations, new challenges emerge in building sustainable supply chains. But it also provides an opportunity to educate travelers on responsible sustainable sourcing in food and beverage, employee recruitment and retention, and energy sourcing. With effective communication, we hope travelers will apply this information to their own purchasing decisions well after the vacation is over.

Food & Beverage – Farm to Table, Message to Action

Many terms are used to describe sustainably-sourced ingredients – farm to table, farm to mouth, from the earth, and more. These terms suggest the direct benefits of serving locally-grown or organic items to the consumer. While the importance of knowing where your food comes from and how it was produced cannot be understated, the benefits go beyond Michelin-starred restaurants and consumers’ delight in sustainable ingredients. The objective to source sustainable and trustworthy food and beverage options benefits not only the health and wellbeing of travelers and guests, but also the communities in which we operate.

Businesses in the travel and tourism industry can promote positive change by supporting and partnering with other like-minded business that are either also sustainable or have similar values and goals, especially in cooperation with underprivileged communities.

Coastal communities often rely on fishing and tourism as two of their main business sectors. However, these communities can be threatened by large-scale fisheries that take over the industry. Businesses in the travel and tourism industry can support their local communities by partnering with local sustainable fisheries or independent fishermen who employ ethical practices. Businesses that also communicate this practice to guests and stakeholders can “pay it forward” as travelers may select different fish and seafood to cook in their own kitchen.

For example, the Artesmar program in the Philippines supports community-based coastal fisheries and directly works with 800 to 1,000 small fishing boats and 3,000 fishermen who catch adult yellowfin tuna with single-hook handline gear. This method of fishing is arguably one of the most selective methods for catching adult yellowfin tuna worldwide, with bycatch rate of less than two percent, thereby lessening the environmental impact. Artesmar also provides technical coaching and training for fishermen and tuna traders for improved tuna handling and food safety practices.

Since 2014, Makati Shangri-La, Manila has worked with Artesmar to procure fresh tuna. The hotel communicates the benefits of working with organizations like Artesmar through Rooted in Nature promotions, a group-wide sustainable food initiative that highlights locally- or ethically-sourced food. Shangri-La Hotel, Paris hosts monthly dinners that celebrate local farmers and suppliers that meet Rooted in Nature requirements. At the dinners, guests can talk to the head chef and some of the suppliers about the sustainably-sourced offerings.

While educating guests and key stakeholders is imperative to making change, we have to remember that the positive change will not come overnight, especially in the culinary world.

Food trends are continuously evolving. In cultures that subscribe to centuries-old traditions, it will take time, great influence and constant communication to affect change in these trends. For example, shark fin was a delicacy long revered in Asia. However, if shark fin fishing had continued at its rapid pace, shark populations would have plummeted and the species risked extinction because of their slow growing maturity and relatively low productivity. To combat the practice, WildAid partnered with major celebrities including actor Jackie Chan and basketball player Yao Ming in an awareness campaign to end the fishing practice. The campaign to end the consumption of shark fin was featured throughout main stream media in China’s major cities to educate tens of millions of people.

According to Wild Aid, after the release of a joint PSA, 94 percent of viewers said it had an impact, 83 percent stopped or reduced shark fin consumption, and 89 percent said it should be banned. The effective communication and dissemination of the message created great actionable change. With less demand in shark fin product, in turn there was less supply.

This kind of positive change is further amplified by businesses. In 2010, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts initiated the process to remove shark fin products from restaurant menus. In 2012, the group implemented the Sustainable Seafood Policy which included the commitment to cease serving shark fin in all of its operated restaurants as well as cease accepting new orders for shark fin products in banqueting. According to Wild Aid in 2014, prices and sales of shark fin fell in China by 50 to 70 percent.

In the case of shark fin, effective communication resonated with consumers and stakeholders and led to significant positive change.

From the Community, For the Community

Beyond supporting local farmers and fishermen, hiring locally can be an effective means of providing sustainable living for the communities in which we operate. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the industry is responsible for USD7 trillion of global gross domestic product as well as one in 11 jobs around the world. The industry can create many opportunities especially in struggling nations and communities.

Many travelers will seek far-flung destinations and secondary cities as their number one choice for travel in the coming year. Some of these travel destinations such as Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are home to some of the world’s most underprivileged communities with some of the fewest resources. Some of these areas also depend on tourism for over 25 percent of their gross domestic product.

Recruiting staff members from the local community can be a cornerstone to the success of a tourism company. Professionals in the tourism industry know that many travelers seek out memorable experiences over tangible goods. Staff members from the local community can provide invaluable insights into a local culture and destination. We already see hospitality companies embracing local artisans on property through craft demonstrations, lectures and markets.

Beyond local goods, the travel industry benefits from local talent by developing community members’ skills and potential to foster longstanding careers. Programs like the Shangri-La Global Academy can provide the training hotel staff need to develop their careers and work their way up to management positions.

Renewable Energy

According to the UNWTO, tourism is considered one of the most highly climate-sensitive economic sectors. Many destinations are threatened by severe climate change including extreme weather like catastrophic floods and heavy landslides, or rising water levels and temperatures. The travel industry helps travelers explore the world, and we can also help protect the places, communities and natural environment that travelers want to explore.

There have never been more opportunities at hand for hospitality professionals to combat climate change. Hotels and resorts can install on-property solar panels or use low-temperature laundry systems to reduce dependence on energy generated from nonrenewable resources. We can also install energy-efficient lightbulbs in guestrooms and implement water runoff systems to hydrate a hotel garden.

Travel professionals must also look off-property to apply energy-saving programs. Hotels can employ energy-efficient cars to transport guests. Meetings and events teams can encourage outdoor candle-lit celebrations over high-energy-powered events.

We have already seen many hospitality groups embrace energy-efficient operations and we can expect the implementation of alternate energy sources to continue to rise. Communicating these practices to guests can inspire travelers to make changes in their own energy practices at home, amplifying the effect of these choices.

Beyond the responsibility of sourcing sustainable goods and services around the world, the travel and tourism industry can galvanize guests through effective communication. Proper communication and education of sustainable sourcing can inspire consumers to seek out sustainable goods and services in their own lives. Travelers who visit a Vancouver Aquarium can apply what they learned about sustainable seafood when they shop for ingredients to make their family’s next meal. Safari adventurers who visit Kenya to see elephants can refrain from purchasing ivory. Learning how to grow and harvest herbs from a hotel garden can encourage guests to create their own at-home herb garden. The impact of the travel industry is seemingly endless, and it all starts with communication.

This article is reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.hotelexecutive.com.

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