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[Video] "If we use each other’s synergies, if we use each other’s resources, [...] our impact is disproportionately bigger"

Wolfgang Neumann launched on October 1st with partners the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance. Gathering 25% of the worldwide supply, the alliance succeeds to International Tourism Partnership which he has been presiding over for 5 years.

I am talking to you today as chairman of the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance. I have numerous non-executive roles, I am also chairman of the hotel school The Hague and I have other seats and strategic advisory roles in the travel and tourism space but my passion is certainly in sustainability and I have been involved with the previous organization International Tourism Partnership since 2013 and I was chairman of that organization for the last five years.

We have launched the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance on the 1st of October, as you rightly said coming out of the International Tourism Partnership which actually is an organization that existed already for over 25 years. Steady progress but certainly has gained enormous momentum now.

Sustainability and social responsibility can often be vague and hard to understand. Could you please share with us a few initiatives of your members?

In the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, we look at the environment, the planet and we look at the people. So we are very focused on where we want to make an impact, we want to make an impact locally where the hotels operate but we also want to make an impact globally and we have to find four keys areas, two around people and two around the planet. When it comes to planet, it is about climate action and water stewardship and when it comes to people, it’s about human rights and youth and employment and these four focused areas are very much aligned on the UN Sustainable Development Goals to make sure that we in the hospitality industry also make a contribution to that. We can and must achieve these goals only jointly and that is why we as Sustainable Hospitality Alliance focus on these four areas where we really believe that the hospitality industry lends itself to having an impact and be very focused on that.

Who are the members of your association?

The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance is a global organization, we unite 25% of the global hotel industry by rooms. You have Marriott Hotels, IHG, Hyatt, Wyndham, Radisson, they are all members but not only the big ones but also some regional hotel companies. That allows us to really have traction, that allows us to work together, I passionately believe that we need to collaborate. The challenges around planet and people, around the sustainability, SDG goals from the U.N, they can only be solved if we really collaborate and work in unity. Each of our companies, each of the members can certainly make a contribution, can make a difference but if we use each other’s synergies, if we use each other’s resources, which we all pull on online and our impact is disproportionately bigger and what we always say in Alliance is when it comes to sustainability and human rights, that’s not a competitive area, that’s a collaboration area. So, as much we compete for our guests and for revenues and to optimize our results, sustainability, and human rights that’s not an area for competitiveness but for collaboration.

How do you manage to align the interests of bigger groups and smaller ones? Does everyone have the same role, the same ambition because they don’t have the same turnover, they don’t have the same budget?

They don’t have the same geographies; they don’t have the same challenges. Absolutely.

But at the end of the day, what we try to do is to develop programs and practical tools which help each of the members and by the way not only the members but also the hotel industry in general because our resources are available on our websites. We want to influence; we want to help not only the members but the industry as a whole. We come together and we develop tools jointly, in different programs and different tools, different members have expertise, have a particular interest, have a particular business need and in some areas, it’s one or two members who work specifically on it, in another one it’s another membership.

Our experience over the years, it’s brilliant to work together and bring expertise together.

When we develop for example the hotel water measurement tool or the  hotel carbon measurement tool which are two key tools when it comes to planet actions and planet measurements and setting goals, we brought in experts from the different companies and each of them had a different level some were focused on technology, the others were more focused on the government side or on the legal side, it works very well when we have ultimately one common objective.

Could you present a little further your roadmap for the next months or years?

Months, I can’t. Because in this current environment the months are special, but we certainly have the ambition, within these four areas, to really make a difference. When it comes to climate for example, we want to embrace science-based talents and we want to encourage not only our members but the industry to really join us in reducing CO2 emissions at scale. We want to achieve this 1.5-degree target which are far away at the moment, we need to really set clear targets, we need to measure, and we need to implement clear program.

When it comes to the people-oriented programs, target areas, youth and employment, you know how wonderful our industry is, it gives easily the opportunity to get young people into employment. We focus in our employment programs on the young people at risk with poverty or beat exploitation and really give them the opportunity. It’s really good training program to get into our industry.

In terms of human rights, it’s an area where we need to raise awareness because we always think in our business very often that in terms of human rights there’s no problem, everything is fine but we need to address and really embed human rights into all our corporate governance programs and really be honest about the fact that human rights, there is risks which come throughout our labor chain. Starting with constructing our hotels working without certain partners and we really need to be sure how we can embed this human rights programs into our daily routine.

For all of this, we develop practical tools programs, training programs, we share them on our website and as I said we really want to make those also available for everyone and I give you one very good example.

We worked with the IFC, the world bank International Finance Corporation to create the business case for sustainable hotels and that’s really recognizing that our business model is so complex that we have owners real estate, owners management companies, franchise partners and we all need to understand how we can really create sustainable hotels and by the way not only build them but also when it comes to refurbishing, retrofitting them in the right way. We in this business case really demonstrate very clearly what the benefits are from a financial perspective to design and operate sustainable hotels in a clear way.

On a more general basis, you have been working in that alliance for five years. Do you see an evolution in people’s mentality, the way they look at sustainability? Do they start to understand how important, how powerful it can be or is it still a big idea, far away?

There is definitely a change of mindset. In my mind no doubt. The younger generation in particular. I have three kids, they are all in between 18 and 23, they really make decisions based on that.  I think the younger generation as it comes more and more into our consumer guest platform, they will demand more and more, I think there is certainly a change of mindset. What I think is also interesting is this Covid times where everybody initially was surviving, fighting for survival, now is fighting for the business, cutting back costs and everything.  It is great to see in our board for example for the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance that all the members despite Covid are really totally committed, I mean it could be easily an expense that companies cut out and sort of say “Well that is not something I want to cover at the moment” but total commitment and I think that’s what Covid teaches us, we need to learn, we need to realize that the way we have been running business and going about our lives, we need to change and we need to rebuild in a better way, in a more  sustainable way.

We want to be a spokesperson, an organization who can share good practice, encourage, motivate and really help people to make a difference and that not only through our membership but also to our whole strategic partnerships.

I think that perspective, we have now the opportunity, we all know, and it doesn’t matter which statistics we look at, which reports we look at, we know that we have to do more.

We know that the hospitality business lends itself to it and by joining the alliance it is really the opportunity to work together in an aligned way, ultimately making it much easier to implement action points which let’s face it, they are daunting in many instances and they are challenging. Together we are much stronger.  

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