As a concept, sustainability has been looming on the horizon of the current cultural zeitgeist with increasing evidence of the positive impact that lends itself to business praxis centred around real-world implications.
However, the urgency of reinventing hospitality is not just another bid at customer retention strategy, it is one of the core tenets of self-actualizing long-term socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders and the world at large.
Preliminary number-crunching on a national scale, showcases a branded inventory of 1,40,000 keys propping up a workforce of 4Cr people in the larger tourism and hospitality industry with a GDP contribution of around 9%. This data amply elucidates the massive impact of just the the hospitality sector on the larger environment spanning sustainable development, resource management, water & energy consumption in addition to reductions in the overall carbon footprint.
India, where approximately 40% of the workforce consists of millennials, the hospitality industry is uniquely buoyed by a situation of these millennials being our guests and even our workforce, both of whom share a pro-active affinity and familiarity with sustainability and the environmental impact it has on the larger ecosystem. In essence, it is increasingly apparent that hotels are not just brick and mortar physical spaces but signifiers of a global alliance between guests, the workforce and ultimately the citizenry, with their branding and marketing arms, often eliciting a worldwide presence. This can be well leveraged to champion sustainability as the greatest good through integrated sustainable development programs - something that iconic hoteliers are now committing themselves to in order to tackle pressing global environmental issues. In turn, committed stakeholders stand to benefit greatly from these sustainability initiatives within development projects during varying stages of an asset’s life cycle. From site selection, site preservation, project planning (eco-architecture, energy-saving, power wheeling) to daily operations (limiting single-use plastic, using bio-degradable packaging, sourcing locally, reducing food wastage) a fruitful nexus of ecological commitment is necessary towards increasing organizational and operational agility.
With the right intent and cultural DNA, a predisposition to building sustainable businesses can be amplified with the role of technology. Today’s businesses invite stakeholders whether it be guests, consultants, promoters or even the workforce with dynamic expectations that involve giving back to society or actively contributing while participating in a transitioning work model. As we become digital or remote nomads under the hull of a powerful paradigm shift now accelerated by the pandemic, the new normal with its ease of tech implementation and team-wide empowerment can be game-changing. This can benefit everyone involved across operations, manpower management, cluster roles and regional teams alike, exemplifying the fact that businesses can be run sustainably with minimal micromanagement.
With an average project life cycle of over 10 years (including an average 3-year development period and 7-8 year breakeven period of expected profit levels), a sustainable initiative is likely to provide 2% increase in profits through energy-saving solutions per annum. At the same time, it is necessary to note that sustainability initiatives are not suited to short-term gain or only financial benefits but as a value proposition with a larger social and ecological impact on the life-cycle of the planet. A key takeaway from this is for businesses to align with global value shifts and the triple bottom line (of people and the planet) as opposed to only addressing the financial singularity.
There are consolidated business benefits in sustainable hotel operations – be it cost savings, regulatory compliance, employee loyalty, customer retention or risk management. For this to be an operational reality, the government and planning departments would need to be involved more intimately to ensure that sustainability becomes a pre-mediated practice rather than a utopia. As things stand, urbanization is touted to be one of the world's biggest megatrends with a number of reports suggesting that New Delhi will be the world’s largest metropolis bustling with a population of 34 Million by 2028. These numbers are a tell-tale sign of the massive impact on ground resources owing to consumption. Other cities in India like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Chennai are also going to see a similar environmental impact. In a situation like this, building norms need to be made more efficient, less complex and have the agility to mirror market trends that drive viable sustainability. A great starting point would be to implement and adopt best practices instituted in global markets or even locally. A uniform criterion for FSI ( Floor Space Index) granted to land parcels pan India - replete with uniform building and fire norms, green building norms and parking norms would all contribute positively towards this goal.
This same goes for parking norms as currently, parking requirements in hotels are determined by the local bye-laws and typically lead to a requirement for a larger land parcel (a scarce and expensive resource) having to choose between creating more basements (expensive to build and maintain) or a building above ground (impacting set back requirements and/or height restrictions). The entire exercise ultimately requires extensive ground excavation work thus impacting the water table. A simpler workaround to address this infrastructural and policy snag could be associating the mandated parking space to the total public area & banquet space while allowing the parking to be developed on stilt floors which are exempted from the FSI consideration. To start with, these infrastructural policy changes could positively impact the sustainability of a project by sensitizing the government against prohibitive policies.
To summarize, in an economy like India, that has so much potential in terms of infrastructure and development alongside the large manpower involved, the hospitality sector as a whole can contribute towards making a larger impact by introducing newer practices at various stages of the project life cycle through both- process and policy. And while the economic benefits may not be pronounced at first, what sustainability as a practice does bring to the table, is an intangible value proposition and purposeful fulfilment of doing what's right as a business.