Sustainability is no longer a buzzword, but a necessity

The hospitality industry faces urgent call to prioritise eco-conscious initiatives and to recognise its importance in enhancing asset value.

Clint Nagata of BLINK Design Group, Arnfinn Oines of Soneva and Sabine Schaffer of Pro-Invest Group shared insights on sustainability.
Clint Nagata of BLINK Design Group, Arnfinn Oines of Soneva and Sabine Schaffer of Pro-Invest Group shared insights on sustainability. Photo Credit: AOCAP 2022

Sustainability is no longer a “good to have” option but a necessity for hotel brands that want to maintain their competitive edge. For hotel operators, it creates a brand USP that resonates with the eco-conscious travellers of today. For hotel owners, it increases the valuation of the asset when energy costs are reduced.

The long-term outlook for sustainability was addressed at the recent Alternate Ownership Conference Hotels & Resorts – Asia Pacific webinar organised by The BHN Group. It highlighted global awareness about the importance of getting to “net zero” in carbon-neutral goals as well as the importance of environmental, social and governmental (ESG) standards and reporting in businesses.

Addressing sustainable concerns, a panel moderated by Bill Barnett, MD of C9 Hotelworks brought up the shadow issue of over-tourism in responsible tourism.

Sabine Schaffer, Managing Partner & Co-founder of Pro-invest Group said the onus is on asset owners to ensure that real estate asset types within a portfolio should incorporate green features and be energy-efficient

“Consumers in Asian markets too are more vocal about making green choices when they travel. There is also more of a push on the policy side from governments that are advocating environmentally friendly initiatives,” she added.

From a design perspective, Clint Nagata, Founder & Creative Partner, BLINK Design Group said that the firm works with sustainability consultants to champion the agenda with clients. But ultimately, a green vision is ingrained in its design philosophy.

“Regardless of the hotel project, whether it’s budget, mid-scale or luxury, we adopt a ‘local first approach’ in sourcing for materials. We really tap into the community to discover how we can maximise resources and also give back to the community. He added that social efforts and giving back to the community are really important in aspects of hotel design.

With Asia Pacific seeing a continued boom in new hotels, the need for sustainable goals grows urgent. But therein lies another question: will there be more greenfield projects or conversions of existing buildings? The latter makes it more challenging to implement green features.

“Eighty percent of the buildings that will be ready by 2050 are already standing now, so the important question to address is how to make these old buildings environmentally friendly. No doubt, it much easier to build efficient green energy systems into new builds,” said Schaffer. She highlighted the need for asset owners to be committed and added they have just completed the conversion of a 10-year-old building in Sydney with energy-efficient and eco-friendly features. “We have a new class asset that is now Australia’s first carbon-neutral hotel last year,” she said.

Together with building conversion projects, the practice of upcycling materials and furniture in renovations make a difference in creating sustainable hotels of the future. For Arnfinn Oines, Social & Environmental Conscience at Soneva, repurposing furniture and upcycling materials are key approaches in its properties in Maldives.

“We have an in-house carpentry team that builds new furniture and fixes old ones. We see great value in that. Also, we have a glass studio that is used to create artistic and functional pieces from glass waste that is collected from our properties. It also allows our guests to enjoy the experience of glass blowing lessons at the studio. At our Soneva Jani property, pretty much all the glassware on that property was recycled and repurposed in-house at the studio,” said Oines.

The sustainability vision may begin with hotel operators and designers, but its commitment begins with asset owners. The panel speakers concurred there is a need to further educate Asia’s hotel owners on the importance of long-term commitment in order to fully reap the benefits and investment value of this asset class.