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4 key success strategies of hotels reducing single-use plastic

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

We´ve worked in single-use plastic reduction with hotels since 2011, way before it was on the agenda of businesses, governments and the general public in the way that it is today.

In 2018, the year that "single-use" became the Collins English Dictionary word of the year we saw a significant increase in the demand for our tools to help hotels and accommodation providers reduce or eliminate single-use plastic products. Since then, we have worked with hotels of all different styles and size that welcome a variety of customer demographics from package holidays to eco-lodges and luxury holidays to business trips.

Over this time, we have observed a number of recurring traits that are common amongst those businesses who are achieving success with their plastic reduction strategies.

The overarching reason for success is actually quite simple - they really, really mean it.

They truly believe that single-use plastic has no place in their business and they are proactively doing everything they can to change to processes and procedures that reduce waste.

When a management team has this attitude, it becomes part of the DNA and it makes it much easier to take staff and customers on that waste reduction journey with them. Whilst the belief is absolutely key, the strategies provide the framework to bring it to life. These are the four most common success strategies that we see amongst hotels that are achieving success in reducing single-use plastic and overall waste.

1) Have clear goals and a commitment to achieving them

Hotels and hotel chains that are achieving success have an unfailing commitment to change. They have a crystal clear vision for the future (e.g. the goal to be free from single-use plastic in customer facing areas, to be free from single-use plastic completely or to be free of certain types of single-use plastic products such as water bottles for example).

They put a timeframe on that goal which gives everyone something to work towards and adds a sense of urgency to the approach

They create a clear action plan to achieve it, this means that staff, suppliers and even guests are aware of the actions that they can take to support the hotel in achieving its goal.

Some great examples of this include Six Senses, Iberostar and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. All have an absolute laser focus on what they want to achieve, by when they hope to achieve it and how they plan to do it, and they are very happy to make these public commitments. Some smaller independent accommodation providers have already achieved plastic free operations such as Footsteps Eco Lodge in The Gambia.

In some cases plastic reduction programmes are stand-alone initiatives, in others they form part of a wider sustainability agenda, both approaches work just as well when the vision is so clear.

2) Review and adapt brand standards and operational procedures

We often hear that brand standards and operational procedures are a barrier to implementing change.

For example the "brand standard" states that water must be provided in guest rooms and the operational procedure has always been to provide this service using single-use plastic bottles.

When a management team is not truly engaged in waste reduction with waste reduction it can be easy to allow these standards and procedures to become a reason not to change.

On the contrary, successful hotels review and adapt their brand standards so that they support waste reduction, they look at whether the products are really necessary, they prioritize elimination over replacement. Where replacement is necessary they look for reusable, refillable alternatives rather than switching from single-use plastic to other single-use materials which does nothing to reduce overall waste. They are their own critical friend and they use this approach to break old habits and create a new DNA.

When hotels are just starting to review standards and procedures we suggest doing this as a team, to include key members of all operational areas and ask themselves "If waste reduction was the highest priority, how would we change our standards and procedures to help us achieve this" and then be open to all potential opportunities.

3) Collaborative approach and relationships

What we really love about these successful businesses is that they actively seek help and advice, they know that they can't do it alone and that by sharing knowledge, ideas, successes AND FAILURES, they will move ahead more quickly.

They acknowledge that not all changes will go according to plan but they don't let that prevent them from trying.

They create customer communications to explain what they are doing and why, and in the face of negative feedback they invite conversation to find out what went wrong. Nine times out of ten it is not the solution that guests don't like, it is the fact that the change created some inconvenience or required unexpected effort on their part and they weren't ready for that. It is a communications issue and by listening to their guests they get a great understanding about to frame changes so that they are more readily accepted in future.

Similarly, these hotels engage with suppliers, they ask for help in identifying new services that put processes before products, they ask for help in identifying reusable and refillable alternatives, they take their time to understand if single-use alternatives made from non-plastic materials are suitable for the waste infrastructure in their destination and they make their purchasing decisions accordingly. They proactively use their influence to create positive change and to lead by example.

A great example of collaboration on this topic in the tourism sector is the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative. Travel Without Plastic is a founding member and we sit on the advisory board that meets regularly to discuss issues, challenges and solutions. The spirit of openness and collaboration is a breath of fresh air.

4) Proactive customer communications

Once you are clear on your vision and you are committed to it, you can engage with guests in a meaningful way so that they are happy to support you. There are some common approaches here too, first and foremost is that the successful hotels really know their clients. This is very different from thinking you know your clients.

Successful hotels have actually taken the time to understand what their guests expect, and whilst it is obvious that most people's primary motivation to travel for a holiday is to relax and unwind, it is also true that more and more people feel better doing this if they know that the sustainability impacts are taken care of by the holiday companies they choose to travel with and by the hotels and accommodations where they choose to stay. The challenge is to do this with the least amount of inconvenience for guests.

Hotels managing this well make changes to services that are seamless, for example by switching from plastic bottles of water in guest rooms to glass bottles that are filled from water which is filtered on site. These bottles are accompanied by a positive message that talks about the clean, fresh, crisp filtered water that tastes great and avoids plastic waste. Same great service, no waste and a feel good message all wrapped in one.

They also tell people WHY they are making changes, this is really important as guests are more likely to support changes when they understand why you are asking. If a change is positioned in such a way that the guests also benefit, then they are more likely to want to make the effort to support you.

For example, instead of a generic message such as "Help to keep our beaches clean" choose a more personalised message such as "Refilling your reusable bottle helps to keep plastic bottles out of the environments where we live and the beautiful beaches that you have travelled her to enjoy"

It can be quite interesting to see how quickly changes are accepted when the benefits are clearly explained.

To conclude, knowing what needs to be done is not enough, consistent ACTION driven by a true belief in the outcome is the main key to success. Those hotels and accommodations whose management teams are genuinely interested in making a positive impact and reducing unnecessary waste will achieve their goals.

Travel Without Plastic´s role is to provide advice and recommendations and to encourage you to make changes but we can’t take the action for you. You don´t need to do everything at once, you can take it one step at a time, but keep taking the steps and follow the strategies that others are using to achieve success, most of all, make sure that you mean it.

We have a range of tools and services to help you to get started or to accelerate your progress.

If you believe that your hotel has taken significant steps forward in single-use plastic reduction and you are interested in promoting these achievements, take a look at Travel Without Plastic is proud to be their primary knowledge partner.

Written by: Jo Hendrickx

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