Tourism

Sustainability in tourism

More and more hotels and countries, such as Portugal, are becoming aware of the importance of including sustainability and respect for the environment in their offerings.

Portugal’s tourism firms are aiming to increase their operational efficiency through environmentally friendly initiatives and diversify their offerings.

Sustainability and environmental awareness have become inescapable in all areas of life and business. Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) is now a widely known term in all walks of life, including the leisure sector. As a result, more and more hotels and countries, such as Portugal, are becoming aware of the importance of including sustainability and respect for the environment in their offerings, as this is something that more and more customers value. Incorporating sustainability strategies in tourism is now a necessity, and in Portugal the industry is working to differentiate its market as one that upholds ESG criteria to increase its positioning as a sophisticated market for European tourists.

“The Portuguese resort and residential tourism landscape is undergoing a profound transformation, influenced by a confluence of diverse market trends. Sustainable tourism is gaining momentum, with discerning travelers gravitating toward eco-conscious accommodations that mirror their environmental values,” said Pedro Fontainhas, Managing Director at the Associação Portuguesa de Resorts (APR), in a recent interview.

According to a survey conducted by Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel advisors, 82% say the COVID-19 pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly, while 70% say traveling sustainably enhances their vacation experience. These are trends that Portugal, with a significant luxury tourism industry, is paying more attention to in order to become one of Europe’s leaders in sustainable tourism. “The Association is gearing up to make eco-friendly resort developments and sustainable tourism practices not just an option, but a norm. The goal is clear: position Portugal’s residential tourism sector as a vanguard in green initiatives,” Fontainhas concluded.

This context in which customers are increasingly taking ESG criteria into account is forcing tourism industry players to include sustainability as an integral part of their business. “Sustainability and environmental awareness have become indispensable aspects of success for any hotel. While there are numerous areas within a hotel where we can enhance sustainability and adopt eco-friendly practices, the crucial first step is to embark on the journey toward this eco-conscious ecosystem,” says Mariano Faz, CEO of Ace Hospitality Management.

For hotels to implement sustainable strategies, one of the keys is that these practices are economically viable and generate efficiencies. Therefore, for Ace Hospitality, Faz defends the importance of encouraging all departments to integrate a sustainable mentality in their day to day to begin to integrate this structure within the organization. Thus, a simple measure to begin to spread a sustainable culture is to implement strategies to save water and electricity consumption, which can represent significant savings for companies.

“Sustainability is at the center of our strategy,” said Miguel Velez, founder and CEO of Unlock Hotels. “Since the beginning of Unlock Boutique Hotels, we have always prioritized sustainability in the units we manage and, in 2022, we were the first hotel chain company to have all its hotels awarded Biosphere Sustainability Certification by the Responsible Tourism Institute,” Velez added. Examples of sustainability measures the company has implemented include a virtual concierge service and check-in process to reduce paper usage, eliminating single-use plastic bottles from the hotel’s bathrooms, and making guests aware of the importance of reusing towels to save energy.

The efforts of Unlock Boutique Hotels to advance the sustainability of its operations are significant, but it is not the only player driving this strategy in the industry. This demand to lower the environmental impact of hotels is occurring at the sector level, and leading real estate services firms are dramatically expanding their ESG consulting services in response.

“We have guidance and concern with sustainability issues, not only in day-to-day operations, but we also have a team dedicated to providing services related to ESG practices, with relevant experience in supporting hotel units in obtaining of its certificates and the adoption of sustainable practices,” said Karina Simões, head of Hotel Advisory at JLL Portugal, in an interview.

The tourism industry is one of the pillars of the Portuguese economy, so it is essential that companies keep pace with sector trends. This industry has grown significantly in recent years, from 7.5 million tourists in 2012 to around 22 million in 2022, which is influencing the diversification of the country’s tourism offer. In this sense, Portugal has focused on developing a broad tourism portfolio in which you can find everything from business travel to health services, wellness, and sports such as golf.

All of this, however, results in higher traffic in areas of natural beauty. With this in mind, the government agency Turismo de Portugal launched a sustainable tourism program for 2020-2023 that outlines a roadmap of actions to be taken by the sector to protect the environment and nature.

The 2020-2023 sustainable tourism program includes 119 actions to promote ESG criteria within the country’s tourism offering. This roadmap is an important part of the broader Tourism Strategy 2027, which seeks to promote tourism in all regions of Portugal and improve water management in the sector’s activities, among other objectives. Thus, the 2020-2023 sustainability program includes actions such as instructing tourism operators on the importance of reducing single-use plastics, combating food waste, and increasing the use of electric vehicles.

With these roadmaps developed by the government, together with the efforts being made by companies to expand the efficiency of operations, Portugal is on its way to becoming a leader in sustainable tourism in Southern Europe.

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