Global hospitality leaders eye investment opportunities at Abu Dhabi summit

by MMC
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RIYADH: Environmental, social and governance principles are at the top of the agenda as big names in the hospitality sector gather in Abu Dhabi for the Future Hospitality Summit on September 26.

From increased calls for climate action in the tourism and hospitality sector to Dubai’s hosting of COP28 this winter, much of the discussion at this year’s event is expected to focus on measures to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the sector contributes 11% of total global emissions, and this figure is expected to double by 2050.

With this in mind, industry leaders and most key players in the sector have already taken steps to ensure a greener future.

Sustainability factor

Haitham Mattar, Managing Director of India, Middle East and Africa at IHG Hotels and Resorts, believes that the tourism and hospitality sectors play a pivotal role in building a sustainable future.

“At IHG, we embrace our responsibility and opportunity to make a positive difference and (help) shape the future of responsible travel,” Mattar said.

He added: “We are committed to contributing to positive social and economic change, championing key issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion, and human rights, and making choices more responsible environmental practices. »

Mattar said IHG is working to reduce carbon emissions, while eliminating single-use items and switching to reusable and recyclable alternatives, as well as reducing food waste from its hotel chain.

Jonathan Brown, portfolio director of Miral Group, the host sponsor of FHS, believes that the path to sustainability in the UAE’s leisure, entertainment and tourism industry has been emboldened by a national strategy emphasizing on clean energy sources as well as net zero emissions targets.

Brown said: “Our ambition is to accelerate the achievement of tourism growth in the Emirate and contribute to the industry ecosystem, underpinned by a commitment to creating value for our customers, partners and society, and to have a positive impact on the communities in which we operate.

He added: “Ultimately, the key to balancing growth and sustainability lies in collective action, strategic partnerships and long-term investments. »

Richard Williamson, COO of Considerate Group, said interest and investment around ESG principles in the hospitality sector has accelerated in recent years and is an important part of the agenda at events such than the FHS.

“In 2023, we will more often find a director of sustainable development who owns the agenda, with a dedicated ESG budget. Our role has evolved such that we now usually provide advice and support to the CSO,” Williamson said.

He added: “This reflects the shift in ESG engagement from a warm, slightly ‘wooly’ sector to a more quantitative, data-driven stage.

Williamson believes that the ESG evolution in the hospitality sector is driven by four crucial factors: strengthening regulations, stakeholder reporting requirements, asset-level carbon footprint analysis, as well as climate risk and resilience.

Fahad Abdulrahim Kazim, CEO of Millennium Hotels & Resorts, echoed these views and noted that the hospitality industry’s investment in ESG and sustainability is becoming increasingly robust and essential.

“We are seeing a significant shift as more hotels and resorts recognize the long-term benefits of integrating environmental, social and governance considerations into their business strategies,” Kazim said.

The executive added that industry leaders in the hospitality sector are gradually adopting energy-saving technologies, waste reduction initiatives, community engagement programs and responsible sourcing practices.

“As consumer preferences become more aligned with sustainable choices, the hospitality sector’s commitment to ESG is not just a trend but a necessary path to ensuring a greener, more resilient future,” Kazim noted.

Millennium Hotels & Resorts aims to reduce environmental impact through sustainable practices, including a reduction in single-use plastics, Kazim added.

“We seek to build and maintain long-term relationships with residents and organizations by supporting local small and medium-sized businesses. At Millennium Hotels & Resorts, we remain committed to leading this journey and setting a good example of sustainable hotel practices,” he said.

Kazim further highlighted that the biggest priority in the hospitality sector is to strike the right balance between exceptional guest experiences and minimizing the environmental footprint.

Elie Milky, vice president of business development at Radisson Hotel Group, noted that the hospitality industry is witnessing a paradigm shift from sustainability being a “nice to have” to a core core value.

“ESG investments reflect our ethical responsibilities and become essential to business resilience and long-term success,” Milky said.

He added: “As an industry that primarily revolves around physical locations, buildings and transportation, we have an important role in promoting green building practices, efficient energy consumption and energy saving solutions. sustainable transportation for our customers. »

Paul Stevens, operational director of premium, midscale and economy for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at Accor, said the company was a pioneer in introducing sustainability to the hotel industry for over 30 years.

“We are leading the transformation by working closely with our hotel owners, partners and stakeholders to integrate sustainability into all our activities, thereby positively impacting people and nature, which are two fundamental principles at the heart of our practices,” Stevens added.

According to the executive, the sustainable transition is not only a strategic priority but a fundamental necessity.

“ESG practices are no longer optional; they have become essential requirements to remain competitive, attract customers and maintain long-term viability,” he said.

Possible challenges

Speaking about the challenges facing the hotel sector in reducing sustainability, Mattar of IHG Hotels highlighted that the most crucial to address is the lack of standardization.

He said: “For governments to set ESG targets, industry-level standards are essential to define the different areas of sustainability. As an industry, standardization is a recurring and important topic that appears in virtually every conversation, as well as on customer forums.

Mattar added: “There is an urgent need for governments, businesses and trade bodies to harmonize their efforts and, therefore, maintain effective ESG standards in the tourism and hospitality sector. »

Stevens believes the hospitality industry faces complex challenges when it comes to developing and executing ESG strategies and deviating from traditional ways of doing things.

“The strategies are not one-size-fits-all solutions, each destination has its own challenges and opportunities, requiring a personalized approach,” added Stevens.

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