Sustainability in Hospitality: A world of paradox

Sustainability in Hospitality: A world of paradox

I was recently doing some research for a client in the hospitality industry. The overall task was formulating a plan on how to best spend money from a budget dedicated to ‘sustainability.’  So I had to learn more about sustainability in hospitality.

As I was doing some background literature review to become familiar with research associated with sustainability in hospitality, I came across a review article published by The University of Gloucestershire. The article is titled Sustainability in the hospitality industry: Some personal reflections on corporate challenges and research agendas

In this review the authors mention a couple of points that I would like to further reflect upon using my case as an example.

Sustainability in Hospitality – Paradox of Conspicuous Consumption

The first point that I found of interest is a paradox the authors eloquently discuss in these couple sentences.

“However, throughout much of the hospitality industry, the concept of sustainability provides a teasing paradox. At the operational level, for example, on the one hand, the industry increasingly looks to deploy sustainability within both its marketing messages and the customer experience, while, on the other hand, the headline accent is often on conspicuous consumption, which, in many ways, is the antithesis of sustainability.”

In short, sustainability projects often involve minimizing. Use less energy, use less water, have less of an impact on the surrounding environment and community. The paradox is that often the experience associated with travel and particularly luxury travel, includes amenities that use excessive resources. 

Reaction to the Paradox of Conspicuous Consumption in Hospitality

My first reaction is that I understand the experience from the consumer’s perspective. If someone is going to pay high prices at a resort or top of the line hotel, they likely want to feel like they are living the life of luxury regardless of the resources. I also understand this conundrum from the business owner’s perspective. Part of sustainability for them is making sure their business exists into the future, so they strive to provide services that people will pay for. 

So, how does this paradox apply to my current task of helping a motel owner decide what to do with their sustainability fund. In a way this particular property owner avoids this paradox, largely. This motel is a mountain lodge with cabin-type rooms available for rent. Many of this property’s guests come from suburban locations in Texas, Colorado, and Arizona. These guests want to come to Colorado for the cool summer weather and have a real mountain experience. They often come for fishing, biking, hiking, and all of the other outdoor activities in the area. So in a way guests appreciate a bit of a rustic experience in this context when they may not if they were visiting New York City, London, Paris, or even more local cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, or Grand Junction.

Overall, I just find this paradox fascinating and although it does not have a huge impact on my current work, it is a problem that sociologists and others working in the hospitality industry will need to address at some point.

Sustainability in Hospitality – The Paradox of Natural Environments

While the previous paradox was not the most relatable to my current project, this one very much is. This paradox is discussed in same review as above written by Peter Jones, David Hillier, and Daphne Comfort. 

The paradox is that often tourism revolves around natural environments. For instance, people want to travel to see natural mountains, lakes, canyons, oceans, or any other natural environment that people want to visit. But, the more people that visit that location, the quicker it will degrade, change, or otherwise become uninviting to guests. So, if you are a business owner in the hospitality or tourism industry in this context, you are in a tight spot. You want to expand your business, draw in more customers, and improve your profits, but you also do not want to see the surrounding environment changed.

Reaction to the Paradox of Natural Environments

I see this as a huge problem for the particular mountain area where I work. Tourism is happening in this area. I have seen this tourism industry for two summer seasons now. The traffic becomes absurd, the small town grocery stores become uncomfortably crowded, reservations can be tough to get at some restaurants, and guests stay at lodging properties. 

Another way I know people are traveling to this area is because there are signs that the natural attractions are beginning to degrade. I was on a comment thread on the internet the other day reading comments from angry local anglers mad about how the state government is regulating the fish populations in the Blue Mesa Reservoir. These anglers were mad that the government was regulating the Lake Trout in order to build the Kokanee Salmon population, a popular type of fish amongst tourists. I have no idea who is right in this situation, but I do know that tourism has begun to impact the Blue Mesa Reservoir in ways that is creating dialogue and frustration. 

Another example is side-by-side four wheelers. These have become a popular outdoor activity in the area. There is legitimately some difficult mountain passes and rugged terrain around this town where having a small four wheel drive off road vehicle would be useful, and probably could give people access to see parts of Colorado that they may not otherwise be able to in their city vehicles. The problem is there are tons of these machines driving around the mountain roads. I went camping at one of these locations recently and it was uncomfortable. These four wheelers were loud, constant, fast, kicked up a ton of dust and were surely tearing the roads up.

So people are coming to the area to see the outdoor attractions and businesses are marketing themselves to tourists, but eventually these attractions will degrade and people will have less interest in coming to the area.

Final Thoughts on What I have Learned about Sustainability in Hospitality

Finding appropriate ways for local business owners to support sustainability in the hospitality industry is difficult. Often tourism is inherently in opposition to minimalism and sustainability.

I believe there are ways for businesses in the hospitality industry to support their communities and environments for the long-term but it will take some effort because sustainability in hospitality seems to be entrenched in paradox.

Applied Worldwide Lifestyle

Applied Worldwide Lifestyle is a lifestyle blog run by sociologists, nomads, and sustainable living enthusiasts Luke Hanna and Stephanie Wilson. It is focused on travel, food, photography, social history, and sustainable living. Join us in crafting a lifestyle that feels worth living!