The hotel industry should expect the flight-shaming trend emerging from Sweden to expand in scope to all aspects of travel, and prepare for it.
It started with the removal of plastic straws, then the switch from single-use bathroom amenities to dispensers. Inch by inch, item by item, operation by operation, the sustainability screws will be tightened throughout your hotel over the coming decade as climate change and “climate justice” take center stage at the UN, in regional governing bodies and within customers’ minds.
Whatever your personal beliefs and feelings about the best course of action, the fact is that more and more people across the globe are making conscious decisions every day to change their lifestyles in the name of preserving the environment.
With this “voting with your wallet” mentality, consumers are eating less meat or dairy, buying from brands that identify as sustainable and opting for recyclable products or those made from recycled goods. Right now, the underlying sentiment is quite positive in that any little bit makes an impact. But as the weather gets weirder, the floods get worse and seemingly indomitable forest fires in places such as the Amazon Rainforest or Australia continue to blanket the news, all this could soon turn quite dark.
One such trend that is emerging from Sweden is the idea of “flygskam” or “flight-shaming.” It used to be that journeying across the globe on vacation or traveling for business was a privilege you worked your hardest to attain, and then were able to talk or brag about within your social circles. Then came the one-two punch of cheaper flights and social media, together making air travel far more affordable than ever. This had the dual effect of compounding the number of flyers and cajoling more people into taking those dream vacations as they were inundated with photos of their friends or celebrities living it up abroad.
More people are willing and able to feed the tourism industry and talk about it online. However, as the emissions from airplanes and all other ancillary consumption related to travel have been identified as key contributors to global warming, it has become a practice within one of the world’s most environmentally conscious countries to scorn those who travel excessively.
Thinking about absconding to Thailand for couple weeks to hop around from tropical beach to tropical beach? Think again, because the moment you post about it on Facebook or Instagram, your fellow compatriots may lambast you for contributing to the death of ecosystems, and you may even lose a few friends in real life as a result.
While this is undoubtedly a small and relatively isolated movement at present, if the past few years are any indication, these things have a tendency to grow at an exponential rate once they start hitting closer to home. After all, how long did it take for the youth climate strikes to go from one impassioned adolescent Swede sitting on a park bench with a sign to a global protest organized entirely by high school students through the internet?
My point here is that flygskam will not stay put in targeting just the airlines. These sorts of trends will inevitably come to influence, scorn or outright boycott numerous aspects of the tourism and corporate travel industries, maybe even attributing its own “hotellskam” neologism.
Why did you stay in that spacious and elaborate suite when a basic, more ergonomic and less energy-exhaustive room will do just fine? Shame!
Why did you rent a non-electronic vehicle when a “clean” alternative is only a few dollars more per day? Shame!
Why do car rental companies even stock non-electronic models anymore? Shame! Why did you fly to another city for that business meeting when a video conference call would suffice? Shame!
Why did you and your hubby opt for a destination wedding on an exotic island instead of hosting it closer to home? Shame!
Why is your hotel or hospitality brand not taking stronger measures toward having a neutral carbon footprint? Shame!
This all may seem a bit radical right now, but hopefully it’s clear what the endgame is for this prognostication. The result is that you must be proactive when it comes to sustainability initiatives lest you soon find your hotel alienating certain guests or blacklisted. Even though in many cases this may not have a tangibly negative effect on your property’s bottom line, it will still be a PR nightmare.
The key here is to take immediate action and continue to take action over the decade ahead so that you are keeping pace with where the public sentiment is going. Yesterday you went through the ordeal of eliminating plastic straws and retrofitting your guestroom showers to dispensers. Tomorrow it may be smart thermostats or finding ways to reduce paper usage throughout your hotel. The day after that it may be more efficient laundry machines or a large-scale environmental assessment to improve water conservation. Then there may even be a few boutique or lifestyle hotel brands that decide to go 100% plant-based in their restaurants.
Just as the problems associated with climate change won’t be solved in a day, neither will upgrading your hotel to more green standards. Form an internal committee if you have to. It requires constant attention from all operations as well as the leadership to make it a priority.
One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “The Llama is Inn” (2017) and “The Hotel Mogel” (2018). You can reach Larry at email@example.com to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.
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