The importance of teaching workable sustainable systems in order for the travel and tourism trade to actually become a helpful factor in conserving cultural and natural resources.
The impact of Generation Z
Born between 1995 and 2000, members of Generation Z are starting to wield new influence on the hospitality industry. While people in their early 20s already make up nearly a third of the global population, the world has only started to feel their economic impact. And as their spending power grows, along with their desire to travel - and travel differently than prior generations - the tourism industry is responding. In a nutshell, Gen Z is all about experience and authenticity. Rather than sip cocktails by the seaside or see the world through the shaded windows of tour busses and vans, they are eager to meet the locals; they care about the environment; they demand sustainability and they want to give back to the people and places they visit.
In a study designed to uncover the travel behaviors and ambitions of GenZ, the travel operator Booking.com conducted research across 29 markets and found that:
Gen Z is the generation most likely to want to volunteer when traveling (37%), as they believe it makes a trip more authentic because they get to meet local people and feel like they’ve made a difference (49%).
More than half (52%) of Gen Z travelers say they plan to visit lesser known destinations rather than popular ones if it means having less of a negative impact on the environment.
Six in ten (63%) look to use more environmentally-friendly means of transport once they have arrived at their destination.
Building a new generation of hospitality managers
As the tourism and hospitality industry responds to demands for sustainable travel, so too are higher education institutions by preparing students for the evolving trend. EHL’s Chief Academic Officer, Juan-Francisco Perellon, explains that the school is not only offering sustainability courses as stand-alones, but also embedding the ethos and approach into all that the school does, both operationally and educationally.
As a higher education institution, it’s our responsibility to inform and to train. We’re building a new generation of hospitality managers, and we want them to be prepared to incorporate sustainability in all that they do, not only in terms of environmental responsibility but in terms of the fair and ethical treatment of workers, for example. The knowledge we disseminate will have a snowball effect and the ability to influence more sustainable business models in the future.
Perellon has been seeing increasing interest in sustainability among prospective students for some time. “When young people ask why they should attend EHL, they want to know what contributions we’re making to social responsibility and they want to know that as an institution, our values align with theirs.”
In Washington DC, Seleni Matus, Executive Director of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University offers a long-view perspective on sustainability in higher education. “We’ve had a focus on sustainability for thirty years, ever since the early days of eco-tourism, and our program has continued to grow and expand over time.”
More than simply saving on the laundry
Sustainability has come a long way from recycling trash, turning off lights and reducing the use of water and electricity by not washing guest towels every day. For example, all the Kimpton hotels have partnered with nonprofit Clean the World to collect and recycle soap discarded by guests and distribute it to impoverished communities as a way of improving global health and reducing disease. Hyatt has a 2020 Environmental Sustainability Strategy that focuses on stewardship, waste and water reduction and a CSR program called Hyatt Thrive, which aims to improve the lives of their stakeholders. Meliá Hotels International has made a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2035.
Matus finds that students attending the school’s Masters of Tourism Administration program are increasingly interested in the sustainability concentration, which is specifically designed to provide participants with the tools they need to succeed in an industry that balances the needs of visitors with the economic and environmental reality of destinations.
Around the world, many people have few options other than hosting travelers. And while poorly planned tourism can lead to overdevelopment, pollution and increased income disparity, when planned well and managed responsibly, travel and tourism can help to conserve cultural and natural resources.
Matus, who was once the Director of Tourism for Belize, advises higher education programs to embed sustainability by encouraging students to study the impact of tourism on local cultural and natural heritage along with its economic impact on local communities, for example. “The best way to drive home these lessons is by giving students opportunities to work on consulting projects and internships that focus on sustainability.”
EHL adapting to the circumstances
Since the spread of the coronavirus, educational institutions of all kinds have had to quickly adapt to the new reality of virtual education. While many schools offered online classes before the pandemic, the need to immediately offer all courses online has presented a challenge but also an opportunity. As Perellon notes:
Even though the campus will probably open by June, not all students will return to the classroom environment at the same time. While we had talked about a gradual transition to more online learning, we’ve found ourselves in the position to figure it out overnight - and while we’ve had to adjust a few glitches it’s working well. Being adaptable is a key aspect of sustainability, and I’m proud to say that we’re rising to the occasion. The world, the hospitality sector and EHL will not be the same as we were before the pandemic. I’m hoping that we’ll learn to be more responsive and more sustainable than we were before so that we’re better prepared to deal with the realities of our new world.