The booming hotel industry of India is grappling with the challenges of sustainability. It is no more a choice but a necessity. However, limited resources and rising costs can be opportunities in disguise.
In the next five years, the number of hotel rooms in India is going to increase by a whopping 143 per cent to over 150,000, according to a study by HVS hospitality consultancy. But the Indian hotel industry is not yet aware of the depleting ground water levels, energy costs and solid waste that they will create along the way, industry experts say.
In developed countries, sustainable tourism is at the center stage of discussions. So it's no wonder that the United Nations World Tourism Organization chose sustainability as its main agenda for 2012.
"Every action counts. This year, one billion international tourists will travel to foreign destinations," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a recent speech at the United Nations World Tourism Day in Gran Canaria, Spain. "Imagine what one act multiplied by one billion can do."
Changing the attitudes of hoteliers
Around 350 million tourists - international and domestic - feed India's growing tourism industry, tourism ministry figures state. The industry itself accounted for around six percent of total gross domestic product at US $32.7 billion in 2011. The numbers explain why hospitality big-wigs around the globe are betting big on this sector.
Fresh towels daily? No thank you, green hotels say
With many international chains now foraying into the Indian market, global green practices are also getting imported. However, the implementation of such measures in the Indian scenario is a challenge.
"Everyone wants to join the bandwagon of sustainable tourism," HVS chairman Manav Thadani said. "A lot of hotels have started to call themselves green, but they are not able to measure it yet."
India's ITC hotel chain was accorded the leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) award for its "world-class green practices." LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building was designed in a sustainable way. However, this award is not representative of the larger picture of India's hospitality industry.
A study by Germany's International Hotel Association (IHA) revealed that Germans have a large willingness to act in an environmentally conscious manner in their daily lives. IHA has over 1,400 hotels as its members. The survey found that energy efficiency was of prime importance in the investment decisions of around 66 per cent of hotels in Germany. India, however, has not been able to make much headway in this direction.
"Hotels in India do not want to inconvenience their guests by imposing eco-friendly instructions," Thadani said. "Secondly, they think of sustainability as an additional financial investment. This mind set has to change."
Creating a win-win situation
Contrary to popular perception that "going green" is an expensive affair, several hotel chains are reaping its benefits. The Hilton group, for example, saved $147 million worldwide by reducing its energy and water consumption by an average of 15 percent in 2011.
"Hotels can increase their bottom lines by one to two percent simply by using sustainable practices," Thadani said. He added that a leading luxury hotel chain in India, which did not wish to be named, saved over $1 million by using such measures last year.
However, Indian hotel chains have for starters, warmed up to the sustainability agenda in the marketing rather than business sense. In this, the German hotel industry is in stark contrast. According to the IHA survey, 66 percent of the hotels in Germany do not use their environmental orientation for marketing.
While in India, sustainability is not the most highly rated criteria for booking hotels among consumers, German travelers think otherwise. Earth Guest Research by Accor revealed that 46 percent of German respondents based their hotel selection on sustainable development. About 60 percent of these are even willing to pay a higher price for climate friendly services.
Ruchika Chitravanshi and Idrees Lone are currently participating in a two-month fellowship for Indian journalists at Deutsche Welle's international training center DW Akademie.