Hospitality Tomorrow #11: How to Adopt the Right Mindset for Regenerative Hospitality 

Hospitality Tomorrow is a blog series by Sam-Erik Ruttmann our Director of Global Hospitality Development.

For 35 years, sustainable development has been held up as the solution to the world’s problems. This idea dawned  to me, while managing a large resort in Thailand of near 500 hotel of rooms, popular by the major European tour operators and package tour travellers. The concept of great vacation for many was to scramble to reserve the  beach lounge chair with their towel at 07.00, and have a quick buffet breakfast and head for their beach lounge chair to soak up the sun.

 The owner of the hotel who belonged to the second generation of the ownership, felt the way hotel was operating was not very sustainable. They were the new generation hotel owners and passionate about introducing sustainability measures to the resort. They asked me how to go about developing and implementing a sustainability plan for the hotel.

So I suggested that we join a conference about responsible tourism to start with, a topic I knew very little about. We learned in the conference how  Responsible tourism respects the destinations’ environment, community, and culture. It also aims to correct the adverse effects caused by irresponsible mass tourism. During the conference we had discussed with the other delegates and put some ideas together to get started when we returned to the hotel in Thailand.

Implementing new ideas “Informal Learning Experiences”

We made a long list of ideas and implemented several initiatives, introducing activities with the local community. We created and got recognized for creating what we called “Informal Learning Experiences.”

The Informal Learning Experiences program introduced to the guest a part of the local culture embraced by the local community. 

We introduced mindfulness exercises that became popular with the guests. A Buddhist Forest Monk conducted daily meditation exercises for the hotel guests, and held talks about the meaning of mindfulness. Another popular activity was Tai Chi exercise on the beach during sunrise, led by a Master of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practise that combines slow, graceful movements with breathing and mental focus. Tai Chi was particularly popular with senior guests who liked the idea to improve on their breathing techniques and a better way to stay in balance. 

It was a modest start,  but at least we were on our way, and ticked off few boxes from long list of things to do. Fast forward it took a long time before we could tick few more boxes from the Sustainibility list, which leads me to the main topic of this blog, creating a regenerative hotel. The idea of regenerative hotels isn’t new, but it’s gaining steam as travelers become more environmentally conscious. What exactly are regenerative hotels and how can you create one? In this example I will focus on a hotel project, rather than an exisiting  hotel: 

  • The first step to creating a regenerative hotel is to make sure that your facility is designed by architects and consultants who have the know-how and foresight. This means the building materials used in construction are sourced from renewable resources and that the operation doesn’t use any harmful chemicals or processes. You also put in the necessary Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) systems. Consider alternative power sources for the hotel. 
  • The second step is to make sure that guests can see the positive impact their stay has on the environment, whether that’s through planting trees or donating money to local charities, and close connection with the local community.
  • More importantly money and time is saved. 

Pre-Opening and Opening of the Hotel

Once you are in the pre opening phase, it’s time to start thinking about how you can take things further by making an impact on the local community.
This could include hiring local staff and providing job training programs;

  • Using locally sourced materials in food preparation; buying products from vendors who provide fair wages and safe working conditions; supporting local business owners instead of big corporations; supporting fair trade practices;
  • Recycling waste products like paper towels instead of throwing them out with trash bags; composting food scraps rather than throwing them away with regular garbage cans; purchasing carbon offsets for all air travel (including private jets) and other carbon-intensive activities; and making sure that all business vehicles are fueled by either biogas or biodiesel.

 Now you are ready for another step… 

1. Adopt the right mindset to practice regenerative hospitality

At the basis of regenerative hospitality, there must be a shift of mindset. The most important things is the owner’s mindset, regeneration starts within yourself and you have to have that mentality to want to give that back to the world and to make the planet better.” Hoteliers and hotel owners need to give up on the pure profit-oriented business models and the pseudo-sustainable profit-oriented ones, and consider The Triple Bottom Line approach.

The Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet and Profit) approach is a way of measuring tourism impact on people, planet and profit, or in other words the impact on people and societies, on the economics and on the environment.

2. Build a business model that fits and embraces the ecosystems

A hotel practicing regenerative hospitality must not disrupt local ecosystems. It needs to be embedded in the place where it is located. Thus, its purpose is not to soak up local resources for the profit of shareholders located miles away. Rather, it should understand how the place where it is located works.

A hotel’s location is made of several ecosystems that co-evolve, such as local communities, the economy, and the natural environment.

Only once a hotelier has a clear vision of how those ecosystems interact with and sustain each other will they be able to come up with a business model that fits with and becomes part of those ecosystems.

Co-creation with the place is the foundation of regenerative hospitality

Co-creation with the place is at the root of regenerative hospitality. This means applying a sincere bottom-up approach that starts from the local ecosystems. Therefore, before starting to operate a hotel in a new location, hoteliers should not only involve local communities, but also build on their knowledge to create a hotel that will meet the needs of the place, and see themselves as an integral part of that community, and more importantly discover the potential of the place that they can help grow.

3. Commit to the local stakeholders and regenerate their ecosystems

Although hotels need financial support from guests, a regenerative approach is not profit-oriented. Actually, giving back to its ecosystems is just as important as being financially independent. In order to create a net-positive impact on the ecosystems, hoteliers need to care about the well-being of the local communities, the hotel’s surrounding environment, and its employees. In other words, it holds responsibility towards the well-being of its stakeholders and needs to go beyond reducing the negative impact of the business activities on them. Profit is very important as it is the measurement of financial success, but the issue is how to develop the health and vitality of the business, by providing benefits and well-being to the community the hotel is a part of.

4. Involve guests in the regeneration process

While a regenerative hotel operates in harmony with the local place, it also needs to ensure that the guest experience is regenerative. There are two ways the hotel can play that role. Firstly, by educating guests and offering them activities to regenerate the place and get inspired by it, such as helping to restore a run-down elementary school, or planting trees. Secondly, the guests can regenerate themselves by having the opportunity to take part in an experience that relieves the stress of our modern lives. For example, the hotel experience can follow the ¨slow travel concept¨ by showing people that you can live a bit slower, a bit different, and it’s not necessary to live a busy life that is very often disrespectful to nature.

A virtuous circle

By following these four steps, regenerative hoteliers can create a virtuous circle that benefits and sustains local ecosystems, as well as provide a better future locally than corporate sustainability would. Regenerative hospitality has the potential to be the solution for hoteliers who are working on making the world a better place through their business activities.