How sustainable is Scotland’s hospitality sector?

The G&V Royal Mile has rooftop beehives
The G&V Royal Mile has rooftop beehives

Sustainability is taken seriously in the hotel and tourism industry, with top-end operators increasingly seeing planet-friendly credentials as a major selling point when competing for the green pound. From eco-luxury pods heated by a stove fed by locally-sourced wood in the Swiss Alps to a resort in the Maldives which creates fresh drinking water from seawater to be distributed in recycled glass bottles, guests who are conscious of their carbon footprint have plenty of choice when it comes to holiday destinations.

Business travellers are likely to opt for conferences and meetings in eco-friendly venues too as company policies increasingly encourage seeking out environmentally-sound alternatives to meet their own firm’s rules.

Marc Finney, head of hotels and resorts consulting with Colliers International, says: “Particularly government and quasi-government bodies will say that their employees are not allowed to stay in hotels that don’t meet certain standards.”

Eco-measures obviously make sound business sense. As well as being desirable for guests, reducing consumption of resources such as energy and water naturally leads to lower running costs.

Sustainability within hotels is certainly on investors’ radars but, as with other sectors of commercial property, the impact on pricing is tied up with its influence on cash flow, 
including development and capital expenditure costs, and ongoing operational costs.

But Finney says: “Sustainability is at the forefront of people’s minds and that manifests itself in several different ways.

“Planning departments are much more insistent about minimum standards as an attached condition to planning permission.

“In addition to that, the more savvy and larger international brands are also attaching their own standards to their franchise agreements and management contracts for operators and, in many cases, they will have higher stipulations.”

While legislation controlling minimum standards is currently seen as fairly light-touch, the Scottish Government’s direction of travel is likely to be towards more regulation so investors and hotel owners are looking to future proof their buildings.

Roland Smyth, head of the Scottish hotels and leisure group at law firm CMS, says there is another pressure: “Big institutional investors in commercial property may also have their own requirements.”

As a result, every major hotel brand has a sustainability programme but some chains are going much further in their quest for high eco-credentials.

Marriott’s innovation hotel, M Beta in Charlotte, North Carolina in the United States, is part-hotel, part-experimental lab, with guests invited to give real-time feedback via touch screens to perfect the guest experience.

Smyth says: “It allows them to trial things in real life, whether the room is too hot for example, and this kind of project is speeding up the evolution of hotels and environmental sustainability is part of that. A lot of the other hotels are doing the same kind of thing but this is probably the best example.”

The Sheraton Grand in Edinburgh holds a Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold Award and retains a sustainable resources team to achieve more environmentally-friendly practices.

Meanwhile the capital’s G&V Royal Mile recently won in the sustainability category of the Scottish Hotel Awards for its rooftop beehives which produce honey for guests, and a hydroponic system in the lobby to grow herbs and spices.

But it is not just the high-end hotels that are leading innovation. According to Smyth, budget brands have very strong statements on sustainability.

He says: “The Hub by Premier Inn concept has two hotels in Edinburgh, in Rose Street and as part of the New Waverley development.

“Its first hotel in London’s Covent Garden has the highest ever sustainability rating in the UK for a hotel, an outstanding Breeam [environmental assessment] rating.

“Guests can control the temperature in the room via an app, to make it perfect before you get back so you don’t have to leave air con or heating on. The design also features smaller rooms which are all individually climate controlled.”

Rab Bennetts of architectural practice Bennetts Associates says that getting the sustainability of a hotel building right at the design stage is crucial.

“The overall energy profile is quite different from other buildings like an office or housing, so it needs to be analysed on merit.

“For example, there is a huge surge in the need for hot water first thing in the morning as everyone wants a shower at the same time.

“Then there is the choice of air-conditioning or not, which is often dictated by uniform international standards emanating from the US market – obviously a very different climate from Scotland.”

While insulation standards are set by building regulations, Bennetts says there is also overall lifetime carbon emissions to consider, which would include the emissions from the actual construction process.

He says: “Frequent upgrades and refitting of hotels due to changing fashions and wear and tear tends to push this up, so operational energy is not as big a proportion over a building’s life as one might think.

“The construction and refit carbon emissions can be at least 50 per cent of the total lifetime emissions, over 60 years or so.”

It is not just the design of individual buildings that has to be considered, but in some cases, a location where energy sharing is possible can have a huge impact.

Bennetts explains: “As hotels have such a different energy profile they make good companions to offices in areas of mixed development, where separate buildings might share a central energy plant.

“The peaks and troughs of one building type’s demand can be offset against those of the others.”

This article appears in the WINTER 2017 edition of Vision Scotland. Further information about Vision Scotland here.