Hilton’s Plan to Get Travel Managers to Take Sustainability Seriously

Hilton's Plan to Get Travel Managers to Take Sustainability Seriously

Skift Take

Despite environmental impacts topping corporate agendas, Hilton is finding that not all corporate clients are asking it for data around sustainability and other social impact elements. The hotel group is working to overcome the complexities in a franchised world of communicating this information.

Hilton is proactively pushing its corporate responsibility measurement platform to travel managers for corporate clients, in a bid to help them get a better view of their own environmental impact.

The group launched LightStay in 2009, so its managed and franchised hotels could report energy, water, waste and social impact data (including volunteerism and food donations) on a monthly basis.

But despite sustainability topping the agenda, one senior exec told Skift not all corporations were asking it for data. Why this is important is that without a full buy-in across the hospitality ecosystem, green travel goals will simply fall short. So better communication is necessary.

Jean Garris Hand, Hilton’s vice president, global environmental, social and corporate governance, said: “Customers want to take steps in this direction, and sometimes it’s ‘how do we go in this direction?’ A lot of it is education, partnership and communication.”

Over the years Hilton’s LightStay platform has gained three International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certifications, for quality, energy and environmental management.

These give it extra credibility through independent audits, among other aspects, and involve inspectors shadowing housekeepers, sales staff and security teams, for example. They also conduct 60 one-hour meetings with corporate leaders.

The certification also means figures can be included in annual financial reporting as recognized carbon calculations, and that the methodologies are accurate, robust, and compliant with internationally recognized greenhouse gas measurement and reporting standards.

“It’s a major coordination, and an eye-opening experience,” Garris Hand said, adding Hilton was the largest portfolio that’s certified to the three ISO standards in the industry.

It’s this kind of certification that may be the key to convincing customers that the sustainability data the hotel chain is giving them is actually usable and consistent, rather than confusing.

Independent Thinking

Hilton points to one success story on this front: BCD Travel’s consultancy arm Advito has now launched its own ISO-certified emissions calculator for meetings and events.

It allows planners to look at things like economy versus business class flights for attendees, airport transfer options, and even the percentage of vegetarian meals, and claims it’s the industry’s first ISO certified calculator designed for meeting planners to reduce the overall environmental impact of their programs.

Julien Etchanchu, Advito’s sustainable collaboration practice lead, said the industry standard currently being used for measuring emissions across all four travel categories wasn’t “granular” enough to capture the true environmental impact of a meeting or event.

“I’m pleased Advito has integrated and adopted ISO spanning the landscape,” said Hilton’s Garris Hand. “We would like more (corporate customers) to ask for it. Some of our customers ask if we are tracking, measuring or reporting, and we show them LightStay. Or they ask if we are implementing practices that happen to be consistent with ISO. Then when we describe it, they say ‘great, that’s more robust than what we’re asking for.’”

Too Fragmented

As well as travel managers sometimes being overwhelmed by data, one expert thinks that hotels have a tougher job than airlines in proving their green credentials.

“In some respects, an airline’s problem is very hard but it’s very confined. Ninety eight percent of emissions come from the burning of jet fuel, so everyone’s familiar with new aircraft, engines, looking further out to hybrid and electric or hydrogen sources of energy,” Bryan Terry, global aviation leader at Deloitte, said during a recent panel discussion.

“But if you flip that to hospitality, it’s a totally different challenge with the complexity of working with franchisee relationships. You’ve got hundreds or thousands of franchisees around the world that are outside your control that you need to influence, educate, inform. You rely on them to collect the data, and you’re getting data in various formats. In some respects we see more challenge in that part of the business than we do in airlines.”

However, Garris Hand said many of its franchised hotels were owned by owners that also have ambitious climate goals, and all of its 7,000 hotels had access to LightStay; the only issue could be the speed at which they submit their reports.

“It’s still early days,” added Christiane Cabot Bini, Hilton’s executive director, corporate travel sales. “(Sustainability) has come to the forefront rapidly.”

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