Greenview’s Eric Ricaurte talks sustainable tourism and creating FOMO among hotels (part 2)

Eric Ricaurte Travindy

We’ve recently interviewed Eric Ricaurte, Founder and CEO of Greenview, about mainstreaming sustainability in the hospitality sector.

Our conversation with Eric was so exciting (and long) that it doesn’t fit in one post. In June we posted the first part of the interview, and today we’re publishing the second. Grab your favourite drink and enjoy reading!

Anula: Is it any different between Asian and European markets?

Eric: The main difference is where the money is coming from, who owns and builds a hotel. In Western markets we see more and more institutionalisation of capital. That means, if I’ve got a portfolio of a hundred hotels, all this millions of dollars, and I manage the money, I will be looking at how to maximize my return. So I will change light bulbs or the windows if I know this will result in 20% return.

In Asia it’s less institutionalised. There are many people getting into hotels but not methodically treating it as a money making business. If you tell them to pay one million dollars in order to save two million, they would reply that they don’t have another million right now, or budget capital flows valuing another 2 million dollars down the line. Sometimes they just want to have a huge lavish lobby, and not care about efficiency.

However, that being said, there’s also an opportunity in it. So such hotel owners want to do something really big and unique, you can talk them into building a badass sustainable hotel, let’s say with everything run on renewable energy, with all the great and innovative stuff, that will also look really cool. Such people have money to do that, even though it’s going to have a lower return.

Anula: And what’s your take on certifications? Do they help push things forward?

Eric: Certifications are hard to sell from the beginning. Why would a hotel need a certification in the first place? We have certifications like Rainforest Alliance that does a lot of the customer-focus marketing. But the biggest failure of certifications is that they have never tried to engage with the customers, or build a good brand. They try to sell by saying that “reduce your costs by using our certification”. But why would a hotel need a certification to do that? They can find the gaps and make things work without a certification.

The other problem is when a certification comes in. Let’s imagine a hotel already exist for 10 years and then suddenly is getting certified. What is a hotel doing to receive a certification? If it’s a decent certification, the hotel would probably have to go through a renovation. If we really wanted make sure that buildings are efficient and run on renewable energy, certification discussions would have to come way in the beginning of the hotel building phase. Of course, if it’s an operations-focused certification, like ISO 40001 or GSTC, hotels can apply at any time.

Anula: And yet, only a tiny percentage of hotels are being certified…

Eric: We’re trying to understand what’s not working here and help fill the gap. Marketing is a big thing but that’s not all. What is deterring the other 90% from getting certified? It may be that the first steps to get hotels moving in sustainability are lacking.

When a hotel comes to a certification, it gets a list of 100 different things to have and do. Even if there’s just a handful of things they don’t do, they can’t get certified when it’s all or nothing, either you’re certified or you’re not. Whereas what we want to promote is that every single practice counts, and anyone can start with small steps and then move to get certified.

In education in the US recently there was a debate about the balance between proficiency and growth. Proficiency means that all students have to reach a certain level, and growth means that we make sure that everyone grows. Certifications for me are like reaching a certain level of proficiency, and what we’re missing from the equation is how to make everyone go up. And this is what we’re trying to do – to push the growth. We need to be behind the solutions for the hotels, and not limit ourselves only to the discussions about specific certifications. If we get everyone on board, then certifications can take it forward.

We need to be behind the solutions for the hotels, and not limit ourselves only to the discussions about specific certifications. If we get everyone on board, then certifications can take it forward.

Anula: So you say that not certifications but data platforms will help mainstream sustainability. Are there any other organisations that do a good job?

Eric: There are a few good organisations. Take GreenOtels for example in India. They host conferences, talk about green hotels, bring together working groups and engineers in different locations to discuss opportunities and solutions. They’re building awareness and bringing people together. There are many other interesting programs, but I won’t go to all of them right now. Like EcoStay program. Pay 2 Canadian dollars for a room/night and we’re going to offset all your hotel carbon footprint by local projects in the region and help fund the hotel itself to increase efficiency and renewables. And with the Greenview Portal our service is an instant help, data driven.

Anula: How did you come up with this idea in the first place?

Eric: It started when I was doing hotel evaluations for a conference room block in Toronto 6 years ago. One of the requirements was to stop delivering a paper newspaper to the door at every single room. They were trying to convince all hotels in the area to stop this practice. 9 out of 10 agreed, and one didn’t. Later on I got a message from that hotel saying thanks, we’re doing this now. I realised that by creating a pressure, you can make people start doing things.

And secondly, you have a pack of leaders and followers. Leaders are the ones who take off first, will get one certification, and then another, they will try this and that, and the downside is they get so far ahead that they alienate everyone else if they’re not given a path to follow. Followers will do what everyone else is doing. This happens on the corporate level too. We have clients on both sides. Followers will say yes to creating a human rights policy, local procurement, or joining green programs as soon as everyone else is doing it.

What we’re trying to do is to show what they should be doing just to keep up. And then helping everyone understand how to grow through benchmarking. Our platform is amazing because a hotel can take a look practice by practice what others in their area are doing.

Anula: So you’re creating sustainability FOMO among hotels!

Eric: Exactly, it’s FOMO! I like it, I might have to use it (laughter). I think one of the most ridiculous examples is the towel program and how it’s communicated. Although it’s one of the oldest and most common things, hotels are still communicating it badly. Some a bit better than others but in general everyone could improve. There was an entity in the US, who run an annual lodging survey and back in 1996 a small percentage of hotels had linen and towel reuse. Now 90% of hotels have a program, and 20 years ago it was almost not existing. But it strikes me that it took 20 years to raise awareness, create FOMO and make this simple practice a common practice! I believe that benchmarking not only helps recognize good practices but also catalyze them.

Benchmarking not only helps recognize good practices but also catalyze them.

Anula: And now we have the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Are you happy
with what’s going on?

Eric: I like the concept of IYSTD. It’s done better than similar initiatives in the past. One of the hottest topics in the corporate world is how do I get aligned and get on board with SDGs. What I like about IYSTD is that everyone is invited to join. Anyone can get on board, submit their event, share what you’re doing. I think that’s the best way to raise awareness and engage people without making them feel excluded.

Anula: What trends are shaping sustainable tourism at the moment?

Eric: The biggest success of the 20th century is that we created tourism as an industry. The biggest challenge of the 21st century is controlling it. We can’t see the beach because it’s overcrowded. And there’s lack of experience with that number of tourists. And every destination overcrowding. You can keep building hotels, airports and bring people to New York but how many people you can fit in the Times Square, how many people you can fit in the top tourist attractions?

Dispersion and capacity control is a huge challenge but it is measurable. It comes to managing tourism on a destination level. Siem Reap raised their prices. And if it really comes back to managing the destination, I’m totally for it. Tour operators are complaining because they had to raise their prices 1 USD – are you kidding me. If people want to get to such destinations, they have to pay for it. Destinations need to value it better.

Anula: Don’t you feel that sustainable tourism is separated from the “real” industry? Responsible tourism halls at conferences attract a handful of people, whereas technology and mainstream gets all the crowd.

Eric: Totally yes. Once I went to IMEX. There was a sustainable events cocktail in the back of the show floor – maybe 20 people. And then we went to the main hall and we saw the party, hundreds of people. This is the MICE business, these people throw parties for living! And we realised we have to be there, because this is where the industry is.

I come from the sustainable tourism crowd. I was taking people with a canoe through jungles and did not wear a suit for years. But then I entered the global corporate world, I realised that sustainable tourism people are completely detached from the global dialogue. One of the big tasks for sustainable tourism world is to catch up with the general global corporate sustainability and development dialogue right now. We have to talk science-based targets, understand how tourism contributes to SDGs, where it fits. What is the relationship between the business of sustainable tourism and sustainable business. This is
what will bring sustainable tourism outside of its bubble.

One of the big tasks for sustainable tourism world is to catch up with the general global corporate sustainability and development dialogue. What is the relationship between the business of sustainable tourism and sustainable business.

Anula: Why it is that sustainable tourism is outside?

Eric: We have a legacy holier-than-thou problem. Back in the 60s and 70s there was a big movement to protect the planet, which later transformed to the environmental movement, which was all about what you can’t do. Environmentalists criticized others if you don’t do certain things. They had to be legitimate, all-in. People were too radical about everything. Many people in sustainable tourism still have the same mindset, and that’s why sustainable tourism meetups are sometimes not that much fun (smile). I didn’t wear a tie. Now I try to be the best dressed person in the room because people in Asia think sustainable tourism people are hugging trees. I want to show that that sustainable tourism is serious business. We have to create the great stories and talk about all the cool things that hotels are doing, and that sustainability means fun and innovation.

It’s time for sustainable tourism to be there at the main party. We have to focus on the future and all the cool stuff. The sustainable tourism movement is not about what you can’t do but what you can do.

We have to focus on the future and all the cool stuff. The sustainable tourism movement is not about what you can’t do but what you can do.

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