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Interview: Richard Williamson on why data is the key to sustainable hospitality

With almost 80% of travellers looking to stay in sustainable hotels this year, it’s time to lock down environmental policy, says Williamson

Richard Williamson is the chief commercial officer of Considerate Group, a data-driven sustainability consultancy, focused on the hospitality sector, with offices in Munich, London and New York. With a background in technology and finance, Richard previously worked in the UAE and Oman for Big 4 consultancy firms – Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, KPMG International, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young. Today, he oversees Considerate’s growing business in Saudi Arabia.

Connecting Travel met with Richard to find out more about Considerate’s role in the hospitality industry and how hotels can achieve global sustainability goals before it’s too late.

CONNECTING TRAVEL: What role does Considerate Group play in the hospitality space?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Considerate Group is a specialist sustainability consultancy with a specific understanding of the challenges that hospitality businesses face when integrating sustainability into their operations. We are not newcomers to ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance], we’ve been doing this for 10 years now, well before ESG hit the agenda.

We believe five key elements make Considerate Group unique: our hospitality and tourism expertise; our passion for sustainability; our data-led approach; an international and multi-lingual workforce to match our clients, and the way we help to ensure that clients benefit from their ESG investment. After developing a bespoke framework, we help clients roll it out and communicate it to staff and clients to realise the benefits of their investment.

Today we work with owners, operators and asset managers for over 400 hotels across a broad UK, European, Middle East and North American footprint

CT: How specifically do you help clients to become more sustainable?
RW: We offer a 360-degree approach to sustainability, with every solution tailor-made to a client’s needs, their jurisdictions, and their reporting and compliance requirements as well as their customer demands. We offer services such as ESG due diligence, ESG strategies and reporting, ESG frameworks, support for certification processes and staff training. Data collection is critical to all that we do and informs our consultancy work, using our data collection platforms, Con-ServeTM on PC and Fluttr for mobile.

Our work does not only focus on environmental data on energy and water consumption (we are not just focused on the E of ESG), although we have seen some great success stories (including Ruby Hotels, the Rosewood and the Cheval Collection), but we also measure the social impact of projects (the S) as well as quantifying good governance (and the G).

CT: Which sustainability measures applied in the hospitality industry have been most effective?
RW: The most effective sustainability measures are those that are underpinned by clear targets and goals, so that their effectiveness can be measured. That’s why we always start our projects with data gathering and a gap analysis to establish a baseline. From this we can start to understand where the biggest opportunities for improvement lie and identify the areas that need clearer guidance.

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CT: Do you think hotels or governments should set policy and sustainability targets within hotels?
RW: We see government’s role as setting clear guidelines for companies to follow, basically like building a road in a desert, because even if companies know the direction of travel, it helps if all are following the same path with clear signage and guard rails. It has been incredibly helpful in Europe and elsewhere for government and regulation to drive the broad ESG agenda. This has removed the choice of whether to engage and moved the question to how best to engage in ESG. However, when it comes to setting detailed targets, these can’t be dictated centrally but need to be set by the hotels themselves.

CT: What do you think the policy and sustainability targets for hospitality should be?
RW: Sadly, there isn’t a single target that can be applied, or an all-encompassing policy, as hospitality companies are complex businesses, far from uniform, and there are many topics to cover when looking at all the issues underlying the E, S and G. However, a common KPI should certainly be adherence to the global climate goals.

Creating policies that adhere to the overarching global climate goals is an absolute priority to dramatically reduce emissions

CT: Should local government support or reward these targets?
RW: There should be incentives, motivation and support from government at all levels to support the transition, adding relevant local and regional rules for companies to adhere to.

CT: Have you witnessed a shift in consumer sentiment towards sustainability?
RW: The latest surveys show that sustainability is taking centre stage in consumer decision-making. According to Booking.com, 78% of global travellers expect to stay in a sustainable property in the coming year and 71% want to make more effort to travel sustainably, up 10% from 2021.

Over the last three years sustainability has been driven by the financial markets, with major asset management funds – starting off with BlackRock but followed by many others – finally accepting their responsibilities and engaging in the climate debate, because the cost of inaction has become higher than the cost of action.

CT: How can hospitality companies best communicate their sustainability achievements to potential customers?
RW: Don’t say you are sustainable if you are not. With sustainability in focus, consumers will be quick to uncover half-truths and greenwashing, and they will vote with their feet. Above all, companies need to be transparent. When putting together a sustainability report, clarity and transparency can be achieved by adhering to one of the major global reporting frameworks, such as GRI or UN Global Compact. Management should also ensure that this information is accessible through all its media channels, website and social media platforms, as well as the intranet for team members. Celebrate your successes and let people know.


Join the Discussion
Richard Williamson will be a panellist at the ‘Why Sustainability is Key for the Future of the Hospitality Industry’ discussion hosted by Connecting Travel Editorial Director Sarah Hedley Hymers at the Future Hospitality Summit, taking place at Riyadh Airport Marriott Hotel, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 4pm to 4.40pm, Tuesday 24 May 2022. For more information, visit www.futurehospitalitysummit.com

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