Bart Buiring is Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Marriott International Asia Pacific, a region of 850 Marriott hotels in 23 countries operating under 24 brands. Business Traveller spoke to Buiring about sustainability as Marriott prepared to publish its latest Serve 360 Report (link opens the pdf).
How important is sustainability to Marriott?
One of the core values of our company is to serve our world, which means investing in local communities, delivering aid and support and making sure we have sustainability development in the communities in which we operate. We clearly have a responsibility and a vested interest in helping to address the world’s most pressing social, environmental and economic issues.
We work with credible NGOs who understand our needs and we adjust our approach, market by market. In the Asia Pacific region we organise these initiatives with business councils in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Vietnam. One of the things we want to avoid is that every one of our 850 hotels in the Asia Pacific region is pursuing an initiative in their own interest. There is something to be said about power in numbers [to make sure our charitable efforts are more effective].
We have published sustainability goals and aim achieve them by 2025, and they are around things like water intensity, reducing our carbon emissions and waste sent to landfill and we are seeing more interest from our customers, both those who stay in the hotels and business to business. As part of the RFP process and corporate pricing negotiations, corporate customers ask us how we are doing in terms of sustainability efforts, so the bottom line is it is important to us.
The one thing I will say is that Covid has had a material impact on the way we look at sustainability On the one hand a weird effect is we are marching faster towards the sustainability goals that we had set out as a result of business being substantially down and also because of our cost reduction strategies, but I have to say last year was not necessarily the year we focussed on sustainability as much as we have in the past. What we have been very focused on is safety and our hygiene standards in the hotels meeting customers’ expectations and so we have prioritised that.
So as a result of that we have delayed the elimination of single use plastics in the hotels by a year. There are masks in the rooms, for instance, which are not environmentally friendly, and hand sanitisers in individual containers, so we have to balance the current mindset of our travellers with our sustainability goals in the long term.
For guests, how does the focus on sustainability show itself?
Many of our hotels have interesting programmes to connect the hotel to the local community. It could be around environmental protection, community engagement or marine conservation. Instead of having all the hotels develop this individually we are marketing this as – ‘Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy’ which we tested in 15 hotels.
Why did we do that? It’s a shift away from how vacations are perceived from pure leisure to value added opportunities, to learn more about the natural environment and to forge connections with local communities. We have now expanded it to all luxury full service and particularly resort hotels.
So as an example, the JW Marriott in Musoorie in India, has a horticultural expert who teaches guests about top soil conservation in the Garhwal range and gets them to plant their own saplings.
What can Marriott do in countries where there is little recycling?
We have to be reasonable, play our part where we can and try and find ways to engage with local authorities where there may not be the opportunity to recycle, for instance. But we can ask about the facilities that are available and in small ways bring the community along and create awareness, and maybe in collaboration with other hotels recycling may become more of a priority. It depends on market by market. I think China is very aware, and it is highly organised and extremely well set up. There are cities in other markets where it is far more difficult.
What about new buildings?
Developers are really interested in this space because of the inevitable return on investment. If you have an efficient building you will have lower energy costs going forward. It might cost slightly more upfront. Energy is typically the third or fourth biggest cost after labour and food and beverage costs, so it is material to their investments and they are really proactive around this, and obviously our design team works with them to help build a hotel that is as energy efficient as possible. There’s no push back from developers at all. We have 850 hotels in 23 countries. We have 24 brands here, there are 30 brands in total. We added about 75 hotels last year, and will add around 100 in 2021.
How do you see the future of business travel?
We are very optimistic about the future of travel. People want to see the world and in the context of business people want to meet their customers and develop relationships that they cherish. I think everyone is very focussed on getting the travel industry back on its feet, so additional taxes aren’t on the horizon, but it’s hard to make a prediction beyond two years. If a company is planning to do a deal, and one person is on Zoom and the other is in person, then there is an advantage there. And once people start to do face to face meetings then they will continue to do so.
How do you tell your customers about what you are doing for sustainability without being accused of greenwashing?
We are a publicly-listed company and we communicate our goals. We have our 360 programme. We are committed to reducing our carbon footprint and it can be read in that report.
The key thing is transparency and we are open about the moves we have made and open about where we need to do better. We took a bit of a pause during the Covid period, but we are putting together the strategy for 2022, and sustainability is an important part of the strategy map. And if it’s on there, then we do something about it. There is real energy on this in our team. The younger generation is very focussed on this.
As a responsible employer and corporation, we need to play our part and make sure we do the right thing. We are only as good as the individual hotels we operate, but all of them contribute to the corporate goals and our measuring tools are very sophisticated and go towards helping us reach those corporate goals. And that is true about the environmental or sustainability or diversity or inclusion.