The importance of a sustainable strategic vision for hospitality organisations in a post-pandemic future
Slava Filimonau has joined the Research Centre as Visiting Research Fellow and we spoke to him during his visit to The Hague Campus. During our conversation, he painted a realistic picture of the current state of the hospitality industry, which in his opinion, is not looking great.
Covid was disastrous, the tourism and hospitality industry certainly felt the impact. From another perspective, it was a wake-up call and an opportunity for the industry to rethink its operations and do things differently, in a better way. According to market research, such as Mintel, one of the measured effects of Covid is that customers have changed their perception, and they want a more sustainable industry. In addition, the market research reports show that customers started to value local food and healthier food since Covid. Will the industry realise Covid is one of its kind and another disaster may be coming their way?
Slava tells us; “I’m interested in sustainability. So much work goes into food, and then food goes to waste. It's a crime. As well as the food waste, the world's population is growing. As an industry, we need to do our bit to stop this problem. The climate change crisis has fallen into the background, but I hope that using what they learned from Covid, the industry has learned to prepare for climate change. There is a saying in England; ‘What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger’. So if businesses took the opportunity to learn how to deal with a crisis during Covid, then they might find themselves better prepared for what else is coming.”
Slava is convinced that sustainability is key to a thriving future. Some businesses already see that this is the way forward, but unfortunately, the majority haven’t changed or adapted their approach. Large chains, such as Hilton, Marriot and Accor, are increasingly factoring sustainability into their strategic planning. However, the small and medium-sized enterprises, which represent the bulk of the sector, won't integrate sustainability in their operations for now. If they did, they could become market disruptors, at least in their respective market segments and geographical markets, and reap the benefits of their investments.
HTH: Why do you think there is a lack of commitment to sustainability?
“Covid. Businesses, especially the smaller ones, have other priorities. Staff left or they were made redundant, and now HRM needs to invest in recruitment. External factors also play a huge role; procurement prices and energy prices are going up. There may be some good intentions within the industry, but other things need to be taken care of, so the investment decision is deferred, and sustainability does not become a priority. The industry is trying to generate as much money as possible to recover two lost Covid years and that money is very much needed to provide a sense of security again. So it's very unlikely that someone will say Okay, let’s put everything on hold now because we need to invest in sustainability.”
According to Slava, it’s also a shame that the hospitality industry is so conservative. Managers in small and medium-sized enterprises have an If it isn’t broken, why fix it? mentality. It will take ages to convince them to change! In an ideal world, the post-covid hospitality industry would embrace sustainability. Now is the time to invest and make the changes, but unfortunately, the reality is that only a fraction of the market will adopt sustainability, and the rest will continue to go with the flow. Companies that invest now will be market disruptors and will succeed, whereas those that ignore the time for change have a higher risk of going bankrupt because they did not anticipate the changes. Airbnb is an excellent example of a market disruptor in the context of tourism and hospitality. The hospitality industry couldn’t imagine it was a serious competitor with the potential to succeed. Look at it now, even though Covid must have prompted it to change too in response to new market challenges.
HTH: Today, Covid is the excuse. What’s it going to be tomorrow?
“Most hospitality businesses consider short-term gains and just want to survive the year and another year as time goes by. Whilst large chains apply strategic vision to sustainability or any other market challenges, small and medium-sized enterprises don't have that strategic thinking and are therefore more vulnerable. Short-term thinking and a conservative attitude are not a good combination, and it’s something we should try and change as academics. My personal opinion is the short-term perspective of the future of the hospitality industry is quite bleak. What is needed is a generation of independent learners and critical thinkers among all levels of management in hospitality organisations, individuals who can drive changes for the better. Today's students recognise the importance of sustainability, resilience and crisis management. They, I would like to hope, better understand the importance of investing in long-term thinking.”
HTH: How is hospitality education preparing for the future?
“Both in the UK and in the Netherlands, we see that sustainability and crisis management are increasingly integrated into the teaching curriculum. Students are exposed to the contemporary issues of crisis management, disaster management, and become familiarised with major sustainability theories. As academics, we are doing what we can to prepare the next generation of hospitality managers with proactive, out of the box thinking.
However, there are substantial differences between countries in how hospitality management is taught by their respective institutions of higher education. The UK Universities tend to emphasise the academic value of hospitality education, often minimising or completely omitting the practical element. Whilst, in Switzerland, for example, the industrial value of education is emphasised because they care about how it works on the ground. In the Netherlands, it is the combination of theory and practical experience which positions the Dutch system between the British and Swiss examples. Today's hospitality managers should possess this great synergy of theory and practice. Slava complimented what he had seen at the Hague Hotelschool Campus on his tour. Anna de Visser-Amundson [Research Fellow in Consumer Choice Behaviour at Hotelschool The Hague] showcases food waste to student chefs, making it visible and demonstrating that sustainability is more than theory. It's great to combine both elements. Theory, if not linked to practice, has no value.”
About Dr Viachaslau (Slava) Filimonau
Dr Viachaslau (Slava) Filimonau is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at Bournemouth University. Sustainability and, more specifically, food waste are high on his research agenda, resulting in the nickname “a wasted academic” from his colleagues. After gaining his PhD. and doing a Post-doc at Bournemouth University, Slava started his teaching and research career at the same university. He has been based in the UK for 12 years. His research interests include all aspects of sustainability but, in particular, environmental management practices in tourism and hospitality enterprises and pro-environmental consumer behaviour.