A sustainable approach to hotel happiness

The initiative increasing guests’ fun and reducing environmental harm

Tropical resort at sunset.

Image: Adobe Stock/jdross75

Image: Adobe Stock/jdross75

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From eco-tourism hotels in Slovenia to luxury chains in Australia, a UQ Business School researcher is working with operators to change the way tourism tackles sustainability, while making it fun for guests.

Globally, tourism has emerged as one of the hardest-hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, but its income is paramount to the survival of most countries. The size and growth of the industry is responsible for 1 in every 11 jobs worldwide. 

Yet, the celebrated economic contribution of the tourism sector comes at a substantial environmental cost. Tourism is also responsible for more than 35 million tonnes of solid waste every year, contributing up to 12.5 per cent of global warming.

The challenge for tourism and hotel operators is how to reduce their environmental footprint without affecting guest satisfaction or their bottom line.

Professor Sara Dolnicar and her team at the Business School are working with hotel partners across the globe on The Low Harm Hedonism Initiative, developing solutions to reduce environmental damage caused in enjoyment-focused tourism contexts.

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the initiative set key targets for sustainable practices to remain cost-efficient and ideally increase customer satisfaction. 

“We have been partnering with hotels globally on increasing sustainable measures for years now and can recommend a number of simple strategies operators can implement to become more environmentally and economically sustainable in a post-pandemic world,” Professor Dolnicar said. 

A woman helping herself to food from a buffet.

Person taking food from a buffet. Image: Adobe Stock/Shcherbyna

Person taking food from a buffet. Image: Adobe Stock/Shcherbyna

Several studies conducted by Professor Dolnicar and her team discovered an excellent way for hotels to become more sustainable is to reduce plate waste at buffets.

“Guests leave a lot of food uneaten on their plates at buffets, about 15 grams per person per day at a hotel breakfast buffet, and 233 grams across all meals of the day,” Professor Dolnicar said.

“But it’s important to make it fun for visitors to behave in environmentally friendly ways.”

One example from The Low Harm Hedonism Initiative research is the use of a stamp collection game for families as a way to reduce plate waste at hotel buffets.

“We conducted an experimental study during the peak summer season in two hotels in the seaside town of Portoroz in Slovenia to see if we could incorporate an element of play as a way to reduce wastage,” Professor Dolnicar said.

A harbour view of Portoroz, Slovenia

Portoroz, Slovenia. Image: Adobe Stock/Lakostick

Portoroz, Slovenia. Image: Adobe Stock/Lakostick

Upon checking in, families are given a stamp collection booklet. Every day at the dinner buffet, if the entire family leaves no uneaten food behind, they get a stamp. At checkout, the children can redeem the completed stamp booklet for a prize.

“The game reduced plate waste among families by 34 per cent and saved 8,000 Euros in two months for one hotel alone, although families made up only a fraction of their guests.”

“The beauty of the stamp game is that it reduced food costs for the hotel, reduced food waste, and increased vacation fun for children, while supporting parental messaging about eating up – truly a win-win,” Professor Dolnicar said.

A mother, father and two children enjoying lunch together at a restaurant.

A family enjoying lunch together at a restaurant. Image: Adobe Stock/goodluz

A family enjoying lunch together at a restaurant. Image: Adobe Stock/goodluz

One waiter working at the hotel with eight years of industry experience said the idea of rewarding families with stamps for finishing all their food was received by parents and children with utmost enthusiasm.

“Mums were especially cute. You could tell how proud they were of their kids and sometimes even of themselves, because they managed to motivate kids to be more mindful of food,” the waiter said.

Another waiter commented, “Sometimes kids would run over to me and kindly ask if they can get the stamp … kids were excited during our walk to their table, saying that they ate it all.”

According to Professor Dolnicar, partnering with hotels and tourism operators to conduct research onsite is vital in trialling new strategies to help build sustainability and long-term resilience.

“Testing our ideas in hotels is the only way we can know for sure they actually work, and that’s what research is all about – understanding how things work and changing them to create better futures.”

In collaboration with academic colleagues and partners in the hotel and tourism sector, Professor Dolnicar has received a $360,000 ARC Linkage Project grant to further investigate which interventions are most effective at reducing hotel plate waste.

The project aims to lower food costs for the struggling tourism industry, reduce carbon emissions, and contribute to Australia’s aim of halving food waste by 2030.

Professor Dolnicar’s Low Harm Hedonism Initiative has received global recognition at the Alimara CETT Awards in Barcelona, Spain, winning the '2021 Through Research Award' for encouraging people to become more environmentally sustainable while on holidays.

Faculty of Business, Economics and Law

Australian Institute for Business and Economics

Professor Sara Dolnicar

Professor Sara Dolnicar is a member of UQ Business School’s, Business Sustainability Initiatives.

Email: dolnicar@uq.edu.au
Twitter: @SaraDolnicar
LinkedIn: Sara Dolnicar

Professor Sara Dolnicar from The University of Queensland

Professor Sara Dolnicar

Professor Sara Dolnicar