Is the knowledge gap too wide to innovate sustainable tourist accommodation?
There is currently insufficient research to assist the transition for tourist accommodation to become a low carbon sector that also uses water sustainably. After reviewing 110 academic resource-saving studies we found significant research gaps that leave us still unclear how accommodation can make deep game changing savings.
What the Gaps cover
These gaps include:
- renewable energy
- renewable water
- non-hotel accommodation types
- building design
- climate and cultural influence
- smart technology
- guest engagement
Lack of Data
We could only find a small number of studies which detail consumption amounts, so there is insufficient data to establish benchmarks and track savings. This limitation is made worse by the lack of studies which measure the influence of seasonality and climate over time (an important when considering Climate Change and adaptation).
We found many studies lacked detail that allows us to unambiguously interpret findings. Overall the studies used different measures and terms making it hard to compare results and build a body of knowledge. Only a few studies indicated a return on investment, which is worrying as new technologies tend to be sold on the idea of a financial benefit.
Without clarity, deep savings become more difficult because there are in fact a multitude of factors which influence consumption. This demonstrates that technical efficiencies alone cannot be relied upon as the sole method to save. Building a solid body of knowledge and developing the skills to run accommodation more sustainably is therefore essential; since it is human behaviour that controls resource use by how a firm is run, how savings methods might be organised and how guests can consume less. To stimulate service innovation we require a more consistent research approach and to link expertise that tests and refines solutions.
Why this is important now
The urgency to bridge the research gap is also a global challenge as tourist accommodations’ environmental footprint is very likely to be underestimated. This is because the shared economy has been outpacing traditional accommodation growth, and statistics exclude unofficial hosts, so the size of the sector is far larger than authorities estimate and more complex. Therefore the level of consumption, verses aspirational carbon reduction targets, may present a larger challenge than originally thought. The sector’s consumption is further aggravated by aging building stock and changing climates. Meanwhile tourism grows exponentially, so while an accommodation may show energy and water savings per guest night, absolute resource use could remain unchanged. Without holistic knowledge to help the sector innovate and become more sustainable, consumption is most likely to rise and with it carbon emissions and water use.
What we should do
Tourism should now establish collaboration networks between scientists, practitioners and entrepreneurs which bridge the knowledge gaps and accelerate sustainability-oriented innovation.
How we might do it
Findings from our study lead to the following proposed research framework (see figure below – adapted from Warren & Becken, 2017). If we want to close the research gap and generate new knowledge then we need a holistic approach that includes key influencing elements, more consistently presented findings, to share and built upon. Networks linking expertise must conduct research which addresses clear savings targets and identify paths to achieve them (e.g . if we want to save 50%, then we need to take this action). There are responsible tourism networks, for example communities evolving from accreditation systems, but scientists and researchers need to play a stronger role in stimulating innovation, particularly service innovation. Key to building networks is establishing common ground which respects commercial realities. My recommendation is to focus on this formula: ‘innovation’ + ‘sustainability’ = ‘competitive edge’. Focusing on innovation rather than a preachy call for action is a more positive approach that indicates a good resolution (note expert’s’ observations). In future reports I will share more details of the research gaps and sustainability-oriented innovation opportunities. Click on this link for an example of a service innovation research project using a collaborative network approach, expressions of interest to participate are welcomed. The knowledge gap will not be too wide if we start collaborating now.
Proposed integrative framework to advance research and theory of energy and water savings in tourist accommodation. Adapted from Warren & Becken, 2017
ROE (Return On Environment)
Christopher Warren 9th February, 2017
For more information contact: