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News Article

War of words on Hilton ‘greenwash’ claims bring spotlight on tourism ethics

Pressure group accuses hotel chain of false claims of responsible development

On 25 July, tourism watchdog Tourism Concern accused Hilton Hotels Corporation and Hilton International of short changing local communities and habitat destruction, despite its claims to be clean and green. The claims have been disputed by Hilton, but the war of words brings CSR (corporate social responsibility) in the tourism industry back into the news, with questions as to whether efforts of the industry to protect the environment and behave responsibly are real, or simply corporate 'greenwashing'.

Too often, argues Tourism Concern, CSR is used as an opportunity for companies operating in tourism to make shareholders and the public believe that the companies operate ethically and with integrity. Tourism Concern's CEO Tricia Barnett, in a speech to a conference on CSR and tourism held in Singapore, used Hilton's activities in the Maldives to claim that the the global hotel chain was not interested in implementing "socially and environmentally responsible business practices."

Tourism Concern accuses Hilton of uprooting many palm and mangrove trees from Mandhoo island to the Hilton resort complex on Rangali and Rangalifinolhu islands. They also suggest that Hilton Hotels have exaggerated their community work on Mandhoo, and that claims by the company of sponsoring a teacher on the island and offering long-term support after the tsunami are false.

Hilton's Chief Executive Ian Carter, however, has accused Tourism Concern of spreading "false and defamatory" allegations against Hilton Maldives. "I am extremely disappointed with the nature of this sensationalist campaign," he angrily said in an open letter. The claims and counter-claims have continued, echoing previous exchanges detailed in the Dhivehi Observer in the Maldives earlier this year.

Tourism companies push environmental credentials

In Europe, where a segment of consumers are beginning to be interested in sustainable tourism and concerned about the impacts of their lifestyles on the environment, some big tour operators such as Kuoni and TUI have issued guidelines advising customers how to save water, be economical with air-conditioning, avoid unnecessary use of plastic bags, clear up rubbish and care for flora and fauna by shunning activities such as 'swimming with dolphins' or 'motorbiking in deserts'.

Kuoni Switzerland has extended its good citizenship to incorporate suppliers too, offering its own Green Planet Award to beach resort hotels that meet specified ecological standards and flagging them up in brochures.

"We intend to make substantial demands on our partners in particular to live up to our high environmental expectations, to help meet a growing and spreading customer demand," explains CEO Thomas Stirnimann.

In addition, Kuoni's own research revealed sales staff actively 'pushed' resorts with Green Planet accreditation, although this statistic was not matched by sales, with just 15% of customers citing environmental concerns when making their travel purchases.

TUI too operates an Environmental Management department and annual reports from representatives in each region in which it operates help in monitoring and, eventually, preparing consumer information for use in brochures. This environmental reporting covers all areas, from bathing water quality and beach quality, to waste water and energy management, traffic and other noise irritants, local developments, regional conservation and environmental strategies.

In the Middle East, an example of just what can be achieved is Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa, winner of several DEPA and MENA awards for the environment as well as a member of Kuoni's Green Planet network.

Spearheading the 25-strong green task force is business development director, Siggi von Brandt, who says the hotel was the only one in the Middle East to be audited for its environmental credentials by TUV Rhineland, winning a 93.5% rating.

Acknowledging that a green policy is not a particular 'sell' at the moment, von Brandt says it was a combination of good management and education for the staff that drove the measures.

Initiated by the hotel's chief engineer who came up with the idea of a water treatment plant, the resort now runs a variety of schemes; steam from the laundry is used to heat the swimming pool water, waste water is recycled and used for the landscaped gardens, and paper, printer cartridges, bottles, plastic, cans and oil are all recycled.

According to Guido de Wilde, regional director of operations for Starwood in the Middle East, the protection and enhancement of the environment is a fundamental and critical pre-condition for healthy and long-lasting tourism growth.

"For tourism to deliver the economic and social returns expected, the industry has to pay more attention to the triple bottom line, ensuring the balance between the social, economic and environmental," he says.

There are a number of certification schemes that promote 'green' tourism, such as the UN-backed Green Globe scheme. Research on ways to define and measure sustainable tourism, and the effects of tourism on the environment, can be found on the database. Costantino and Tudinni (2005) discuss the development of an accounting framework for ecologically sustainable tourism, combining an economic model for tourism development with an environmental module. James (2004) discussed the issues and principles of sustainability and the need for local sustainable tourism indicators. Allin et al. (2004) presented a list of 27 national indicators of sustainable tourism for the UK, while Hunter and Shaw (2005) present an analysis of 'ecological footprint' as a means of assessing the impact of different international ecotourism scenarios.

External link

Tourism Concern

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 09 August 2006
  • Subject(s)
  • Hospitality Sector
  • Tourism