How hotels can be sustainable and sanitised in this hyper-hygienic world

Juliet Kinsman
Post Ranch Inn

Hang on – now what? Just as we’d woken up to the need for hotels to sort out their eco practices and assess their contribution to climate change, we find ourselves in this new hyper-hygienic era. Will this curveball curb all our sustainability progress? Not if we choose to support those adapting to these Corona-times in a more mindful way.

Just as luxury travellers were finally leaning into conversations around how to be more environmentally friendly, as hotels reopen this around the world, we’re all stepping over blue single-use gloves and onto beaches awash with disposable masks and disinfectant wipes.

Thankfully, though, in this giant global game of ecological Snakes & Ladders, some establishments are adapting in ways that minimise negative impact while still maximising health and safety. They’re being clever when it comes to PPE and practising vigilance in terms of sanitation without adding to the outpouring to landfill.

When it comes to those tenets of sustainability — refuse, reduce and reuse, nicknamed the ‘three Rs’ — there’s a trend towards going paperless and cashless at least. But the recycling part is going to be a challenge. What else to look out for? 

Cleaning without chemicals

Never thought you’d consider a hotel for its cleaning products? If you care about your health and wellness in general, maybe you should. Marriott has been using electrostatic sprayers and ultraviolet light technology. Anyone who shouts about using Ecolab’s biodegradable products means their housekeeping department has dropped the toxins. STAY self-catering apartments in Camden are ridding environments of pathogens with Prozone machines. Their Vectair system zaps airborne microorganisms and viruses with no harmful by-products. Over in California, Post Ranch Inn has even enlisted a dedicated indoor air-quality expert. 

Swerving single-use plastics

Maintaining declarations of zero plastic is a challenge in these times. Making PPE pretty and giving us reason to smile are the Liberty-print face masks at Treehouse London, around the corner from the Tudor-fronted Regent Street emporium. AKARYN was the first group in Asia to boast a no single-use plastic policy — they’re confident they can keep up the good work. I’d be curious to see if that means not even a scrap of clingfilm in circulation in the kitchen — if that’s the case, then they’re seriously heroes.

Many hotels have used this hiatus to think more deeply about how to offer quality over quantity when it comes to their amenities, and they are introducing some inspired accessories instead of returning to the bad old days. Minimising man-handling and maximising the shelf-life of essentials so that guests can keep using them long after they’ve left is a winner — such as by gifting refillable water bottles. In-room fridges and cupboards are being swept of all contents — this helps ensure a minibar free of all pre-pawed products. And yes, it’s bye-bye to breakfast buffets (no tears from me — I hated all those leftovers). Generator are among those asking us to use their app to order snacks at their upscale hostels as a takeaway instead — hopefully in a paper bag.

Touchless technology

Hotels reconfiguring key-card access and in-room controls to smartphones means swerving the unpalatable prospect of 70s-style plastic-sheathed remotes and the like. Shudder. Motion-sensor tech is nothing new — but suddenly infra-red taps and toilets are extra appealing in shared spaces. Unlikely you’ll choose escapes based on touch-free flushing, but it’s good to know these are win-win for planet as well as personal hygiene, thanks to their energy-efficient ways. 

Boosting better health for mind and spirit, not just body

All hail those investing not only in healthier physical spaces, but considering mental health, too. Crystalbrook Collection Australia has upped the ante on hygiene, in response to these times, of course, and they’re amping up their meditation services; for every direct booking they make a donation to Beyond Blue Support Service phone lines. In the UK, Soho House's hotels work with Self Space, a collective of therapists, to steer guests to listening ears, when needed.

It’s unavoidable that Covid-19 safety protocols mean a spike in the turnover of disposable items — from bottled water to those dinky non-refillable toiletries. But hygiene needn’t be synonymous with single-use. Stay alert to the broader environmental impact of travel and let’s get behind those in the industry being kinder to the wider world as well as their customers. Xenia zu Hohenlohe of Considerate Group issues this call to arms: "Hotels can have a huge positive impact through their actions – on their staff, on their guests on their suppliers and with their local communities. Now is the time to harness this influence."