The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has declared 2017 as the Year of Sustainable Tourism, celebrating and promoting the contribution of the tourism sector to building a better world and a healthier environment.

With over one billion international travellers annually, tourism accounts for 7% of worldwide exports, 30% of services exports, one in 11 jobs and 10% of the world’s GDP. To call its reach and power transformative would be an understatement.

Through 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), hotels will have a greater responsibility in the creation of jobs andthe promotion ofgender equality, local cultures and products. Most importantly however, the goals place a greater responsibility on the travel and tourism industry in the fight against climate change.

So, how are hotels throughout the region expected to demonstrate their support?

At first glance, this could be viewed as yetanother financial headache at an already difficult time, for hotel owners and operators. In Dubai, for example, despite visitor numbers growing by 5% last year to 14.9 million, a surge in supply added 10,000 rooms ahead of Expo 2020, which pressured RevPAR rates down by 9.9%and more alarmingly F&B revenuesdeclined by over 12%.

According tosome industry estimates, these supply and demand dynamics will balance out in 2020 when 25 million visitors are expected, but that’s three years away, so how can hotel operators manage their expenses more effectively in the meantime?

It might seem absurd to endorse a capital expenditure programme for sustainability, but that’s exactly what I would recommend. Currently the typical annual utility costs for a five-star city hotel in Dubai, is in the region of $2 million.Hotel Optimizer for example is an internet-based software programme that can measure, benchmark and identify savings, for water and energy consumption as well as non-recyclable waste production.

Analysing that data our professional consultants can then work out a hotel’s carbon emissions and those all-important financials. It is not unusual for hotels to slash their utility bills by between 15-20% or put another way $400,000 per year, yes that’s right, $400,000! Not to mention saving 6,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

In gross revenue terms that’s the equivalent of 164 room nights per month at an average rate of $200 per night. Any takers?  Ok, if you’ve just sat bolt upright in your chair, the news gets even better.

The next step is to get your hotel certified sustainable, such as applying for Green Globe certification, one of the most respected worldwide independent sustainability stamps for the tourism industry, available in 20 different countries throughout the Middle East, using more than 300 exacting audited standards.Once achieved you can tell the world, loud and proud.

One progressive international hotel chain that joined the Green Globe programme over seven years ago, cutits annual carbon emissions by more than 150,000 tonnes across 24 Middle East hotelsin its first year, as well as saving utility costs equivalent to roughly $5 per room-night.

Last year just one of their properties in Dubai managed to recycle enough paper and card to save around 380, 20-year old trees;17.74% of its waste was diverted from landfill and the hotel saved enough energy to power 190 homes for a year.

However, as operators we may be all on board, but what about the guests?

It is true that Gen Y is perhaps one of the most vocal demographic groups when it comes to environmental issues, but international branded hotels in particular, haveproduct and service standards,so it’s a delicate balance, best approached on a case-by-case basis, because sustainability carries a different meaning for different guest segments. Above all it needs to be genuine and credible, any superficial attempt will be lambasted.

If utility costs and your carbon emissions can be loweredand you win the hearts and minds of eco-conscious travellers, that sounds like a win-win or should I say, win-win-win scenario to me.