In a new series of in-depth articles, we spotlight key challenges and opportunities for hospitality – and the wider world – with exclusive insights from some of the senior faculty who teach on our industry-leading MBA program. First up is Executive Academic Dean, Dr Dimitrios Diamantis, to talk about sustainability…
January 1 this year marked five years since the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals officially came into force. A useful moment to take stock on where things stand with the Goals, and to assess the chances of them being achieved by the 2030 deadline set by the UN.
In doing so, we’re narrowing the very broad spectrum of the goals into the core areas where the global hospitality industry has a major role to play. According to a joint paper* entitled Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals, Journey to 2030, there are three Goals which have particular resonance within the international travel and tourism sector:
- Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
- Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
- Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals
For Dr Dimitrios Diamantis, the standout among this shortlist is Goal 8.
“Decent Work and Economic Growth are critical engines of sustainability. In particular around delivering balanced economic growth that maintains the social and environmental principles we aspire to, while also providing a good quality of life for as many people as possible,” says Dimitrios, who was recently promoted to the role of Executive Academic Dean at Les Roches, but remains a key guiding force behind the MBA in Global Hospitality Management.
It’s a program he has been closely involved with throughout its 17-year existence, and under Dimitrios’ guidance, sustainability has become hard-wired into the MBA curriculum. Today, every class has touch points to sustainable practices built in. And to bring this all together, each MBA cohort attends a sustainability masterclass, led by Dimitrios, in which they can delve into the topic in more detail.
MBA students also worked with Dimitrios on a major paper for the journal Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes (WHATT) about how the Sustainable Development Goals can be applied practically within hospitality operations. This featured 22 case studies drawn from across the hospitality spectrum, from multinational players such as Marriott and Accor to individual hotel operators, as well as a major airline in the shape of Emirates.
In addition, students have zeroed-in on new and innovative sustainability methodologies, such as the concept of adaptive reuse (AR) – in effect recycling old buildings to new purposes. This is widely regarded as highly resource-efficient, given the material costs and use of natural resources tied up in new-build construction.
Last but not least, ambitions around sustainability frequently crop up in the Consultancy Projects which allow MBA students to work on real-life business challenges with partner companies of Les Roches. Recently, a project for a specialist in-flight caterer looked at how it could support its airline clients with their transition to carbon-free and sustainable operations; and in particular how its catering offer could be adapted to meet those criteria.
A life’s passion
In spearheading these efforts, Dimitrios continues what has become something of a life’s passion in the area of ecology as it relates to travel and tourism. It dates back to his Master’s studies in the mid-1990s, when he first investigated the then-novel concept of ecotourism.
“I followed that up by studying eco-tourist behavior in the UK for my PhD,” he explains. “At that time it was still a very niche area of the market, but I was able to obtain data from the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) which gave a lot of insights into the motivations of eco-tourists as well as the types of places they choose to visit.”
These days ecotourism is a more mainstream segment of the market, while sustainable practices are built into many a hotel operating model and brand marketing plan.
At an organizational level, companies are also paying greater attention to the younger consumer groups who tend to be more zealous when it comes to social and environmental matters. Dimitrios cites the example of Hilton Middle East & Africa, which operates a “shadow board” of people under 30 to whom the main board can refer executive decisions for a sense-check.
“In this way, they can get more direct insight into the way millennials and Gen Zs are thinking. I believe we will see more companies reaching out to the younger demographic like this,” says Dimitrios.
“But I think even more crucial is what happens after 2030; because we will still have a long way to travel in terms of creating greater equality in our economies and societies.”
To return to the first and fundamental question, what are the prospects for achieving the Goals in the remaining time before 2030? Dimitrios is cautiously optimistic, believing that Goal 17 – forging partnerships – will be a crucial enabler.
“This is because there are big trade-offs between the Goals, so they cannot be achieved in isolation. For example, achieving Goal 8 on economic progress would be impossible without also making progress on Goal 2 (zero hunger) or Goal 4 (quality education).
“From the research I have seen, we are on a good path towards many of the Goals,” he adds. “But I think even more crucial is what happens after 2030; because we will still have a long way to travel in terms of creating greater equality in our economies and societies.
“These social justice issues are complex and difficult, and there will need to be trade-offs if we want to reduce inequalities. So I think this is something we will be working on until 2130, not just 2030.”
With this in mind, Dimitrios is happy that the young, future leaders who pass through our MBA in Hospitality program will be equipped to carry the fight for fairer and more sustainable practices into the heart of the industry we love.
*The paper was co-authored by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the UN Development Program (UNDP), and PricewaterhouseCoopers.