"Working with the TIA facilitator, we developed a customised plan to enable us to deliver sustainable outcomes for our business, community and guests. Unless you are a sustainable business, you won’t survive."
Wellington Sustainable Tourism Project
About the project
TIA delivered the programme
Who took part?
Participants received practical support and tools
Sustainability felt overwhelming
With seven properties under the Village Accommodation Group brand, we were keen as a business to focus on sustainability, but knew it was a massive topic that required time, resources and getting the full team on board.
We were handling some aspects very well such as business management, human resources and community work, but I was concerned about some of the other larger topics, in particular energy and waste management, due to their complexities across the properties. We didn’t have the time required for researching or resources readily available to make any headway. It felt too difficult, especially given other major priorities such as the ongoing pandemic impacts.
Structure and a framework were my main goals
Structure and a framework were my main goals – a clear direction of where to take the team, how to get there, what to implement, what made sense financially and the primary areas we needed to focus on. I wanted to know what was going to achieve the quick wins versus the longer burns, and be able to plan initiatives that require investment that we will work on in the coming months and years.
We made some major decisions during the programme and we wanted to know that how we communicated those decisions made sense, along with an assurance that if an action was impacting on the customer, we were making the right decision.
You won’t survive if you’re not a sustainable business
Unless you are a sustainable business, you won’t survive. It’s not just about environmental sustainability, but about having a viable business in general. Thinking about the current cost of living crisis, and the immense pressure on wages and costs, sustainability is really important, and it’s vital to be thinking longer term.
Also, the obvious benefit is, it’s what customers are expecting and looking for.
We were given practical solutions
We focused on two Wellington properties - Boulcott Suites (116 apartments spread over several buildings) and Ohtel Wellington (a 10-room boutique 5-star hotel). Working with the TIA facilitator, we developed a customised plan to enable us to deliver sustainable outcomes for our business, community and guests. It built on the work we already had underway and suggested actions to make progress, ensuring we could achieve quick wins, and also work towards the long-term implementation of bigger tasks.
We worked closely with the TIA facilitator who came up with practical solutions, including what had worked in properties overseas. Boulcott Suites is spread over three separate buildings and there is much complexity around housekeeping services and recycling and waste management. He produced really good ideas on ways to handle these aspects operationally.
He also encouraged us to look at alternative solutions. For example, I was a bit sceptical of bulk bathroom amenities, mainly due to hygiene and operational concerns. We had been taking an individualised approach, but after a tender process, one of our main suppliers convinced us how we could make bulk dispensing work, by recycling the bottles without the team having to fill them up and employing easy to sanitise cleaning methods. The new solution fitted the brief – it is economical, environmentally friendly, produced with New Zealand ingredients and supports six children’s charities.
Recruiting and retaining team
Like other accommodation providers, we are experiencing immense pressure finding team members (particularly within housekeeping), being competitive with other industries, while still aiming to deliver a high level of customer service. We therefore implemented a wage strategy to pay above the living wage as well as enhance our comprehensive training and development programme. However, in the current environment where the borders have been shut and tourism hasn’t been seen as a safe industry, we are still at risk of losing team members, so we looked at what we could do to reduce housekeeping services without impacting the customer experience.
Removing housekeeping services
We investigated what would happen if we removed daily housekeeping services, including topping up amenities, making beds, taking away rubbish and light cleaning tasks. If we took that service away it would reduce pressure on the housekeeping team and minimise a lot of unnecessary towel and linen changing as well as chemical use. The review also involved assessing the impact on customer satisfaction, evaluating guest expectations, cost analysis and reviewing operational concerns.
Ultimately, we saw removing daily housekeeping services as a huge opportunity to really change things up in the market as well as having a positive impact on the business. An important part was communicating the change to our guests. Many of our corporate guests stay with us for multiple nights and we were apprehensive they might be dissatisfied at not having normal daily cleaning services. However, we’ve only received a couple of minor complaints, and once we explain the sustainability and safety angles (i.e. wanting to reduce staff going into rooms to minimise contact during a pandemic), customers understand it’s a good thing.
If guests still want a daily service, they can pay a bit extra to have a light clean, or a full clean.
It has been a positive move on a lot of sustainability fronts, including looking after our team. During normal occupancy levels we would see on average between 40-45% of our housekeeping team’s time spent on servicing rooms daily. As we have been facing immense staffing shortages and pricing pressures over the past two years, this reduction of offering has immensely relieved the pressure on peak dates. The team was delighted. It was a creative and effective solution and was a major achievement during the course of the programme.
Upping the offering
As part of removing the daily housekeeping service, we wanted to ensure the offerings in the kitchen and bathrooms were something special. We worked closely with our suppliers, using Trade Aid handwoven baskets to present the kitchen amenities – including Charity Tea in tins, Fairtrade hot chocolate and sugar, biodegradable coffee pods. We’ve presented it in a really mindful way with a sustainable card to explain what we’re doing with reduced housekeeping and why. Where we’ve saved in the cost of not providing housekeeping services daily, we’ve invested back into presenting much higher end, sustainably sourced products for guests to experience and enjoy.
Another key project during the programme was to digitise all our in-room guest compendiums and move these online. These are advertised to customers via a flyer with QR codes displayed in a recycled plastic cover in the apartments. We have also been moving other operational tasks to digital, including all the checklists. This has had a dramatic impact for departments like housekeeping as it’s saving at least 50 sheets of paper a day.
We’ve put a lot of thought into developing our sustainable focused purchasing policy, with the whole management team on board with how it works and what the purpose is. Now any purchasing decision must have sustainability at the forefront. One of our recent tenders was for appliance servicing and sustainability was one of the key requirements. We chose a supplier that at the end-of-life strips down the appliance and upcycles the components into other things. Sustainability has a lot of weight on our purchasing decision making and now everyone in the management team is driven to consider these angles.
At Ohtel the bathroom amenities are made from recycled milk bottles and accessories are presented in rockstock paper – an innovative paper made from stone waste, not trees. Toothbrushes are made from sustainably sourced bamboo.
At Boulcott Suites, instead of the individualised approach we have moved to a system where, when the volume in the bottles gets low, staff package them up and send them to our supplier who is 100% Kiwi owned and operated. The used bottles are then sent to a company that recycles them into construction foundations. A percentage of the profits goes to charities that help sick children.
The hardest challenge has been to source the data for the big-ticket items of energy and waste since the properties are across many buildings and split by units. Now we are able to measure this more effectively, and have established more cohesive relationships with the suppliers, we have a plan moving forward including a full recycling system for Boulcott Suites.
Once you get going, it’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be. It’s all the little things that really make an impact. My key takeaways are to design a framework that works in unison with your business goals, ensure the plan doesn’t impact the customer experience, set achievable targets and bring the team along for the ride – they will be able to contribute hugely to the long-term strategies.
It’s just the start of our sustainability journey and now we have the foundations in place we will be continuing to have this top of mind with every key decision we make.