This is the first in a series of Spotlight Session interviews with key figures in the serviced apartment and aparthotel sector discussing the big topics of the day.
Guus Bakker, CEO EMEA Frasers Hospitality, outlines the Group’s approach to the environment and their place within it, and his plans to make a lasting difference.
- On hospitality’s part in this:
“The entire hospitality industry has a huge responsibility for sustainability in the future; after all, so much of tourism is based on physically travelling – much of it flying. And those decades of flight globally that have contributed much to today’s climate emergency.
“So we have no choice; we do have to start giving something back, to counteract some of the bad side.”
- What is ‘sustainability’ to Frasers?
“Sustainability is at the core of all we do, whether that’s our property arm or the hospitality we show our guests across all of our brands. Frasers Group aims to set industry benchmarks in building sustainable communities; it’s that important to us. And this is nothing new; we’ve been working on this for some time. After all, our earliest Green Tourism Award was for our Fraser Suites in Edinburgh back in 2012.”
- Can change happen?
“Giving a little bit of attention to this, a bit of belief, and real change can start to happen.
“Frasers, of course, runs hotel restaurants as part of the Group, including in the UK Malmaison and Hotel du Vin. And it is in some of these that it is starting to nudge consumers towards good practice. Simple things; the choice of toiletries in the rest rooms, the way we launder our linens, or maybe in giving customers some control over their own food waste. As a large brand across so many different types of outlets worldwide, this better behaviour can start to have a huge snowball effect.
“Giving guests the option of reducing the frequency of cleaning for instance; rather than cutting back in a prescriptive way, we give the guest the control. That way we all win – and we reward the guest with vouchers for other services, while we cut staff costs and save time – and the planet!
“Of course, much of the change in public behaviour can be government-led, especially in totalitarian regimes where obedience on a national scale can make change happen faster and more completely. Campaigns can be as simple and as absolute as banning plastic bags and bottles outright – or making them so expensive or difficult to get hold of that consumers will eventually have to take note.
“It’s not perfect yet, of course, but plastic bag use globally has been reduced to 5% of its former throw-away nature. Together, as a planet, we can get there!”
- Is it the big stuff or the small stuff that matters?
“Anything that can be done to start change happening is vital. We only have the one planet, after all!
“Frasers Group is definitely focusing on the both the big and the smaller changes, and the smaller ones are often the easy wins. Like putting water fountains and refillable containers in public areas, rather than providing plastic bottled water in every apartment. People said we were mad doing that, and that guests would be horrified! But we found quite the reverse. We’ve got rid of plastic straws as soon as they became an international issue, as well as plastic lids on coffees, and have biodegradable bin liners across the Group.
“And we’re in the process of eliminating toiletries in bathrooms in individual tiny bottles that so often end up in the bin – as much as 80-90%! And instead replacing them with refillable containers. As long as the quality of the contents is good, the way you dispense them should matter less.
“As for the bigger changes, we’re working with others on construction, the way we build our properties, using sustainable materials and developing them in a considerate way. And then making them energy efficient once they’re up and running, and encouraging guests to switch to electric vehicles by installing charging points, bicycle hire where appropriate, and efficient parking.
Of course, as a company we often take over and redevelop older buildings, often Listed, with all the leaks and physical drawbacks they can bring. Even there we’re doing what we can to eliminate inefficiencies, and working hard to convince councils and planners that sometimes restrictions on construction – double glazing, for instance – can stand between aesthetics and energy efficiency. But we shall persevere!
“In every way we can, we’re looking to help all of us, our builders, our staff, and our guests, be the most climate-focused they can be. And we’re proud of that.”
- Can you do it alone?
“At Frasers, we are partnering with a whole array of other businesses, always with an eye to sustainability, and choosing those partners carefully.
“For instance, we have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hitachi to invest $50m each, through Hitachi’s social innovation business and technological know-how, and drawing on our own real estate and local market knowledge, to develop between us new market solutions and actually improve people’s lives.
“We’ll be collaborating towards digital transformation in the real estate industry in Asia-Pacific over the next five years – to future-proof Frasers’ property portfolio, in a sustainable manner. And that expertise in technology will be used towards everything across the piece including the physical; waste management, construction techniques, energy usage.
“And this is only one partnership of many, and one of the biggest with the highest aims, all over the world.”
- Is it all about technology?
“Technology can play a huge part in making future construction and hospitality management more efficient.
“But we must never forget that our industry is all about people. So we are investigating the use of AI for instance, and the part automation can play in streamlining processes and cutting waste. But we must not forget at the same time to include people at the core. This kind of change must be handled ethically and sensitively. In some parts of the world, replacing employees would literally change the outlook for local populations, and we must ensure this is for good and not negative reasons.
“And you can never replace local knowledge, experience and great customer service!”
- And why should serviced apartments and aparthotels lead this change?
“This is a comparatively new and very agile sector, still cutting its teeth in some parts of the world.
“We have seen the dramatic rise in use of serviced apartments and aparthotels over the last decade, so we know we have an amazing opportunity now as a developing part of hospitality to take the guest with us, on a journey towards greater sustainability. And all of our campaigns, all of our work in this direction, will continue to be pushed further.
“We all have a great responsibility here, and we must not get this wrong. And at Frasers Hospitality, we will make sure we play our part.”
With many thanks to Guus, and to Adina James at Allison PR for her part in helping arrange this Spotlight Session.