Across Spain, hotels are prominently flagging their green credentials as they increasingly take steps to reduce their environmental footprint and appeal to a new generation of eco-aware consumers.

The country’s Paradores, state-run hotels in historic buildings such as former palaces and monasteries, are the latest to look to a greener future, switching to renewable energy sources by incorporating features such as biomass technology or solar panels.

“The Paradores’ commitment to become 100 percent green energy driven is an important milestone in the Spanish hotels sector,” says Carlos Ortega, Executive Vice President of the Hotels division at JLL Spain. “Being a public-sector firm, one of the objectives is to set an example.”

Such a move is in line with Spain’s eco-ambitions to provide electricity through renewable sources by 2050 as part of its efforts to shift to a lower carbon economy.

And its world-famous hospitality industry has a big role to play in achieving its goals.

Making hotels a shade greener

In recent times, major hotel brands across the country have been implementing wide ranging green initiatives to cut their environmental footprint. Spanish chain Melia set itself the target of removing single-use plastic from its properties in 2018 from bottles and cups to bags and replace these with products made from reusable materials. It estimates the move will eliminate more than 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year from waste disposal.

Another high-end hotel group, Iberostar, is also looking to do away with single-use plastics and promote sustainable fishing and better protection of the oceans – a huge draw for more than 80 million holidaymakers who flock to Spain each year. And Spain’s NH Hotel Group has recycled several thousand kilograms of wine corks into materials used on floors and walls across its hotels.

Meanwhile, boutique hotels are also installing new technology to improve their sustainability. Hotels such as La Isla y el Mar Hotel in Lanzarote and Hotel Pulitzer Barcelona were awarded Biosphere certification for their sustainable management. In Barcelona, OD Hotels, a small Spanish chain from the Balearics, recently incorporated living green external walls and solar panels along with a state-of-the-art heating and air- conditioning system that reduces energy consumption by more than a third.

Yet for some hotel groups, the current focus on sustainability is simply building on long-standing parts of their business strategy. The likes of Fuerte Hotels have advocated responsible tourism for over 50 years, training its employees in sustainability best practices, using renewable energy and incorporating measures to reduce water use.

“All these developments are also reflected in the increased importance of CSR departments at hotel groups,” says Ortega. “For instance, Fuerte Hoteles, along with many other big international brands, publishes their yearly CSR report where they reflect on how well they’ve achieved sustainability objectives. This level of transparency encourages hotels to keep on improving their own performance and ensures others follow suit at a time when consumers are becoming more eco-conscious.”

Minimising carbon footprints

Across the world, more people are looking to ‘sustainable travel’, which includes opting for hotels that show they care about the environment. Research from hotel reservations site found that more than two-thirds of travellers wanted to stay in eco-friendly hotels in 2018, up significantly on 2017 and 2016 figures.

“Hoteliers cannot ignore the growing appetite for sustainable travel,” says Ortega. “Today’s consumers care about the social and environmental values of brands more than ever before and they’re becoming a key part of the decision-making process when booking accommodation. Hotels must therefore develop together with their guests in order to stay competitive. Spain is a world leader in tourism and this is certainly one area it cannot afford to lag behind on.”

It’s not about the behind-the-scenes systems that make a hotel operate more efficiently. Other touches such as ensuring hotel food comes from sustainable sources, providing bicycles for customer use or installing charging points for electric cars, as in the case of NH Collection Barcelona Constanza, can also have a visible impact on a hotel’s image, Ortega notes.

Looking to the future

Yet while many hotels are moving in the right direction, there’s much more that needs to be done to make Spain’s hotel industry truly sustainable. “Publicly run hotels like the Paradores show what can be done,” says Ortega. “There needs to be more support and financial incentives from the authorities to encourage more hotels to implement renewable energy and other green measures.

“It also need to be tied into the wider sustainability movement in Spain towards cutting carbon emissions and building a greener future across all industries, not just hospitality.”

Yet he also believes that the hospitality sector can be a real driver for change by showcasing what’s possible. “Hotels are visited by so many travellers for both leisure and business purposes that they have the power to set an example from energy efficient appliances in rooms to alternatives to single-use plastics. Once guests try them out in a hotel, it makes it easier for them to buy similar products to use at home.”

For Spain’s many hotels, improving their eco-credentials is about more than using sustainability as a selling point through plaques at hotel receptions or on websites; it’s an important building block for the future of an industry that’s key to the country’s long-term economic success.