Room with a view...of your own consumption

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Summer destination hot spots were again packed this summer to overtourism levels with a +7% growth over 2017. This is putting intolerable pressure on the sector’s ability to achieve agreed resource saving and carbon-cutting goals. Our hope that technical efficiencies alone will save our holidays is simply not going to be sufficient to contain human consumption in the developed and developing economies.

This optimism or denial that someone else will find the miracle technological solutions to do the hard work ignores one very important and positive solution - to conserve resources. How hard is it for us to consume less on holiday? Our research shows tourists will make efforts to conserve very significant amounts of energy and water at their accommodation, higher in fact than technology alone achieves through efficiency. We studied over 1200 guests and found their conscious actions to conserve saved 38% firewood, 33% electricity, 21% water and 20% gas whilst staying at four tourist accommodation sites. Applying resource conservation whilst on holiday introduces a new paradigm that destinations and their hosts should encourage. One that the guests appreciate with over 70% saying they strongly/agreed they would be happy to receive feedback and over 80% saying the intervention strong/added to their stay experience.

Conserving resources include a variety of deliberate behaviours like choosing to consume less, reducing waste by better planning and applying no/low carbon methods for thermal comfort. These appear obvious, but are not necessarily easy for tourists when staying in unfamiliar buildings and acclimatising to new places. Persuasive communications Resource conservation by tourists will not occur of its own free will unless there is a persuasive intervention. Our intervention involves two elements, firstly a digital advisory system combining indirect feedback with helpful conserving tips and secondly staff training to empower them to deliver direct feedback politely to persuade guests.

This intervention combination achieves more than mere engagement, it persuades guests to participate. They chose to reciprocate because the host is understood to be making efforts to empower them to save. So they take the advice as empathetic, enjoy learning new resource saving skills and measure their success through indirect feedback. The human touch is important, as hosts show low or no carbon amenities to guests, and in return guests justifying the call to conserving resources as socially responsible behaviour and want to comply. The intervention creates smarter guests as they choose more suitable behaviours during extreme weather.

The bigger view We make the claim that resource conservation is a new paradigm simply because there has been a great deal of consternation about human behaviour being the root cause of a global decline in environmental quality. Some of the human behaviour can be explained by the Tragedy of the Commons, however, Hardin’s profound thesis is over 50 years old and was written when we did not have the benefits of information communication technology to help us apply better behavioural actions. When combined with suitable sustainability training for staff to educate customers on how to use everyday systems in a new more effective way the technology can go a long way in changing fundamental behaviours. Hardin’s work is still relevant, but perhaps it might not be quite such a tragedy if we understood the value of reciprocation and the benefits of conservation to design effective environmental policy.

The system that was tested in our research was invented following informal meetings and observations of close to 16,000 guests over the last decade. It became apparent that guests were not cognisant of their resource use, for example thinking that lights must be turned off to save large amounts of energy whilst they happily continued to use energy-intensive equipment such as toasters, hair dryers, and entertainment systems. Earlier observations also found that guests were also not well equipped to transition to unfamiliar surroundings and effectively use amenities to be comfortable, frequently overusing firewood and leaving windows open too long. Providing indirect energy monitoring was found to be ineffective prescription because resource use figures on their own generate only one of several pointers that individuals require to learn how to conserve resources.

As CSIRO research shows managing resource for individuals is complex Setting saving targets seemed an essential ingredient for the intervention in order to give guests a goal and to allow them to compare how they were performing. This might appear to be contrary to the ethos of hospitality, but we apply rationing of resources to our health services and we believe it is important for patients to choose wisely so why not our holidays? After all, rationing can bring out the playful best of us. So we set a saving target of 20%, the level that sciences say is the best that technology can achieve for us in hotels. Interestingly our results showed that guests surpassed this level. Their incentive? Just to play along and reciprocate. Rationing, therefore, is feasible in tourism, leisure and recreation. We should also not ignore the commercial benefits to conserving resources.

Firms who choose to conserve would find it actually a lower cost exercise compared to the capital investment in technology which is not always guaranteed to achieve saving results because of the escalating rates of consumption and misuse. Using equipment less might also increase its durability. The trade-offs of conserving might also not actually diminish the quality of experience but actually, feed people’s curiosity. In other words quite possibly, as in our example, resource conservation could improve the customers’ experience, so one day we might be asking for a room with a view and a view of our consumption.