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Dubai hotels ramp up sustainability practices ahead of government’s July 1 deadline

DUBAI - Dubai hotels have less than two weeks to comply with the government’s new sustainability requirements after being given two and a half years to make the changes.

Although it was a tough period that left hotels in Dubai relying on domestic tourism amid the coronavirus outbreak, many have managed to make substantial changes to their daily operations.

From food composting and refillable shampoo dispensers to systems that allow wastewater to be reused for irrigation, the city’s hotels are taking innovative measures to become more eco-friendly to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Most hotels in the city already operate with many of these systems in place; the requirements will come in place to unify all hotels’ efforts towards sustainability and enable all hotels in the city to work together to reduce their energy consumption,” Yousuf Lootah, Vice Chairman of Dubai Sustainable Tourism, told Salaam Gateway.

Dubai Tourism’s 19 sustainability requirements leave no stone unturned, covering everything from sustainability management approach, guest education, and employee training, to energy, water, and waste management plans. They will apply to hotels, resorts, hotel apartments, youth hostels, and university campuses.

OLD BUSINESS, NEW WAYS

The mandatory requirements aim to improve the environmental performance of the sector to support the government’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 16% by 2021. They are also expected to boost the competitiveness of Dubai's tourism-related economy.

The tourism sector is crucial to Dubai; pre-pandemic it contributed $27.9 billion (11.5%) of the emirate’s GDP in 2019, up from $18.7 billion (5.2%) in 2016, according to official statistics.

“It’s good that the government is pushing for sustainability,” Hans-Peter Betz, director of the Dubai-headquartered International Association of Hotel General Managers told Salaam Gateway.

“Hospitality is unfortunately a very old business and to change something can be a nightmare. Most hotels waited to see if it could be postponed - money has been tight for capital expenses - but with the new announcement, they need to act right now.”

Betz said that while the process might not be easy for hotels, there a lot of things they could do right away, such as forming a sustainability committee, reducing waste, and buying locally-produced food.

“A lot of hotels are looking at locally-produced products, getting food fresh from the farm every morning. Many are trying to compost waste and to increase water savings through low-flow showerheads. Also, the new hotels all have back-of-house lighting sensors,” said Betz.

“They don’t always need to be expensive technologies; some you need to invest in but the return on investment will be much higher than not doing so,” he added.

Rotana Hotels and Resorts, which manages 12 hotels in Dubai, responded to the new mandate by integrating the sustainability requirements into their existing environmental management system ISO 14001, Rotana Earth.

“It was not very difficult for us to integrate the new policies and standards into our existing operations as we regularly report on the data required by DTCM for the calculation of our carbon emissions,” Mamdouh Ali, general manager of Rose Rayhaan by Rotana, an alcohol-free four-star property in Dubai, told Salaam Gateway.

The company has placed segregated bins for guests on each floor of their properties as well as in their kitchens and food and beverage outlets. It has also contracted waste management companies to recycle the waste, and it has replaced room amenities with refillable soap and shampoo dispensers.

“We will also be establishing the carbon offsetting scheme across all Rotana hotels and are in the process of finalizing the partners for implementing this scheme, which will help us further reduce the carbon footprint,” said Ali.

LOWERING CONSUMPTION

Since the announcement of the sustainability requirements, many hotels have been working on getting global recognition for their efforts through independent third-party audits.

Today, 20 hotels in Dubai are certified by Green Globe, a worldwide sustainability system and an affiliate member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

One of them is Movenpick Hotel Apartments Downtown Dubai, certified as a Green Globe property in December 2020. The hotel recently installed a guest room management system that minimizes energy consumption by controlling lighting and power as well as air-conditioning in guest rooms.

To conserve energy, vacant rooms are maintained at 25°C, dropping to 22°C when a guest checks in, and air conditioning units automatically shut down when guest room windows and balcony doors are left open. The system has increased energy savings from 20% to 50%.

The hotel aims to lower its energy and water consumption by 4% and 2% respectively, and reduce the waste diverted to landfills by 8%, Eric Seso, general manager of Movenpick Hotel Apartments Downtown Dubai told Salaam Gateway.

Time Hotels also plans to reduce energy and water usage across its properties, by 5-10% year-on-year, and has implemented various measures to achieve its goals, such as alternate linen-changing in guest rooms and installation of water-saving devices and light-motion sensors in public areas.

According to the Building Efficiency Accelerator study, prepared by Emirates Green Building Council, the average hotel in Dubai consumes 252 kWh/m2/year of energy and 1,486 litres/m2/year of water, while the average resort in Dubai consumes 334 kWh/m2/year of energy and 1,676 litres/m2/year of water.

Older hotels and higher star-rated properties are likely to consume more energy and water per unit area, according to the study, which assessed data from 85 hotels.

FOOD WASTE

Food waste reduction is a top priority for the UAE and a key component of the new sustainability requirements. In 2019, annual food waste in the UAE was estimated at 197 kg per person, compared with 95 to 115 kg in Europe and North America, with hotels being the biggest source of food waste, according to a report by Dubai Industrial Park and The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Food that ends up in landfills also emits methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide.

COVID-19 safety restrictions have already resulted in buffet options being replaced with more intimate à la carte dinners, but there’s still plenty of room for hotels to cut down on food waste.

A few hotels have started offering guests the choice between a full or half portion, as well as implementing “assisted buffets” where smaller food quantities are refilled regularly, which also ensures that food items remain fresh.

“Our target is to not waste any food. We have therefore come up with many ideas such as offering half portions, reducing buffet quantity, and promoting our à la carte menus more,” Mohamed Awadalla, CEO of Time Hotels, told Salaam Gateway.

The hospitality company operates six alcohol-free properties in the UAE and has been certified by Green Globe, Green Key and Dubai Chamber CSR label for their sustainability commitment.

Hotels are finding other ways to meet sustainability goals. Movenpick Hotel Apartments Downtown Dubai has laid out "smart purchasing", procuring only the necessary food items for its kitchen operation.

The initiative has reduced the implication of impulse buying that often leads to food wastage. In addition, the hotel has been experimenting with different methods of pickling, drying, canning, fermenting, and freezing to make food last longer.

With the current systems that are in place, Movenpick Hotel Apartments Downtown Dubai has seen a higher year-on-year occupancy of 6% in 2021 but a relatively low consumption in utilities overall compared to 2019, according to Seso, who heads the hotel’s newly established Green Team.

Rose Rayhaan by Rotana has also seen healthy occupancy rates of around 80% in late 2020 and pick-up in 2021 has so far been good, according to Ali.                                     

Lootah noted that the 19 sustainability requirements will not only help make hotels more cost and energy efficient, but they will also improve brand value in the eyes of guests.

Dubai Tourism first announced the requirements on January 1, 2019, giving hotels 18 months to complete the changes. Due to the pandemic, the deadline was extended for another 12 months to July 1, 2021, after which the tourism authority will begin auditing the performance of hotels.

Since making the announcement, Dubai Tourism has trained staff from 528 hotel establishments on implementation and compliance. It also published an e-manual, 12 Steps Towards Sustainability, to provide practical tips on how to implement the new measures.

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