A&O Hostels: Sustainable Tourism is Top Priority
Travel Begins at 40 discusses with Oliver Winter, CEO of a&o Hostels, about how the company has made sustainability initiatives core to its business.
a&o Hostels recently announced the intention to be aim to be carbon neutral by 2025. Can you please explain what ‘carbon neutral’ means and how you intend to achieve your ambition?
Carbon neutrality is based on the aim that the sum of all the greenhouse gases any entity puts into and takes from the atmosphere will balance out to zero. This can be achieved through carbon offsetting (buying carbon credits equivalent to your carbon impact) or by changing energy sources and industry processes. We have already begun our journey to becoming carbon neutral using the latter approach.
Can you provide us with some examples of your carbon-friendly measures?
In our hostels, we have implemented over 100 new sustainable measures with many more in the pipeline. Some of the key measures already introduced include bicycle rental, and a gradual conversion of the vehicle fleet to eMobility. We also only purchase energy from 100% renewable sources so that the electricity we are using produces significantly fewer carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.
In recent years several companies have been accused of ‘green wash’ in that their sustainable tourism ambitions are largely for sound-bites, how would you counter such claims?
At a&o, we are already generating less than six kilograms of CO2 per overnight stay, which is around 75% below the emission values of our competitors, so we are well on the way to achieving our aim of being carbon neutral by 2025. Sustainable management has been a core theme for a&o since I founded it in 2000 and the implementation of 100 new sustainable measures reflects that. Our sustainable efforts are producing tangible results and we publish the facts and figures here.
Choosing sustainable options is more important now than ever before and it’s something all age demographics should be considering, not only in travel but in everyday life
Reducing carbon emissions is one part of sustainability. What other measures has a&o Hostels introduced?
In addition to reducing carbon emissions we have introduced measures including water-saving shower heads, waterless toilets, sustainable floor coverings and vegan breakfast offerings. We are also consistent in upcycling: 35 out of our 39 properties are certified and bear the Green Sign sustainability seal.
How does a&o Hostels determine which sustainable measures to implement? Do you involve customer feedback into the process?
Our sustainable measures have come from our employees suggestions on resource conservation and management, but to continue evolving, we are looking to gauge customer feedback in the form of online surveys to identify guest concerns and expectations in terms of sustainability.
How do you ensure that your staff buy into your sustainable agenda?
We are fortunate that all of our employees acknowledge the importance of sustainability and we involve them in our conversations and decision-making to ensure they play an active role in making suggestions for how we can improve our sustainable efforts. We have a collaborative approach towards sustainability.
What new measures does a&o Hostels have in the pipeline?
We are currently in the trial phase of implementing sustainable cleaning measures including disinfection of water with ozone, production of ozone water directly in house, increased use of cleaning robots and fully biological cleaning preparations.
Sustainable travel has been a focus in recent years, but the pandemic has made people really think about the impact they have on the environment
The average age of your guests is 27, whereas our readership is 40+. Do you think that more mature readers can benefit from listening to younger ones when it comes to sustainability?
Definitely. The younger generation have their finger on the pulse when it comes to sustainability and responsible tourism. Choosing sustainable options is more important now than ever before and it’s something all age demographics should be considering, not only in travel but in everyday life.
Covid has devastated the tourism industry but you have continued with plans to open new hostels. How have you managed to do this?
It has been challenging for the hospitality industry and a&o was not left unscathed, however we did open three new hostels and have many more in the pipeline. During 2020, we had to be creative to secure overnight stays following a decline in tourism due to national lockdowns and international border closures. We had 200,000 alternative overnight stays following collaborations with cities and social institutions to provide new and relevant offerings including ‘workations’ and long-stay solutions to keep business afloat and we maintain a positive outlook for the future.
What do you think the future of tourism will be? Is it going to be sustainable?
Sustainable travel has been a focus in recent years, but the pandemic has made people really think about the impact they have on the environment and local communities so we know this will be a top priority for travellers in 2021 and beyond.
Mark Bibby Jackson
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