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Ascott, UN-formed tourism body train hospitality staff in sustainability

Jovi Ho
Jovi Ho • 6 min read
Ascott, UN-formed tourism body train hospitality staff in sustainability
Participants of the Sustainable Tourism Course at Ascott Centre for Excellence with Beh Siew Kim, chief financial and sustainability officer, lodging, CapitaLand Investment (front row, second from right) Photo: The Ascott Limited
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A total of 27 tourism professionals from over 10 companies in Singapore took part in a three-day sustainability course, organised by The Ascott Limited and the Washington-headquartered Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

Held from Oct 11 to 13, the first-ever session of the Sustainable Tourism Course (STC) followed a memorandum of understanding signed by the two parties in July to jointly train Singapore’s hospitality staff in sustainability matters.

GSTC and Ascott will facilitate over 700 training hours through the STC and the Sustainable Hotel Course (SHC), which will begin in 1Q2024.

GSTC manages sustainability guidelines for policymakers, hotels and tour operators. Formed in 2007 by the United Nations, the non-governmental organisation also provides international accreditation for sustainable tourism certification bodies.

The Ascott Centre for Excellence (Ace) at Anthony Road hosted the in-person STC, funded by Workforce Singapore’s Industry Catalyst Programme. Participants included professionals from human resources, engineering, and marketing and communications.

See also: CapitaLand Investment balances returns and sustainability as it eyes 2030 targets

According to Ascott, the course equipped trainees with a deeper understanding of environmental tools and techniques to address sustainability gaps, regulations and guidelines.

Meanwhile, Ace will tailor the SHC to hotel and accommodation professionals, and the course will contain online and self-study components. The SHC will provide practical insights into sustainability practices for hotels and will feature expert tips for various departments, according to Ascott, a lodging business unit wholly owned by CapitaLand Investment (CLI).

See also: UOB and EnterpriseSG launch sustainability-linked advisory, grants and enablers programme for SMEs

F&B staff in hotels, for example, can learn about the “tremendous cost savings” from reducing food waste, says Randy Durband, chief executive officer of GSTC. “That doesn’t cost any investment. It’s just procedural learning and it doesn’t negatively influence satisfaction.”

The SHC, originally scheduled to launch in November, has been postponed to 1Q2024. Speaking to The Edge Singapore, a representative for Ascott says the organisers “would like to focus on driving” the in-person STC first, “before officially launching the SHC thereafter”.

Staff training is essential for operating a hotel more sustainably, eventually seeking external review and a certification mark, says Durband, a travel and tourism veteran who has led GSTC since 2014. “We are impressed that Ascott is committed to continuous improvement in sustainable practices in all their properties and that they recognise the need to extend and facilitate this training for the broader industry. As such, we’re pleased that they chose to base the training on the GSTC Criteria as a pathway to holistic sustainability.”

Singapore’s roadmap

Ascott and GSTC foresee rising demand for sustainability training within the hospitality industry, as Singapore expects 60% of all hotel room stock to receive internationally-recognised sustainability certifications by 2025.

The Singapore Hotel Association and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) launched in March 2022 the country’s hotel sustainability roadmap, which wants hotels here to begin measuring their emissions by 2023 and reduce emissions by 2030, while aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

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According to Durband, this is the first time GSTC courses have received such a focus “at a national level”. “We’ve done a number of public sessions in Bangkok over the years, but most of it is… a big company bringing us in for their staff. The difference here is that we have this physical space and STB is driving some demand. This is the perfect place for us to have this kind of partnership.”

Beh Siew Kim, chief financial and sustainability officer of the lodging business at CLI, says Ascott is well-placed to contribute to this collaboration, particularly with the physical space at Ace.

The two parties will plan for more courses next year, she adds.

Ascott was conferred GSTC-Recognised Standard status in November 2022 for adopting the GSTC Criteria, which are organised around four main themes: effective sustainability planning, maximising social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage and reducing negative impacts to the environment.

Travellers expect more

Travellers are increasingly mindful of hotels’ sustainability initiatives, says Beh, who is concurrently Ascott’s managing director of Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Japan and South Korea.

Hotels that fail to meet guests’ expectations on sustainability could lose “a big part of their corporate business”, she adds.

“[Looking at] the revenue from both the leisure and corporate sides, it’s very clear that guests want it. If you’re not in it, you may be out of the game,” says Beh. “It’s not about costs anymore; the way I look at it, sustainability is for survival, for you to stay in business. If people still look at it as a cost [issue], they’re getting it all wrong.”

Citing a survey by online travel agency Booking.com, Durband says 53% of global travellers get annoyed when service providers are “not green enough”, but this is overlooked because guests do not ask for these practices “at the point of purchase”.

A demographic shift will bring these expectations to a tipping point “sometime in the next five years”, he adds. “All over the world, younger people are more concerned [about sustainability]. They maintain that concern [when] they turn 40 or 45, and new young people come in. It’s going to be a big demographic shift; it’s going to shock some people.”

Sustainable financing

Bankers, too, have this expectation today, says Beh, who was CEO of the manager of CapitaLand Ascott Trust HMN -

(Clas) from May 2017 to July 2022. “When I was driving the REIT, I knew that I would get preferential pricing [on loans] with a more sustainable portfolio. That’s why I started on the GRESB [Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark] rating two years ago. The guest, the financier and the institutional investor — all angles are coming at us with regard to this.”

The GRESB rankings recognise sustainability leaders among real estate and infrastructure companies, funds and assets. High-scorers typically enjoy interest rate savings on their sustainability-linked loans and bonds.

In October 2022, Clas was named “Global Sector Leader Hotel — Listed” and ranked first in the “Asia Pacific Hotel — Listed” category in the 2022 GRESB Real Estate Assessment, receiving the highest rating of five stars.

This year, Clas retained the top position in the hotel category for the third consecutive year, but received a four-star rating.

That said, Clas will obtain interest rate savings from their existing sustainability-linked loans based on their GRESB achievements, according to an Oct 4 announcement.

As at June 30, CLI and its listed REITs and business trusts have partnered 19 financial institutions to secure a total of $14 billion in sustainable finance comprising sustainability-linked loans and bonds, green loans, green bonds and perpetual securities.

Ascott announced in November 2022 the Ascott Cares framework, which is reportedly aligned with CLI’s 2030 sustainability master plan, launched in 2020.

CLI updated its plan in June with elevated targets like cutting Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 46% by 2030, but Ascott will maintain its targets for now, says Beh. “We believe the targets that we set are ambitious enough for us to work with. But at any point in time, [if] we think that we need to be a bit more aggressive and ambitious, we will definitely update the target.” 

Photos: The Ascott Limited

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