The fundamental importance of building back better in a post-Covid world

The fundamental importance of building back better in a post-Covid world

Transforming Vision Into Action - Oped

16 December 2020

Sustainable Hospitality Alliance

In his guest post for Transforming One Planet Vision into Action, Mr. Wolfgang M. Neumann, Chair of the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, shares his reflections on working towards a responsible recovery from COVID-19 for the tourism sector.

This has been an unprecedented year. The impact of this ferocious pandemic is threatening lives, businesses and communities at an alarming rate across the globe. My sympathies are with everyone who has been affected.

The coronavirus has upended the world’s operating assumptions and the hospitality industry has been particularly badly hit. I’m saddened to see this once thriving industry, which contributes so much to their local communities and economies, being affected so severely. It’s estimated that over 100 million jobs could be lost in the travel and tourism industry1. With international tourist arrivals estimated to have dropped by 60% to 80% in 20202, the impact will be felt for many years.

Wolfgang M. NeumannGiven the magnitude of this crisis, one could ask if the world can still afford to pay attention to the sustainability agenda. Our answer must be firm and clear: We cannot afford not to! As daunting as the challenges are, the pandemic can in my view cement the sector’s commitment to corporate responsibility and create a renewed focus on 'building back better'.

Although I deeply look forward to seeing the industry flourish again, we cannot pursue growth at any cost. When the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, they brought to focus the urgency for action, and this is no less critical today. We need to take immediate actions to avoid the severe impacts a global temperature rise above 1,5 degrees would have on society and the global economy. The pandemic is a stark reminder, once again, of how vulnerable people and communities are disproportionally affected by adversity. It is imperative that as travel picks up again, the sector remains focussed on responsible recovery – and builds strong foundations for a resilient industry that’s better prepared for future crises – whatever form they take.

The One Planet Vision for a Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector calls for a recovery that is founded on sustainability across the pillars of people, planet and prosperity.

Throughout this crisis the industry’s focus on people has always been at the core. Hotel companies launched varied initiatives to support their staff and remain totally committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of employees and guests as tourism starts to recover.

The pandemic has highlighted the role that the hospitality industry traditionally plays among the community – as a driver of local economies and provider of employment, often to young people, women, local residents and vulnerable groups. As the industry begins to recover, hospitality has a central part in promoting social inclusion and supporting their communities again by mitigating against the risks that may arise from people’s increased vulnerability and ensuring that opportunities are reaching those who need them the most.

It is easy to forget that, only a few months ago, the debate about climate change was gaining momentum. The many Covid-related governmental restrictions create a huge challenge on how to provide a safe experience, while at the same time limiting the environmental impact of the new procedures and initiatives.

We are currently witnessing the devastating impact of a global catastrophe on lives and businesses, and the threat of climate change remains just as present. We all need to mitigate the impact that climate change is already having on many destinations, but there are also many benefits for the recovering industry of improved sustainability. Since Covid-19, 58% of consumers say they are thinking more about the environment3, an important differentiating factor at a time when traveller numbers are significantly reduced. Hotels looking to save costs can also benefit from increased efficiency, reduced utility costs and protect against environmental policies that are being introduced around the world.

As the One Planet Vision outlines, successfully transitioning to a more sustainable and resilient tourism model will largely depend on public private co-operation and partnerships. Enhancing collaboration is crucial, and that’s why I’m proud to chair the newly launched Sustainable Hospitality Alliance. Our organisation brings together hospitality companies representing over 25% of the global hotel industry including the key players like Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental (IHG), Hyatt, Wyndham and Radisson. Together, we have the collective power to tackle the global and regional issues that impact our planet and its people. As the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, we commit to collaborate on agreed industry areas of action aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We work with strategic partners to address key challenges and support the wider industry to operate responsibly and grow sustainably. The Alliance will be taking forward the work of International Tourism Partnership (ITP) with an all-encompassing, very clear vision of responsible hospitality for a better world.

The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic has shown what can be achieved by everyone working together for a common cause. The industry has played a strong role in supporting our communities through the current emergency and, in the medium to long-term, there is a real opportunity for deepening community and government engagement, increasing strategic partnerships, and mainstreaming industry-wide action on the sustainability agenda.

The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance uses the collective power of the industry to deliver impact locally and on a global scale. The Alliance works with leading hospitality companies and strategic partners to address key challenges affecting our planet and its people and develops practical resources and programmes to enable the wider industry to operate responsibly and grow sustainably. Their members make up 25% of the global hotel industry by rooms and include 14 world-leading hotel companies with a combined reach of over 30,000 properties and 4.5 million rooms. Find out more visit Sustainable Hospitality Alliance website

1WTTC (2020), available from
2 UNWTO, Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism (2020), available from
3 Publicis Sapient (mayo de 2020), available from