Q&A: Alex Sogno, CEO, Global Asset Solutions

by: Felicity Cousins | March 21, 2024

Alex Sogno, CEO Global Asset Solutions talks to Sustainable Hotel News about the luxury-sustainability conundrum – can luxury hotels have it all and what should they be doing about sustainability when their guests want more? Global Asset Solutions operates worldwide with decades of experience in the luxury sector delivering bespoke solutions so that investors can grow their asset value and realise the potential of their assets.

Can a luxury hotel, which gives guests what they want, when they want it, be sustainable?

AS: Luxury hotels find themselves in a contradictory position. Their guests have been identified by [global agency] BVA BDRC as the most likely to be willing to pay a higher rate for a more sustainable product – allowing for a clear ROI on green investment – but luxury hotels also put the highest strain on natural resources, of any segment. 

We reported last year on a Cornell study which showed water usage emissions was down to hotel type – this didn’t really come as a surprise. What can the luxury sector do about these figures?

AS: According to the Sustainable Hotel Alliance, a hotel can use an average of 1,500 liters per room per day, which can vastly exceed that of local populations in water-scarce destinations. In some locations, tourism uses over eight times more water per person on average than the local population.  

A recent study in Barcelona, a city currently under water-consumption restrictions, found that five-star hotel guests used more than twice the water of a three-star guest and more than three times that of a local resident. 

Those same guests are more likely to object if asked to cut back on steamy showers or wonder why they cannot enjoy their favourite out-of-season fruit at breakfast, or their favourite wine from another continent at dinner. The luxury experience is built around indulgence and indulgence is not synonymous with showing restraint, a restraint which is now required.  

How will luxury hotels make sure they keep their guests and the planet happy?

AS: Motivation to adopt more planet-focused strategies comes from three routes: law, cost, and the customer, and it is the latter that is driving the most change in the sector. Climate change is one of the most significant challenges society is facing, but we are currently trapped in what feels like a phoney war. We know we should act, but there is limited international guidance as to how and little immediate legislation to respond to.  

So is it up to the consumer?

AS: BVA BDRC found that consumers wanted to be more sustainable and were calling on companies to “help me help,” creating an untapped opportunity for hotel brands. Given the choice between similar hotels and similar choices, with one offering better sustainability offerings, an overwhelming majority chose the sustainable hotel. 

Do you think revenge travel has had an impact on sustainability?

AS: The surge in travel after the pandemic illustrated another contradiction: we are all aware of the pressures caused by over-tourism, but everyone wants to see Venice. The solution may well be increased charges, but, as a sector, we should also be encouraging off-season travel. 

What can hotels do to show their guests they are trying to be more sustainable?

AS: In the hotel sector, we suffer from a lack of information about how sustainable hotels are – there is no clear system of reporting. Without a solid benchmark it is hard to communicate actions and their values to consumers and, while there are a number of different accreditations, there is no clear awareness of what each one stands for, and how credible they are.  

With more than 200 bodies which say they can “certify” a hotel as sustainable – some audited by a third party and others not at all – how problematic is this for hotels?

AS: This lack of credibility puts hotels at risk of accusations of greenwashing, which makes any sustainable investment pointless in terms of marketing opportunity, if not in terms of the positive impact on the planet.  

And guests will start to ask more questions – presumably there’s a danger of some hotels being caught out if they aren’t careful their certification is thorough enough?

AS: Consumer demand for clarity will only grow, and hotels must be clear on what they are doing and clear in how they are communicating with them. The cynicism of guests is hard to dissuade when we look at some of the practices we see in hotels around the world, even those who purport to be environmentally aware.  

What are guests looking for in a sustainable hotel?

AS: Communication and education must go hand in hand, with sustainability claims verified by credible, external providers. Guests prefer to see a holistic approach, with multiple actions, not just a few signs about using fewer towels or plastic straws. They are well aware from their daily lives of what constitutes a truly sustainable act or not. They will be checking menus to see the provenance of their food and drink, checking for electric car charging points, and even checking to make sure that, like a budget-conscious parent, lights are not left blazing in empty rooms.  

What is the role of an asset manager when it comes to sustainable operations?

AS: Your asset manager should be at the core of an effective, sustainable hotel operation. The large hotel brands all have sustainable strategies with varying levels of credibility, and investors will also have concerns over incoming legislation and worries over their assets being stranded. The asset manager should be targeting alignment across the property, from development to operations. 

And then somehow getting that message across to the guests?

AS: With a credible rating system yet to be standard across the hotel sector, guests will come with their own judgement, and it is important to ensure that the property meets it. The recent energy crisis in Europe has driven many hotels to install technologies to reduce consumption, many of which won’t be visible to the guests, but don’t be shy to let them know what’s happening.  

 If it is clear that the hotel is trying to make a real difference, the guest will be more inclined to join in and cut short that shower, ask about the local wine, and turn off the lights. We’re all in this together.

We recently attended the Icons of Inclusion event which looked at DEI in the luxury travel sector. Speakers at the event flagged up how luxury hotels seem to be behind when it comes to marketing their properties to include guests from diverse background and identities. How can guests trust hotels and feel welcome in those hotels if they are not being represented in their marketing?

AS: DE&I is a much broader subject than it first appears and we are all playing catchup and educating ourselves in the sector. In the hotel market we have a lot of opportunities to lead and we should be embracing this opportunity. Consumers are driving progress in DE&I. A luxury experience is no longer about the property, it’s about every aspect of the stay and, rightly, guests are demanding that all travellers are catered for. Reputation is central to the success of every hotel and this is helping to make us all accountable.

Why don’t hotels show their accessible rooms on the websites – 17 per cent born of us are born with a disability and the rest of us will acquire one along the way – everyone knows someone who has a disability so why are guests with disabilities still finding it hard to enjoy luxury?

AS: Disability is one area where the sector is lagging but working hard to deliver, from the booking process onwards. Developments in technology mean that we can deliver better personalisation across hotel operations, which I hope will mean that stays can be perfectly tailored to all guests, whatever their needs, to ensure luxurious, memorable stays.

Read more about what hotels are doing with DEI in the luxury travel sector in our article below.


Icons of Inclusion: Calls for industry to adapt and embrace diversity