Q&A: Sven Wiltink global senior director of Responsible Business Radisson Hotel Group

by: Felicity Cousins | May 22, 2024

Radisson has been running its Responsible Business Programme since 2001 with the aim to create a sustainable and responsible business for people, community and planet. Sven Wiltink global senior director of responsible business Radisson Hotel Group talks to Sustainable Hotel News about staff education, European regulations, the challenges of his role and trends in sustainability.

Your role has a large scope – from Human Rights to water stewardship and responsible procurement. Do you have a big team?

SW: Surprisingly not – but at the corporate level we are providing strategic guidance and setting up partnerships and the hard work really happens at the hotel level – so you could say I have a small team with four people but if you include everyone else in the hotels then it’s huge.

Travellers in Booking.com’s recent survey think it’s up to governments and hotels to communicate the importance of the climate crisis. Radisson has been educating its staff on this for years. Have you got it down to a T? 

SW: Yes, but it is also evolving. Previously our training programmes consisted of two elements; leading and living responsible business, which is how you apply responsible business in your operations. We look at what it means for housekeepers, what means for somebody in the kitchen or responsible business in procurement. 

Traditionally the training has always been delivered in the classroom, but post-pandemic this has significantly changed so a lot has moved to online platforms which means as a leader you can engage on topics ranging from renewable energy to Human Rights.

How do your systems keep up with different legislation and the data it is collecting?

SW: We started working last year with a new provider to make sure we are collecting data to fit with different frameworks, so the starting point was the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), [which is used to align corporate sustainability reporting] but you need to translate that to what it means at a hotel level. A general manager doesn’t need to know about this, but he or she does now need to know about how to report on waste and energy and water, so this is something we are structuring with a new solution to collect that data.

We are using that data for different purposes so it goes semi-automatically or automatically into the system for benchmarking and managing directors can see how they are levelling, for example on Hotel Sustainability Basics, which we are actively driving. 

It also feeds into OTAs like HRS, which helps the visibility of the hotel’s sustainability attributes online and that can drive the motivation for hotels to do more.

What are your thoughts on sustainable certifications given Booking.com has just removed its Travel Sustainable programme to make sure all certifications are third party audited?

SW: With CSRD and the EU Green Claims directive, Booking.com is under to pressure to recognise verified and certified hotels. Booking.com has a very strong guest feedback system so if something is not right they would get to know that through their guest feedback system. Whilst that’s not an audit it certainly helps. But with CSRD coming into play then yes, we will all have to be really clear about what’s happening with sustainability. What is now happening with Booking.com, and I’m sure other OTAs will follow, is that you can raise the bar to an eco-label and that’s high – that’s really high – Hotel Sustainability Basics means you have a starting point. And this is aligning with the pathway of the Alliance and the WTTC, so the landscape will change.

And there’s the issue of different needs in different regions?

SW: Yes, there are different elements to consider, for example, if you have to show you have EV chargers in your hotel but if you are in Mauritius then does it apply to the boats? And that’s what I really like about Basics because there are 12 criteria, which are universal and can be applied to any resort or hotel.

Radisson has a lot of franchises in its portfolio. How difficult is it to manage sustainability across all stakeholders?

SW: I like to think of franchises as interesting rather than difficult – many franchises are outperforming leased or managed portfolios. We are addressing it in two ways – with tools and resources to allow benchmarking for hotels so they can see where they compare to industry, country and brand standards, but also providing hotels with strategies on, for example, renewable energy. So that’s one way of guiding the hotels. Then you have the implementation side through the seven brand standards and Hotel Sustainability Basics is part of our brand standards. We expect any hotel to be verified by the end of the year, or have the Green Key eco label certification. 

How is it going with HARP? And how do you organise responsible procurement across the entire portfolio? 

SW: The process only started in October last year and the procurement team is leading it. There has been a meeting in Washington and they are having regular calls as well. The World Sustainable Hospitality Alliance put together a list of supplier categories and what they score on an environmental and social level so you can see your own risk rating and which suppliers we want to work with. We have more than 20,000 suppliers so we have to narrow it down. It can be a slow process but it’s very important that it doesn’t stop us talking to our suppliers directly alongside what is happening with HARP.

I recently stayed in a hotel which showed how much water guests use as they shower. What are your thoughts on that?

SW: A recent article in the Guardian had a study showing water pressure on the shower and apparently people use less water if the pressure is higher. So it’s all about perception and we are not in the market to give our guests a guilty conscience.

How do you change guest behaviour around issues like water usage?

SW: We have our green housekeeping, where you get given a drink voucher if you don’t have your room cleaned. But people pay a lot of money for their room so there is a certain level of service people want from certain brands, so brands can choose if they offer this or not. There are some which don’t offer any housekeeping at all and you need to opt in for it – that’s a different approach. 

But maybe if they saw what they were using they would change their behaviour?

SW: My opinion is why do you need to incentivise somebody to do the right thing? We are educating our teams and our footprint is requested from our clients and at B2C level too but you need to have an alignment on standards – we use the Alliance’s.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for you in your role?

SW: This is the most difficult question because it is not like I need more resources or more money –  although that would always be nice. 

We are also not craving for more attention post-pandemic that has significantly changed as everyone starts to understand the importance of responsible business, but also has more knowledge on the topic which is nice. 

Previously the demand came from our clients but now that is shifting from our clients to hotel owners and effectively they need to do the implementation and the investment for the bigger pieces if you want to move to Net Zero. 

It’s easy for a general manager to discuss with the owner about a long range investment plan –  this is what we do, this is part of what is expected from the brands and this is how we want to make your hotel future proof – because if you don’t dive into sustainability right now then certainly on an environmental level you don’t have a licence to operate in the future.

And there won’t be the investment? 

SW: Well that also depends on location. Right now CSRD regulations and the Green Claims Directive are coming into play and the EU is driving it pretty well with the EU Taxonomy and the different directives. Europe is leading the way and we are raising the standards and we will comply with them. In 2022 Basics came out and we followed, so we follow each time there is a higher standard. 

Maybe that’s the difficult part of my role – where legislation and regulations are coming into play in the different markets and you don’t want to find something in between because you need to find the highest standards and act accordingly.

Sustainability in the long run doesn’t cost money. The element that is not included in many cases is what is the cost of inaction – and if you don’t calculate that into your business profile. That is the most difficult part to prove because it has not happened yet.

You recently talked about bleisure travel at the GSTC Global Sustainable Tourism Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. 

SW: The sustainability angle for bleisure is the avoidance of extra transportation and its related carbon footprint. The additional positive effect is that an increasing number of large corporates include sustainability criteria in their corporate RFPs, which means that business travel is increasingly directed towards sustainable hotels. If guests stay on for a leisure stay; these extra room nights are also directed to these same predominantly sustainable hotels.

Is this bleisure trend staying?

SW: According to the 2023 Traveller Value Index from Expedia 76 per cent of business travellers were planning to take a bleisure trip in 2023 and yes we see this trend staying especially as travellers increasingly apply flexible and remote ways of working. Radisson Hotels has been responding to this since the pandemic with hybrid rooms, conferencing technology and communal work spaces. For millennials and Gen Zs, ‘flexcations’ are even more popular. Data shows that 43 per cent of millennials and 38 per cent of Gen Zs were planning on a flexcation trip in the next year.

Is it the same for business travel? 

SW: Yes for major corporates, the process to extend leisure stay within a business compliance is not fully industrialised yet: there is still a duty of care from companies when compliance on corporate rate is strong. Thus, travellers arrange the leisure combination on their own. 

We see a significant bleisure pattern in city centre hotels, which helps drive occupancy in weekends at a decent acquisition cost. And extended stay with our serviced apartments portfolio.

2050 doesn’t seem very far away but who will still be in their current position in 2050, and who will follow up these strategies?

SW: Yes it’s the next generation, and you need to leave a legacy to the next generation. We have a responsibility to educate and also to involve those that are more sceptical about it in the process.

Felicity Cousins interviewed Sven Wiltink at the GSTC Global Sustainable Tourism Conference in Stockholm in April.