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Simon McGrath, AccorHotels: Travel to change the world

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

In our latest ‘Travel to change the world’ interview, Simon McGrath, chief operating officer of AccorHotels Asia Pacific shares his thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to sustain the industry and leave a legacy of goodness.


What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?

Simon McGrath with AccorHotels’ charity partner CEOs in the Hacienda room at Pullman Sydney Quay Grand, on Thursday, 23rd of February 2017, Sydney, Australia (Photo: Steve Christo)

Simon McGrath with AccorHotels’ charity partner CEOs in the Hacienda room at Pullman Sydney Quay Grand, on Thursday, 23rd of February 2017, Sydney, Australia (Photo: Steve Christo)

My career started in the laundry of the Boulevard Hotel in Sydney. It was hard work, but allowed me to learn all facets of the industry in an accelerated way by completing a management traineeship. During this time, I observed and was intrigued by the complexities and various departments that hotels offered.

Upon completing my traineeship, the doors opened up to so many opportunities, leading me to a career in international hotels.


What concerns you about the industry in terms of its long-term viability?

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Australia’s travel and tourism industry has seen a major positive shift in recent years, stepping up to become a major tier one sector and contributor to the national economy. Pleasingly governments are putting tourism at the centre of their economic pillars and as a result we are seeing some record performances in terms of domestic travel.

Inbound arrivals are continuing to grow and the prospects for Australia are looking good as a result of an increase in airline services from Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East.

The long-term outlook is bright, however there will always be challenges we will face as an industry; from labour shortages, changes in supply and demand, environmental and societal impacts to evolving technologies, but I think we are ready to embrace those challenges in a positive way.

As long as governments continue to support our industry and place prominence in developing major events calendars and approving access for new tourism developments, as an industry we can continue to grow and compete with the rest of the world.

For over 25 years in Australia, our commitment to the industry has always been guided by respect. Respect for the planet we share and for its inhabitants, who are our employees, guests and partners.

As a business, AccorHotels is committed to providing a positive hospitality experience; one that creates links and positive outcomes for all our guests, people, partners and community while striving relentlessly to reduce the impacts associated with our operations.


Do you think travel can change the world? 


We are more connected and culturally aware than ever. Travel enables us to open our eyes to new ways of life, food, culture and experiences.

Access to travel is greater than ever before. 10 years ago you’d look around the domestic airport terminal and you’d see business travellers and families taking their annual holiday.

But nowadays with the growth in low-cost carriers is paving the way for more people to travel, more often. You only have to look at the Virgin and Jetstar terminals to see more of the younger generation travelling, whether it’s to Bali for schoolies or Melbourne for a major sporting event. Travellers are no longer limited to one major trip a year, they are taking shorter trips and more often which is having positive impacts for our local tourism economy.

There’s a clear generation shift in travel and there’s no doubt that the millennials of today are more adventurous and wanderlust than I ever was at that life stage.

As a result, our hotels are continually looking at new ways to innovate and create products that cater to this growing travel sector.


Are you seeing positive change happening in the industry that you really admire? 

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It is encouraging to see more travellers aware of environmental welfare in the tourism industry, and pleasingly a number of tour operators and organisations are adapting their practices that create positive interactions for tourists, animals and the local environment.


What projects is AccorHotels undertaking in this space?


For a number of years now we have enjoyed a successful partnership with Greening Australia. In April 2016 we announced that our nationwide Plant for the Planet program, would be extended in partnership with Greening Australia to help preserve local ecosystems around the Great Barrier Reef catchments.

As part of our commitment to the Reef, 4,500 trees will be planted this coming winter in wetland areas near the Reef. We are also partners of their Reef Aid project.

We are taking proactive steps in partnership with Greening Australia and our industry partners to play a small role in helping to protect our country’s greatest tourism and environmental asset.

Since 2012, our hotels have funded the planting of over 30,000 trees across three sites with Greening Australia including the Cumberland Plain in Western Sydney, Habitat 141° an agricultural region in South Australian which has suffered large losses of natural habitats since European settlement, and Peel Biolinks in the South West region of Western Australia.

The next challenge for our hotels is to reduce food waste, provide healthy and high-quality food and support sustainable food models though our suppliers. During 2016, in Australia we served more than 7 million meals from 170 food outlets.

The Group is aware that the current food model is not sustainable and would like to offer quality food to customers who have very strong expectations for sustainable development when it comes to food and drink. On this major issue, we are committed to improving with three key objectives: offer our guests healthy and sustainable food for the planet, reduce food waste and develop urban agriculture.


What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry faces in terms of ’sustaining’ itself?


The issue has three facets: ethical, ecological and economical.

We need to look at all of these across many issues from child exploitation in tourism, food production and hunger, environmental issues associated with carbon emissions, water consumption, use of fertilizers and chemical pesticides associated with agricultural production which weighs heavily on our environment.

Fundamentally we need stable economic systems to ensure the long-term viability of our industry and to remove roadblocks, be it visas, passenger movement charges and city taxes.  Underpinning all of this is people.

Ultimately it will be the people who work in our industry who will be responsible for our long-term sustainability, and at present we are crying out for more great minds to join our industry.

As the tourism industry grows and becomes a key economic pillar for this country we need to ensure we have the right people with the right skills to take our industry to new heights and deliver memorable experiences for travellers.

Do you think travel can change the world? Share your comments below.