The Future of Luxury Hospitality Is Social Impact, According to Rosewood Hotel Group

The luxury hotel brand announced its sustainability strategy, built around people and the planet.

Photo caption: Rosewood Mayakoba supports K’iin Beh, a nonprofit school in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Photo caption: Rosewood Mayakoba supports K’iin Beh, a nonprofit school in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Courtesy of Rosewood Mayakoba

If you’ve checked into one of the 44 luxurious Rosewood hotels around the world lately, you may have noticed—beyond the dedicated butlers and high-end linens monogrammed with guests’ initials—a commitment to doing good during your stay.

In Mexico’s Riviera Maya, with the help of guest donations, Rosewood Mayakoba covers the cost of tuition and supplies for 400 kids in grades ranging from kindergarten through high school at a nearby nonprofit school. At Rosewood São Paulo in Brazil, the art on the walls is created by local talent, the beef is sourced from a nearby ranch, and soon, a Brazilian company will help turn the kitchen into a zero-waste operation. Rosewood Hong Kong’s BluHouse restaurant partners with local NGOs to hire refugees and ethnic minorities in its neighborhood, with 1 percent of revenue set aside to support this objective. In the Bahamas, where 95 percent of the nation’s territory is underwater, Rosewood Baha Mar has teamed up with the Bahamas Reef and Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) to help regenerate the area’s reefs and educate both Bahamians and visitors on coral reef protection. Guests can book a coral reef dive and adopt and plant a coral fragment, with all the proceeds going to BREEF.

These property-level efforts are tailored to the needs of their destinations, but they all roll up into an ambitious company-wide impact mission that has been underway internally since 2022. Today, the brand announced its sustainability strategy, Rosewood Impacts, a data-driven plan for a more sustainably run business that’s centered on people. In addition to brand-wide operational efforts—such as reducing energy and water consumption by 25 percent, achieving 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2050, and diverting 70 percent of landfill waste by 2025—the hotels are also focusing on the people they hire. With the help of NGOs, they’re recruiting from local communities from underserved groups including refugees, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Leading this effort is Mehvesh Mumtaz Ahmed, vice president of social impact for Rosewood, who joined the company in 2021. With a background in public policy, Ahmed previously worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the United Nations. Based in Hong Kong, she crosses different departments, from finance and operations to food and beverage, to create pathways to more responsible operations.

Ahmed says the public announcement holds Rosewood accountable in its ambitious goals. “What was exciting to me when joining Rosewood was that it wasn’t about just executing a string of sustainability initiatives or CSR [corporate social responsibility], but it was looking at a fundamental business question,” she said. “How do we do business in a way that positively impacts people and planet? To me, that’s the question that not only companies today, but companies of the future, need to be asking.”

AFAR talked to Ahmed about the vision for Rosewood Impacts—and how guests may notice or get involved. This interview was edited for space.

Rosewood Baha Mar offers guests a chance to participate in a coral reef conservation.

Rosewood Baha Mar offers guests a chance to participate in a coral reef conservation.

Courtesy of Rosewood Baha Mar

What inspired you to leave public policy for hospitality?

This is my first role in the hospitality industry, and now that I’m with Rosewood I ask myself every day why it took me this long to join. To me, hospitality is a natural fit for my vision and values as it’s an industry that truly puts people at the center. Not just the guest, but also everyone who works within the brand ecosystem. Of course, it’s a hard-working environment, but it’s one that really values people—it’s an industry that strives to make people happy and help people thrive. This concept is essentially one of my life goals.

I’ve seen roles similar to yours being called “VP of Sustainability” at other companies. What is the reasoning behind the “social impact” part of your title?

[One reason] we have made the choice to call our mission Social Impact is that we recognize that all aspects of sustainability actually work through people, whether it is the behaviors that are harmful and need to change or the effect that the degenerating environment has on people. From the air we breathe to the resources we have access to, the environment has a direct effect on our livelihoods and health. The environment is not distinct and divorced from people; if anything, we are deeply impacting it and are deeply impacted by it. This is why when we discuss sustainability, we highlight people.

What are the challenges of implementing these priorities in a global portfolio of hotels with different owners?

Some of this is just non-negotiable. We have to operate in a way that is respectful to the environment. Our goals toward carbon neutrality, water, and waste are things that all our partners need to align on, and we look to them to come along on this journey with us. The great thing is that no one really disagrees, and we have found instead that our partners are usually naturally aligned with our goals.

Today, all of us are better informed on where the world is heading. All of us have now lived through the pandemic and saw that we were all impacted, no matter where we are from or who we are. I believe that this has really created a heightened awareness and appetite for action. However, this doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing; there are many needs and priorities to consider, which is why our approach is to have guiding global goals that are locally prioritized so that our properties feel empowered to address the real challenges in their communities.

Rosewood Hong Kong's Italian restaurant BluHouse is committed to hiring staff from underserved communities in its neighborhood.

Rosewood Hong Kong’s Italian restaurant BluHouse is committed to hiring staff from underserved communities in its neighborhood.

Courtesy of Rosewood Hong Kong

What are a few efforts at upcoming hotels that are under way?

I’m excited about the July 1 opening of Rosewood’s first property in Hawai‘i, Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort, which has been designed and developed from the very beginning with circularity and community at the forefront. The property has been built to protect both the physical environment and honor local heritage, through a very light-on-the-land approach. For example, upon opening, the resort will be 100 percent powered by on-site solar fields. Opening later in 2023, Rosewood Munich is exploring whether it can start as a single-use plastic-free hotel. As a new hotel, this property wants to open on the right foot and then continually move its operations in the direction of finding innovative ways to prioritize a low-waste approach.

How important is it to track progress with a third party alongside your own measurement goals?

To us, it is absolutely important to do both. Right now, across Rosewood Hotel Group we have eight properties within the portfolio that are LEED certified in some way. This list includes Rosewood Phuket, which was one of the first LEED Gold Certified resorts in Thailand. We also have another eight properties across the group pursuing LEED certification, so we are excited to watch this number continue to grow. Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort, is among this set and is pursuing the Gold level distinction, as well as the third-party TRUE and CITES certifications. If awarded, Kona Village will be the first resort in the world with all three distinctions.

Do you have advice for what a guest or travel advisor can do to embrace the values of Rosewood Impacts through their own actions?

I would love to encourage our guests to be open-minded. Never tried toothpaste in a cool paper sachet before? Try it out at Rosewood Hong Kong and you may be surprised that it works as well as toothpaste out of a tube, minus the carbon footprint and waste.

For both guests and advisors, I also encourage you to be demanding at home and away. Ask why your local laundry service delivers clothes in a plastic bag, where your food is grown, and whether you can bring your own coffee cup. For advisors, when working with properties, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions—transparency is key in helping travelers make informed decisions about how to make sure their travel investments have the most positive impact possible.

Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of AFAR.
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