COVID-19 – A Temporary Respite for Nature, or an Opportunity for Greater Sustainability?

During the current pandemic, it’s not just global healthcare systems and potential economic fallout that are coming under scrutiny – the tourism industry and the consequences for the environment are also a focus of attention. But how is the interaction between tourism, COVID-19 and sustainability panning out? Prof. Dr. Willy Legrand, Hospitality Management expert at IUBH, considers this interaction from a scientific point of view.


COVID-19 – nothing more than a temporary respite for nature?

In the past few weeks, the everyday lives of most people around the world have changed drastically. We have had to adapt to severe limitations to our personal freedoms when it is necessary in the interest of the common good of society. But it’s not just our fellow human beings that are being affected by the coronavirus. “Nature is also suffering,” says Prof. Dr. Legrand. “According to preliminary observations, the lockdown has allowed the world’s flora and fauna to breathe a sigh of relief; but it is likely that reactivating global economic sectors such as the travel industry will undo this temporary progress.” Sooner or later, mankind will be faced yet again with serious environmental problems if no more permanent measures are taken. Given that, what might such measures look like?

The role of the tourism industry

“Our challenge is to determine how to use natural resources sustainably. This is particularly true for the tourism industry,” the Professor of Hospitality Management says. The development and daily operations of hotels contribute to pollution and climate change. “CO2-neutral hotels are definitely desirable. The use of locally-sourced goods, for example, and the shorter freight routes that this entails, represent a step in the right direction. Every company should develop a clear roadmap for protecting the biodiversity of its environment, preserving forests to offset greenhouse gas emissions, and avoiding the interference with delicate ecosystems that can result from tour groups being brought to sensitive natural areas.”

Goodbye virus, hello sustainability: how green solutions can be promoted

The non-profit organisation Hotel Resilient provides specialised support to the tourism industry by helping hotels perform risk analyses. The organisation has compiled the following list of questions that hoteliers should ask themselves once the COVID-19 crisis has passed:

  • – Were we prepared for a pandemic?
  • – Did we support our community during the crisis?
  • – Have we successfully communicated risks and preventive measures?

By answering these questions, hotels will be able to improve their future crisis-management strategies. “This is important because there will be more dangers in the near future if our approach to the climate crisis does not change: sea levels will rise, temperatures will increase, people will suffer from drought, amongst many other issues,” Prof. Dr. Legrand says. COVID-19 has already shown how fragile society is, even in the year 2020. “I would therefore hope that this pandemic makes people aware of how urgent climate change is for all of us. Hopefully it will serve as a warning to stop ignoring the omens before it’s too late, to also bear in mind that new viruses are liable to arise at any time.” This esteemed professor is certain that both mankind and the natural world can be proactively protected – however, returning to the pre-corona status quo will not be of aid to this endeavour.


Prof. Dr. Legrand has been Professor of Hospitality Management at IUBH since 2003. After holding management positions in the hotel industry in Canada and Germany, Prof. Legrand completed a PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. His teaching focuses on sustainable development and sustainability in the hospitality industry, as well as on tourism and marketing. Prof. Legrand is the lead author of 'Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry: Principles of Sustainable Operations', a leading textbook on sustainability in the hospitality industry.

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