In conversation with Vincent Desvaux de Marginy, Deputy CEO, Attitude Hotels…
Before we get into talking about Attitude Hotels specifically, can you share with me where your personal journey into sustainability began?
Growing up on Mauritius I spent much of my childhood in or on the ocean and I do love sailing. It was on a visit to the beautiful islands of the St Brandon archipelago, that I realized how important conservation and environmental sustainability is. The beaches of these largely unpopulated islands were covered in plastic, much of it from Asia brought in by the ocean currents. We saw turtles and birds suffering from this plastic. We tried every time we visited to remove as much as we could, but it was a losing battle. This is what started my desire to go plastic free, an ethos that we have proudly incorporated into Attitude Hotels.
So, let’s backtrack to when the Attitude brand was launched. Was sustainability always going to play an important part of the Brand?
Before we launched the Attitude brand, we spent time fine tuning the positioning of the brand. We knew it was crucial for a new brand in the hospitality industry in Mauritius to care about sustainability. When I talk about sustainability is not only about the environment, but the total sustainability ecosystem, which is obviously our people, our country, and our communities. So, from day one the DNA of the brand was to progress in this direction. Obviously, it happens step by step, but always having this foundation of sustainability in mind.
We started by developing the people, then we developed experiences around the Mauritian way of life and then our work with the local communities, all this developed around the concept of localism. From the beginning this philosophy was part of the DNA and foundation of the brand, and as we open new doors with new opportunities, we get deeper into the philosophy of sustainability as our long-term tourism goal. This is why we launched our Positive Impact movement, where we decided to have all our hotels single use plastic free, which is worldwide quite a major step. The movement also encourages and educates guests to actively choose responsible travel.
How does operating sustainability impact on the profitability of the Attitude brand?
As a family-based company, and talking with Jean-Michel Pitot, Attitude Hotels CEO, and the representative of the owner and from the family, we said that money and making a profit is not a direct objective, but it would be the result of this commitment to sustainability. As a well-managed organization when we talk about sustainability, financial sustainability is key, but we don’t put that as our forefront objective, we put that as the end result of a good and well managed strategy. From 2010, when we really started promoting the brand and its DNA, we moved to being what we today call a purpose company, and this opened us to new areas, and new thinking, to develop further and to have stronger pillars in our brand.
Your people are an integral part of your brand, can you share some insight into this please?
Yes, our employees are our family members and are an important part of the Attitude team, with 98% of whom are Mauritian. We have a trust-relationship within our Attitude family, and we are committed to seeing them happy and growing in their careers and their lives.
In addition to their salaries, our family members become part of a profit-sharing scheme, where they can earn an extra percentage of their salary, based on the results of each individual hotel.
I noticed that you support local artisans and craft in your gift shops and experiences. Can you tell me more please?
Many curios found in the regular shops are imported, often made in China, so we have committed to transforming all our shops in authentic bazaars stocking only locally made products and handicraft. In this way our guests can buy local products and support the local community. We don’t make any profit from these suppliers, so everything they get is profit for them. We just source the goods and display them in our authentic bazaars. We also have a fund to help support local entrepreneurs, but they have to be producing products in line with Attitude’s philosophy and values. For example, we have a business that is making chemical-free sunblock that doesn’t damage coral reefs.
Culture and art are also very important to us, and part of our sustainability is to showcase local musicians and artists at our hotels.
From a food perspective, how do you manage to support local when you are a small island and obviously rely on imports to a certain extent?
We have to be clever, and we have to produce and grow what we can here in Mauritius. And where products are not grown in Mauritius, or not produced in Mauritius, we encourage people to produce what we need, such as herbs and vegetables, so that we can short circuit the need for imports.
We use seasonal vegetables, and our chefs adapt our menu to what is available locally. It goes back to the value chain, and this has forced us to work in a very transversal environment where we are sustainable as well as customer centric. And obviously behind this customer centricity, there’s this focus on sustainability.
It’s back to the why chose Norwegian salmon when you can have fresh from the ocean dorado!
It’s about training our people as well as educating our guests. We have a fantastic food culture in Mauritius with people from many ethnicities, and our Mauritian cuisine is a fusion of tastes that we have encapsulated to the European taste. It is something to be celebrated.
As a company, how do you measure your level of sustainability?
As a purpose driven company, and when we launched our Positive Impact movement, we knew we needed to measure what we were doing, and B Corp certification offered us the most comprehensive system to measure our social and environmental impact. B Corp gives you a structure to measure in tangible terms the impact of being a purpose driven company. What I mean by that, as a quick example, is that by having sustainability written into our company business plan, when we meet at executive board level management can see our specific objectives and make decisions accordingly. It takes us from just making declarations about our sustainability to being accountable to our purpose driven philosophy and helps us prove it in a tangible manner.
I know that one of your key pillars is to ‘support local’, how do you go about this?
From the start we have committed to employing locally, purchasing locally as much as possible, and sharing our local Mauritian culture. We are proud that since 2019 all of our hotels have been accredited with the Made in Moris label, a label that authenticates the Mauritian roots of a product. The Made in Moris label fits in with our objectives to promote Mauritian culture, prioritizing our island’s businesses and valuing our fellow citizens. And in this we have committed that 50% of our procurement must be locally produced, and when we have to import, we do so through locally owned businesses. We also encourage our suppliers to be plastic free. And we cannot avoid the plastic we partner with local businesses that recycle and turn the plastic into pellets for reuse. We also make use of upcycled products where we can.
It must be difficult from a procurement perspective as plastic is such a ‘go-to’ for packaging, so how do overcome this with your suppliers?
We can do many things without using single use plastic and are developing an ecosystem where we engage with our suppliers and partners as well as local communities to be free of single use plastic by educating them and helping them choose alternative options. By working together to go single use plastic free, we are able to deliver a better experience for our guests.
How do you get this plastic free message across to your guests?
When they come to our property, they must experience it. An example being that we also give our guests a reusable water bottle when they arrive that they can refill at the water stations found throughout the properties. And by having our bulk shops, where we stock local products in bulk and guests come to get their coffee, tea and anything else in small jars instead of supplying them in plastic in the rooms. This also enables us to engage with our guests as they start asking questions.
It is about how we do this journey together. Our guests have a fantastic holiday, we get to operate sustainably, our employees grow and develop, and on another level, we create more value from a shareholder perspective, which is not the priority, but the result. And with this philosophy the owners will tend to even put more money into the business. It becomes a sustainability cycle, which is very exciting. The more we see, the more we can do, and the bigger difference we can make.
It’s the big question, it’s the ‘why’ to you being in the hospitality business…
It is the big question. Why are we in hospitality? Why are we in the hospitality business in Mauritius? The question seems very simple, but when you act on your why, you push it to the next level. It’s a process that we are in. There are a lot of other hospitality companies out there whose why is ‘how can we make the most money out of this’? But we say, ‘how can we do better’?
For us, our why is key and something on which we are actually working. We have always had the basic answers, but now we are working towards more structured answers and from those answers we will derive a fine-tuned strategy for the way forward. So, this is exactly where we are now.
You mentioned the plan to expand the Attitude brand to Africa, can you tell me more?
It’s back to our why. Why should we? Should we go to Zanzibar for example? I mean, there are already hotel groups there, but we said if we go there, we have to have a purpose for doing so. Helping the local communities, bringing, for example, an education project we are working on with a top international hotel school. If we bring that along with us, then we know that Attitude can bring something else to the destination, something that will benefit the local communities.
For us, it’s not the operation that will be the key success factor, it’s the integration of our brand within the local communities. We are looking at buying an existing property and transforming it into something that fits our brand. This will have less of a carbon impact, especially as we will be able to build lightly as Zanzibar doesn’t experience the cyclones that we do in Mauritius. There’s new thinking and we are open to the opportunity to do things differently, but in a structured way and sustainable manner.
In addition to your potential expansion plans into Africa, where do you see the Attitude journey going in the future?
So, I think it’s a journey where every day we walk, there’s new lights in front of us and now we have to make the choice of which is the best life to continue on. And for the company going forward, we need to keep the soul of all that we are. We have a great team of people who genuinely believe in our philosophy and the Attitude DNA.
And it comes back to the origin of the company where we said we want to be a strong brand, a very human-related and sustainable brand. It’s our origin but we continue to take it to the next level. So, they’re very exciting times and with opportunities to strengthen the brand fervor and become a more sustainable brand for our people, for our suppliers, and for our partners. Sometimes people think we are crazy, but I think life needs to be a bit of crazy. And fun!
Read the story in Responsible Taveller digital mag HERE
And read about our Attitude Hotels #LikeaLocal experience HERE