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Behind the case – Part 2

Most of us are getting ready for Christmas holidays and the first round for The Sustainable Hospitality Challenge is over. This year the students could choose between the three topics of Future Brand, Future Real Estate and Hospitality of Tomorrow.

As the participants worked hard to fulfil the requirements and to innovate their chosen scope, we asked the team behind the case for some insights.

This time we would like to introduce you to Mathilde Blethon, Gena Sänger and Farah Reding, from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). They competed in last year’s SHC (formerly known as Genio) and helped to developed this year's case.

Mathilde Blethon

I am an international hospitality management specialist by education, a critical thinker and innovator by nature, a marathon enthusiast and sustainability advocate by choice!

Gena Sänger

Recently graduated from EHL, and would describe herself as determined, passionate and organised

Farah Reding

I recently graduated from EHL and am now training to become a chef at Le Cordon Bleu in London.

What motivated you to develop the case?

Mathilde: I find it amazing to see students like we were just a short while ago going through the same growth process. This experience brought me so much, and I love seeing students work and believe in their idea

Gena: After being part of the challenge with my Team from Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne, Mathilde and Farah, we wanted to be part of this journey from another perspective. We hoped to develop a case that would allow the students to have the same experience we did leaving room for innovation, passion and space to think out of the box.

Farah: I think that the boundaries of what hospitality is are starting to be pushed further and further. I think that pushing these boundaries into the direction of sustainability and questioning how this industry can help change society is essential.

What makes the case unique?

Mathilde: That it’s so open, you can come up with anything!

Gena: The newly developed case is unique on many layers. I believe, giving students guidelines that leaves room for own interpretation and innovation is the key for a successful challenge. Sustainability can be seen through many dimensions. The competing students can choose which dimension to focus on and what they believe is most pressing matter. There is no right and wrong when working on the case. It is already a victory to have so many passionate students work on a so pressing matter that effects the lives of every single one of us. Teamwork and collaboration will bring us one step closer of saving the planet.

Farah: Personally, I think that placing the power into the hands of young students allows for innovation & creativity to thrive. In order to tackle such an enormous problem, it is only by thinking outside of the box that we can begin to find viable solutions. I think that SHC and the case really inspire students to create such solutions.

How did you come up with the ideas and why do you think they are of value to the hospitality industry?

Mathilde: It was a lot of brainstorming, we looked back on our own experiences and thought about what was missing and what should be taken away to leave space for creativity. The ideas are of value because they represent what anyone should stand for nowadays, future and sustainability. These two words are glued together.

Gena: A lot of brainstorming and many phone calls. Being one of the least innovative industries, the hospitality industry can only learn from other sectors. That’s what we believed is key to this challenge, that we, as hospitality graduates, take this global challenge of improving sustainability, to a next level.

Farah: There was definitely some inspiration taken from last year's case, where we were asked to create a climate positive concept for Yays in Antwerp. From there, I think we quickly realised that there was a huge potential to come up with feasible yet unique ideas on how hotels and the hospitality industry can start making an impact on society, and how it can help take a big step in the right direction when it comes to sustainability.

Why 2050?

Mathilde: Because it is far away enough for students to come up with crazy innovations! But also because it’s closer than we think and we need to start thinking about the future of our industry now.

Gena: Don‘t get us wrong, having this futuristic theme of this year’s challenge doesn’t mean that it’s less important nowadays. By choosing 2050 as a date, we wanted to show that it doesn’t lose any importance over the next few decades. We have lived harming the planet for quite a while now, the question is, do we want to continue this way? This topic will give students the chance to express what they believe the future holds and what aspects are important to improve.

Farah: I think the main reason was so that we can push students to be as creative and innovative as possible, while also keeping the ideas feasible. I also like to think that our awareness and ability to overcome today's problems will have been solved by then, but the question remains how. I think that this is a great starting point to start drawing out unique ideas.

How your journey has been in developing the case? What have you learned from it?

Mathilde: It has been slightly challenging because we took a lot of time to all agree in which direction to go exactly. It was a lot of trying before we finally came up with an idea that everyone believed in. I’ve learned that good things can take time ;)

Gena: Since starting working on sustainability related topic in the former “Genio-Contest“, the now so called “SHC“, I have been more focused on my everyday choices. I am trying to change as many unsustainable daily habits as possible. Even the smallest thing might have a big impact.

Farah: The journey has been inspiring so far. Already since last year's case, I have never felt more motivated to make an impact in the industry when it comes to changing consumer behaviour or even just people's way of thinking. I think the most valuable lesson that I've learnt is that there are so many dimensions that need to be considered when tackling the problem of how the industry currently operates, and how we can not just change it, but also be the inspiration for change in other industries.

How do you see COVID-19 affecting the future of sustainable hospitality and your personal career? Does it redefine your future?

Mathilde: I believe that if COVID taught us one useful thing is that the power of technology goes beyond what we think possible, and I want to believe it will shape our industry for the better without replacing what makes the core of who we are, human interactions. I will be deciding on my career and I will not choose to follow an entirely digital path. But this is personal to me. It does for sure redefine my future, but I intend on taking the best that came out of this crisis in hope to leave the rest behind.

Gena: I believe hospitality as we know it today will change drastically. It won’t vanish, it will only move to more sustainable tourism. With COVID-19, we have already seen, that it is important to support locals. This is the reason why I believe tourism and thus hospitality will shift to a more local way of traveling and getting to know the surroundings you’re in more.

Farah: It has definitely had quite a huge impact on my future. Initially I was hoping ton directly work in the industry after graduating. However, the quarantine allowed me to fully reevaluate what it is that is important to me. My dream has always been to open an experiential restaurant that reconnects people to the reality of food, its origins, what it means to eat seasonal or local food, etc. And so off I went to (hopefully) become a chef!

Why is sustainability important to you personally? And how it is shown in your daily life?

Mathilde: Sustainable for me is important because it shows humanity and consideration. We are not working on sustainability for our personal development only, we need are fighting for future generations, and I think that’s the hardest part, understanding that what we are fighting for today will show its impact when we probably will not be around anymore. I find it empowering. It shows in my daily life as I always try to explain to my surroundings why the little actions are important. I also chose a path in which sustainability is present in my everyday work.

Gena: Personally, I have always been very connected to the outdoors, the green, the animals and the nature as a such. Seeing the great distraction we are doing to the only home we have is heart-breaking and incomprehensible to me. Growing up in Taiwan, I have seen how fast the development from a very unsustainable way of living to a more sustainable one can be done. Taiwan is more and more often named as one of the leaders in sustainable development and can be taken as a role model when looking at a certain aspects of sustainability. I believe that sustainability should not be handled within country boarders, it should be tackled collectively. As I have stated in question 7, my everyday choices have changed since starting the challenge in 2019. It can be the reusable cup that you take with you, or the choices you make at the supermarket when buying your weekly groceries.

Farah: I grew up on a farm in Belgium, and have always been close to nature. My first lessons have always been to respect nature. Of course sustainability branches out to much more than just environmental sustainability, but this is the aspect that speaks most me. With this in mind, I pay very close attention to my consumption patterns. Am I eating locally sourced food? Am I buying polyester or cotton? Should I even be buying new clothes or can I get the same item second hand? The list goes on....

What would be your tip for this year’s competitors?

Mathilde: Give it all. You don’t realise the extent of the opportunity that you have between your hands. Stay true to your beliefs and try to stay realistic!

Gena: Don’t forget there is no right or wrong. Follow what you are passionate for and what you believe can make the greatest impact. Have fun with your team and don’t forget even the small things can have a great impact! Good luck :)

Farah: For the case: be as creative as you can but do the research! Our team had a couple of critiques for being a but too far-fetched for the case, but that didn't mean it wasn't feasible. When we were announced as finalists, we put in the necessary research to make sure our idea became more or less bulletproof, and we are slowly but surely trying to make it a reality now! And for the rest: have fun! You are part of an amazing journey!

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