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Sunday May 19th, 2024

Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts: Championing Sustainable Hospitality in Sri Lanka and Maldives

Hishan Singhawansa – Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts

Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts Hishan Singhawansa reflects on the company’s commitment to sustainable and inclusive hospitality across Sri Lanka and the Maldives and its focus on community engagement, environmental conservation, and promoting diversity. 

In the broader context of ESG, can you tell us about your focus on community engagement and its impact?

Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts epitomizes a model of hospitality that interweaves the ethos of community engagement, environmental stewardship, and inclusive growth across its 15 locations in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Particularly in Sri Lanka’s rural expanses, our presence is both an opportunity and a commitment to forging a positive impact on local communities through direct employment, integration of local suppliers into our operations, and youth empowerment with a pronounced emphasis on enhancing female participation in the hospitality sector. Led by our General Managers, these initiatives are not just strategic imperatives but measurable efforts to build livelihoods and contribute to the socio-economic fabric of the communities we serve.

Our engagement has directly impacted 6,400 people, extending our impact indirectly to approximately 30,000 beneficiaries across the locations we are present in. Acknowledging the significant role of hospitality in bolstering the economies of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, we are devoted to nurturing talent and fostering economic expansion. 

Despite the broader industry grappling with low rates of female participation—averaging between 12 to 15%—we are determined to elevate our female workforce representation to 25% within the forthcoming years. To achieve this, we actively engage with communities, elucidating the opportunities the hospitality sector offers for women. We partner with educational institutions and NGOs to introduce the leisure sector to a broad audience through scholarships and training internships tailored for women.

In response to recent economic challenges, we have initiated several impactful projects, including the Pasal Diriya programme through the John Keells Foundation, which supported approximately 1,600 children daily. Also, our 2022 food security initiative empowered community members to adopt home gardening and advanced farming practices through the GAP Farmer Programme, benefiting over 4,000 beneficiaries from the multiple initiatives implemented.

Our community engagement also feeds into our focus on environmental conservation which lies at the heart of our mission, reflecting our dedication to preserving the diverse landscapes surrounding our resorts. In pursuit of this goal, we’ve collaborated with leading scientists to deploy temperature data loggers in the Maldives, to enhance the understanding, enhance education and research conservation efforts within our operational areas.

Innovative approaches define our projects, such as our strategy to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Habarana. Rather than confining elephants, we’ve opted to fence villages, allowing these majestic animals to roam freely. This approach has yielded promising results, prompting us to explore further expansion opportunities. Additionally, in partnership with the Forest Department of Sri Lanka and Ruk Rakaganno, we’ve embarked on a reforestation project near the Sinharaja Rainforest. By planting 20,000 seedlings, we’ve revitalized 59 acres of land, significantly enhancing biodiversity in the area.

Furthermore, we’ve taken significant steps to reduce our environmental footprint by eliminating single-use plastics across all guest-facing and back-of-house operations, while also minimizing our reliance on freshwater sources. Our commitment to the principles of waste reduction, reuse, and recycling permeates throughout all our operational activities.

In the context of ESG, how important is diversity and inclusion?

Diversity and inclusivity are at the core of our operations. The hospitality industry’s growth, particularly in the short to medium term, is vital for sustainable economic growth in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. However, the underrepresentation of women in this growth narrative is a challenge we are committed to overcoming. By leveraging our position as a leading hotel chain, we aim to address this imbalance through comprehensive community engagement and partnerships with opinion leaders and educational institutions, which I’ve alluded to earlier.

As a subsidiary of John Keells Group, we have always been progressive in our approach towards valuing diversity in our workforce. We may only be present in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but our family is diverse to include 21 nationalities – it is because we believe in being truly inclusive.

Launched in 2020, the ONE JKH brand represents John Keells Group’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) primarily in three focus areas; increasing female participation in our workforce towards achieving gender parity, increasing career opportunities for persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusivity of the LGBTIQ+ community.

What is the significance of Cinnamon Hotels’ recent achievement at the ACCA Sustainability Report Awards?

Trust, transparency, and governance form the bedrock of our operations at Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, an integral member of publicly listed John Keells Holdings. Upholding the principle of trust with our investors and stakeholders, we engage in rigorous audits and comprehensive reporting on our Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. Our commitment to these principles has garnered recognition through prestigious awards, including the ACCA Award for Sustainability in the Leisure Sector for two consecutive years and a commendable sixth place globally on Transparency International for corporate reporting. These accolades testify to our dedication and the positive impact of our ESG endeavours across the hospitality industry.

Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts aims to be the beacon of responsible hospitality, committed to driving positive change and sustainable growth. Through our concerted efforts in community engagement, environmental conservation, and promoting diversity and inclusivity, we strive to enhance our operations and contribute positively to the broader socio-economic and environmental landscapes of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Our journey reflects a deep-seated commitment to the principles of ESG, underpinned by a vision to foster a more inclusive, sustainable, and thriving future for the hospitality industry and the communities we serve.