A socio-material approach to resource consumption and environmental sustainability of tourist accommodations in a Chinese hot spring town

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The Chinese government has issued multiple policies to improve hotel sustainability, including the Green Hotel Programme launched in 2002. Many studies separately examine technical innovations or individual environmental awareness and behaviours in hotels. The literature pays little attention to the interconnection between material arrangements and consumption activities across this sector. This paper aims to explore resource consumption and environmental sustainability in tourist accommodations through a socio-material approach that underscores the importance of infrastructure-practice dynamics. Grounded in a qualitative study on resort hotels and guesthouses in a Chinese hot spring town, this research analyses how buildings, infrastructures, and facilities of tourist accommodations have been designed, innovated, managed, and used with implications for resource consumption and environmental sustainability. This paper finds that to what extent these material settings contribute to the sustainable production and consumption of the lodging industry depends on (1) professionals’ imaginations of what and how services should be delivered (at the design stage), and (2) the interdependence, interaction, and co-evolution between infrastructures and the tourist practices they enable and sustain (at the stages of innovation and management). Moving beyond isolated hotel cases, this paper also finds that broader tourism sustainability issues such as the uneven distribution of natural resources, social exclusion, and environmental pollution relate to hotel managers and government officials’ economics-orientated perspective that disregards the infrastructure-practice dynamics embedded in the planning, operation and management of tourism infrastructures in the town. This paper argues that, by upholding the notions of infrastructure-in-use and infrastructure-practice dynamics, researchers are able to identify challenges of, and opportunities for, the transition to green, low-carbon, and sustainable hotel and tourism industries. This paper concludes by offering fresh insights for hotel designers, managers, and policy-makers and outlining future research agendas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-437
Number of pages14
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Early online date20 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • tourist accommodation
  • resource consumption
  • infrastructure-practice dynamic
  • sustainable tourism
  • China

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Consumption Institute
  • Manchester China Institute
  • Manchester Urban Institute


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