A New Era of Eco-mmodations - The Business Case for Going Green

By Roger G. Hill Chief Executive Officer & Chairman, The Gettys Group Inc. | October 28, 2008

After inconveniently learning a few truths and watching celebrities roll up to red carpets in fuel-efficient hybrids, it seems everyone is going green these days. But some of the best and most effective environmental efforts are being embraced by the hotel and lodging industries. Not only do hotels feel the pressure to implement eco-friendly steps that go beyond simply allowing guests the option of reusing their linens and towels, it's apparent they must take measures to accommodate more and more guests who are specifically seeking out the hotels that have gone green. Some celebrities - from Andy Dick to Woody Harrelson - have even designed their own eco-friendly suites. And some hotels, such as 70 Park Avenue in New York City, are even starting to implement their own eco-concierge, on hand to recommend eco-friendly ways of getting around the city or give directions to the local organic restaurant.

But celebrity trends aside, hotels are seeking out their Green Seal certification and have taken pledges to become a part of the Green Hotels Association because they truly want to make a difference - and turn a profit. Last June, Gettys and Hospitality Design Group identified and developed 10 "macrotrends" through the Hotel of TomorrowTM (H.O.T.) Project, which more than 40 of America's top leaders participants believe will affect the hospitality industry today, tomorrow, and in the future. Unsurprisingly, one of the 10 trends is renewable resources. Sustainable design is on the rise. And, earlier this year, an ecotourism survey conducted by TripAdvisor(R) confirmed what we all know - travelers are willing to shell out more cash to stay in an environmentally friendly hotel. In fact, 24 percent would pay 5 to 10 percent more at a green hotel and 12 percent would pay a 10 to 20 percent premium. Additionally, 38 percent of travelers have already stayed at a green hotel according to the survey.

Despite these figures, it can still be difficult to make the leap to investing in a green hotel. Most developers assume that eco-initiatives are cost-prohibitive, but according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), even the highest performance features add an average of two to seven percent onto the initial design and construction costs of a project. And many hotels can attain Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design(R) (LEED) certification without increasing their design and construction budgets at all. And few people realize developing an eco-hotel isn't a long-term investment; costs can be recovered in as little as three to five years. According to the International Hotels Environment Initiative in 2005, hotels that have yet to implement green programs can save between 10 and 40 percent on energy costs, cut waste management expenses by 25 percent, and their water bills by 20 percent.

Now that I've gone over the numbers and shown why green design makes economic sense, let me tug on your heartstrings for a moment. It's impossible to avoid a larger discussion of a building's environmental effect when determining whether to take your hotel green. Without an understanding of the overall environmental issue, you cannot properly evaluate your hotel and determine which steps you'd like to take in developing a green hotel. When most people think green, organic and energy are the words that pop into mind. But designing a green hotel is about minimizing your overall effect on the environment and sustainability, not just using organic products or compact fluorescent light bulbs. We know from the USGBC that U.S. buildings of all kinds consume 37 percent of all energy used in the U.S., 68 percent of all electricity, 12 percent of fresh water supplies and 88 percent of portable water supplies, and 40 percent of raw materials. These buildings generate more than one-third of municipal solid waste and 36 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions. It's no longer sufficient to ask travelers to re-use their towels and linens. Consumers are educated on environmental issues and they expect green hotels to offer more than superficial programs or minimal nods to green construction practices.

Hotels pioneering the green movement are still few and far between, which presents a tremendous opportunity for hoteliers making the leap now.

As of September 2006, USGBC had awarded LEED to only 11 new construction hotels. The market is far from saturated, and LEED certification offers legitimacy and a competitive edge to qualifying hotels.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.