Important Lifestyle Changes to Recognize in Attracting Today’s ‘Green’ Travelers

By Jeff Slye Senior Consultant, Five Winds International | August 10, 2010

Hotels continue to work hard in developing and building their ‘green’ programs, but as customers have become more savvy in their ‘green’ lifestyles and behaviors the question is how well are hotels aligning their efforts with these evolving customer preferences. This is an important question to ponder as there are significant revenue implications in attracting these ‘green’ travelers and despite the difficult economic climate, their interest in ‘green’ remains strong. The U.S. Travel Association and Ypartnership June 2009 survey states that 78% of American travelers consider themselves "environmentally conscious" and 38% say they would select a hotel if they knew about the hotel’s commitment to the environment. Equally important is the increased interest and awareness by these customers in specific green issues and the lifestyle adjustments they are making to align with these new values. For example, the survey found a remarkable rise in the percentage of customers who reported familiarity with the term "carbon footprint" - from 12% in July 2007 to 54% in July 2009. This coincides with other trends such as increased participation in recycling programs, purchasing of green products, and seeking out eco-minded companies. Based on these trends and this ‘green’ traveler behavior, hotels now need to understand what are the lifestyles of its ‘green’ customers and ensure their programs align with those values or risk losing sales revenues and the ability to attract and retain these guests.

Fortunately, many of these customer lifestyle changes have become mainstream and are relatively easy to identify by consumer buying trends and product introductions by major consumer product companies. In our sustainability consulting work with over one hundred hotels and restaurants we have seen these trends validated directly by customers, most recently through a customer survey from Destination Hotels and Resorts’ Destination Earth initiative. Despite the fact these actions may be obvious and easy and inexpensive to undertake, unfortunately many hotels still have not successfully addressed them in their green initiatives. As a result, hotels are missing the opportunity to draw in these ‘green’ travelers and risk alienating those customers that believe a hotel may be ‘green,’ yet don’t have in place the actions important to those customers.

#1 – Indoor Air Quality

(i) Non-smoking: This is an old issue, but anyone messaging a ‘green’ story or trying to attract ‘green’ travelers must recognize this continues to be one of biggest issues with that customer base. Although major chains such as Marriott, Westin, and Disney have gone 100% non-smoking, there are still thousands of hotels and resorts that continue to offer smoking rooms to their customers, while still touting their property’s green program. For those hotels trying to represent themselves with a ‘green’ message, there is a high degree of risk in alienating these customers and even being accused of green washing by allowing for smoking within the hotel.

The solution: Go 100% non-smoking.

(ii) Eco-friendly cleaning chemicals: One of the hottest trends and lifestyle changes consumers have made within their own homes is the switch to ‘eco-friendly’ cleaning products. As an illustration, In 2008 Clorox launched their Green Works cleaners and they generated over $35 million in their first-year sales, well beyond their original projections. Most significantly, Green Works customers are turning to these products from traditional cleaning products, rather than from green rivals, expanding the overall market for green cleaners and highlighting the growing trend in this area. Nik Modi, a stock analyst with UBS who follows Clorox, said "They've actually grown the natural cleaner category. People who weren't buying (green cleaning products) are buying them now." As a result, this is clearly another area that is important to “green” travelers and therefore hotels should make efforts to embrace green cleaning products at the hotel and make customers and prospects aware of this commitment as part of their green credentials.
The solution: Green Seal is one of the few organizations that continues to push the hospitality industry and suppliers toward using healthier and less toxic cleaning products. Their certified vendor list can be found at greenseal.com (link).

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.