Xeriscaping Your Way to Savings

By Ken Hutcheson President, U.S. Lawns | May 11, 2014

In the ever growing hospitality industry, first impressions are critical for establishing and maintaining a competitive edge. Vacationers, professionals, and travelers of all kinds are looking for a home away from home, and the landscape surrounding a hotel plays a major part in their appraisal of your property. It’s imperative that the outside be just as inviting as the inside: a beautiful, welcoming, and unique landscape that will differentiate your hotel from others. With today’s fluctuating economy and climate, one of the most practical ways to upgrade your property without exceeding your budget is to make changes to the way you landscape. Xeriscaping is a growing trend, as it allows you to incorporate slow-growing, drought-tolerant plants to conserve water and establish a waste-efficient landscape. Xeriscaping at least a portion of your property can not only help you stay within budget, but provide an environmentally friendly yet aesthetically pleasing property.

Landscapes can be designed to reduce the amount of resources needed to maintain them by selecting the appropriate plants and most efficient irrigation systems. Doing so will assist you in finding a balance between achieving your aesthetic needs while reducing resource use. One of the biggest misconceptions in regards to xeriscaping is that it leaves your property looking messy or barren. On the contrary, xeriscaping does not mean you must remove all grasses, flowers and trees, and leave your property with no sense of color or design. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. There are a number of large resorts and properties that embrace their “wild areas,” and have become sought-after destinations as a result, turning their woodlands, grasslands, or desert surroundings into their main attractions. But these exotic locations are not the only environments that are conducive to xeriscaping. Every geographical region has variety of plants in trees in a number of shapes and colors that are both drought-tolerant and indigenous to the area.

Though there is a possibility of higher costs at the initial onset of the transition, depending on how your property is currently designed, long-term benefits of making the change to xeriscaping include lower water consumption and lower water bills. Additionally, plants tend to survive and thrive during water restrictions. With the proper design, soil grading, and mulching, you’ll notice greater rainwater retention as well. Xeriscaping with colorful plants can also make a more inviting space for butterflies and hummingbirds and reduce noise pollution in the surrounding areas (making a more inviting space for you and your guests, too). And your unique space will require less maintenance than traditional landscaping.

If you make the decision to convert parts of your property to a xeriscape, it is important to plan ahead. Planning and placement is critical. Professional landscapers can help you identify specific types of trees, shrubs and plants that are well-suited for your property based on its particular location and characteristics. A landscape professional can help ensure the xeriscaped landscape takes into account the regional and climate conditions of the property, the proper zoning of plants according to water needs, and the existing vegetation and natural conditions, and create a plan that will lead to a long-lasting, healthy xeriscape.

For instance, the placement of trees at strategic points of the property is an important decision that will have a significant, permanent impact on your property. Trees can provide summer shade for buildings, pedestrians or parking areas, which can keep air conditioning costs down and comfort levels up. Those same well-placed trees lose their leaves in the winter and let the warmth of the sun into those same areas for cold-season comfort; again, helping reduce heating costs. The size and growth potential for trees and shrubs are also important factors to take into consideration. Ensuring that plants are placed in the proper zone is critical. Water -loving plants cannot be placed in the same area as drought-tolerant plants, for example. You may want to talk to your landscape professional about creating levels or terraces. This would help ensure the proper amount of water is distributed to the plants as they need it, as drought-tolerant plants require less water and are adapted to drought conditions and soils with lower water-holding capacities.

It is also important to note that creating a xeriscape landscape also does not mean that you have to get rid of turf completely. There are a number of drought-tolerant turfs that grow well. A landscape professional will be able to help you select a grass that works best for your property and your climate. If you incorporate turf grass into your xeriscape landscape then the selection of turf grass is one of the single most important decisions to be made. The selection should be is based on where the property is located and how the turf will be used and maintained. Turf grasses that are not suitable for a specific area, are continually stressed, and are also more susceptible to diseases and pests, requiring increased maintenance costs in terms of labor and pesticides. For example, centipede grass works well for most of the Southeast. In Florida, consider switching to Bahia grass, as it is drought-tolerant. It makes a relatively low-maintenance turf grass as well, having less disease and insect problems than some of the other warm season grasses. Although transitioning to a Bahia grass may seem less aesthetically appealing, the positive environmental impact can be very beneficial and the transition can be partial.

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.