Why Guests Go Green

By Rani Bhattacharyya Community Economics Extension Educator , University of Minnesota Extension- Center for Community Vitality | September 04, 2011

Your potential guests have been inundated with all sorts of news and information regarding the social, economic and environmental issues we are facing globally. As a result, they now seek out hotel and other travel service providers that can show a practical, unique and proactive commitment towards resolving these issues. Addressing this demand as part of your messaging has become important because these issues are no longer remote or happening to others. The repercussions have started to affect not only our health, but our employment, and communities as well. In making an attempt to address these issues head on and stabilize both our personal and financial well being, society itself is starting to demand more truthfulness and meaning behind how purchasing decisions can help create a more sustainable world.

I've divided this article into three sections that provide an overview of: 1) why hotel guests are goring green, 2) where along the purchasing decision making process your properties' environmental performance reporting can be a great asset, and 3) how being true to your performance reporting efforts can proactively address the environmental and social interests of your guests. By reviewing these aspects of promoting your hotels environmental and social reporting efforts, I hope to provide a little insight into why adopting environmental and social benchmarking practices can be a significant asset in attracting and retaining new guests at your hotel.

Why Guests Are Going Green?

There are two main reasons why guests have learned to expect hoteliers and other travel service providers to adopt environmentally and socially responsible best practices. The first is based on the changing demographic landscape of society itself. While Baby Boomers (those born between the years of 1943-1960) are currently the wealthiest age demographic, both the X (born between 1961- 1981) and Y (born between 1982-2002) generations are segments of the population set to become the largest segment of the adult consumer population in coming decades. There are significant differences between these groups' current purchasing behavior, especially between the Y generation demographic (just now entering higher educational institutions and the workforce) and the older groups.

Coming of age in a world now dependent on immediate access to information, young adults are no longer tied to a specific geographic location to define their work, play, or purpose. Having developed an ongoing commitment and need for globalized (not just localized) engagement, they still find issues concerning inequity exotic but the emotional pull behind this attraction for members of the Y generation is no longer based on fear or guilt. These potential guests are seeking recognition and a means by which to resolve inequity issues rather than ignore or escape them. The travel purchasing behavior of the Y generation has reflected this over the past five years as well. Young adults have been the most frequent type of traveler and have also been spending more while on travel than any other segment of the population. Because of this shifting attitudinal change to seek meaningful purpose behind travel, many guests are now purchasing hospitality and leisure services where they can learn the story of a place. Specifically, they have begun to seek out (and expect to see) how their favorite brands and companies are helping to resolve the social, economic and environmental issues that are affecting the destinations they visit.

A secondary source of the greening trend in the hospitality market has been attitudinal shifts in the business travel sector. In light of ongoing economic issues in the US and abroad, WTTC's business travel report released in April found that growth of business related travel has not been as extensive as that of the leisure travel sector over the last ten years. Over half of the companies they surveyed cut 30% or more of their travel budgets in 2009. While this drop in business related travel was unfortunate for the industry as a whole, there has been a very limited rebound in 2010 -2011 so far. The financial problems in 2007-2008 also became a motivating factor behind the quick adoption and integration of expense reporting software and technology by employers. This software allows for more instantaneous on the go expense reporting that includes environmental performance metrics as well. To meet these economic and energy conscious needs of business travelers, articulating your environmentally responsible best practices via web 2.0 applications should be a significant part of your marketing plan. In addition to this, the clearer that you can articulate how seamlessly your services are integrated with other destination component services such as dining, recreation and transportation opportunities available in your area, the greater your chances will be that corporate travelers and event planners will become loyal guests.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.