Eco-Friendly Hospitality Practices in Latin America

By Fernando Garcia Rossette Managing Director, Grand Velas Resorts | May 26, 2013

According to the TripAdvisor 2012 Industry Index, cost reduction is the number one reason for implementing eco-friendly hospitality practices. The survey received more than 25,000 responses from hoteliers around the globe of which 66% chose cost savings. Other reasons mentioned were because it is an industry trend (51%), guest demand (29%), marketing and public relations purposes (25%), because the competition has it (13%), regulation (7%) and to increase room rates (3%).

At Grand Velas Resorts in Mexico, we are dedicated to reducing our impact on the environment by following several eco-friendly green hotel practices. The TripAdvisor 2012 Industry Index discovered that the top five global eco-friendly practices include: energy efficient light bulbs, 79 percent; towel/linen reuse, 62 percent; energy efficiency plan, 56 percent; have green cleaning programs, 52 percent; and use water-efficient toilets and showerheads, 52 percent. In addition to following these common practices, Grand Velas Riviera Maya utilizes unique eco-friendly features, including solar panels and Reverse-Osmosis Desalting Plants.

We strive to exist harmoniously within our environments. Grand Velas Riviera Maya is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, an unconfined flat lying landscape. Sinkholes, known locally as cenotes, are widespread in the northern lowlands and played a large role in inspiring the design of the hotel. Surrounded by 86 acres of jungle, mangroves, fresh water cenotes (a deep natural sinkhole characteristic of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula) and expansive beachfront, Grand Velas Riviera Maya was designed around its environment. During the building process, it was important to us to help protect the native flora and fauna of the region so we reforested the surrounding areas with over 18,000 trees. Grand Velas Riviera Maya's sister resort was also designed to allow guests enjoyment and appreciation for its natural surroundings. Just north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and spanning over 190 miles along the Pacific coast of Nayarit, Riviera Nayarit sits at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountain range. In addition to views of the mountains, Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit offers guest views of the Banderas Bay, as well as the humpback whales that migrate to the area in the early part of each year. At Grand Velas Resorts, guests take advantage of unique opportunities to experience the resorts' natural landscapes and wildlife, while also enjoying an incomparable luxury all-inclusive vacation experience.

In addition to coexistence and appreciation, we use several different fueling and electric alternatives to stay true to eco-friendly and conservation principles. In fact, Grand Velas Riviera Maya does not depend on any oil-based source of fuel. Solar panels are installed on the roof of the resort in an area of 7,513 square feet, generating over 191 million kilocalories per year, equivalent to 222 million+ kilowatt hours (KWH). In addition, co-generation electricity plants reduce dependency on local and country-wide energy sources, and a state of the art air-conditioning system reduces contaminating emissions and minimizes the consumption of energy. At Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, we rely on daylight as much as possible to illuminate our lobby, an expansive 125 meter high palapa (an open structure with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves). This saves us approximately $8,500 USD per year. We have implemented practices that not only conserve energy, but also guarantee reasonable profitability.

The Grand Velas Resorts also strive to eliminate the need to rely upon local and regional natural resources. Grand Velas Riviera Maya's two Reverse-Osmosis Desalting Plants operate self-sufficiently. In addition, for every liter of potable water, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is able to re-use 2.54 cups for general purposes, while 1.69 cups are returned to the subsoil, aiding in the conservation of the environment. The resort also manages to save 30% of all water used in the entire laundry process, as the laundry facilities include a water treatment plant that efficiently filters soapy waters to then be used in the rinsing process. The residual water treatment facility receives and processes all the water from the entire resort, which is then used for the watering of all exterior gardens and surrounding mangroves and jungle. This saves us approximately $138,500 USD per year.

Commitment to the local environment is also an essential element of our resorts' culinary practices. Our leading chefs, including a Maître Cuisinier de France and Mexico's "Chef of the Year" in 2012, are committed to buying as much as possible locally. Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit even features a Huitlacoche Signature Margarita, sourced locally, which combines the corn truffle with tequila, resulting in a slightly salty, very flavorful and unique drink served on the rocks. Having received numerous culinary honors throughout the past several years, our resorts look forward to continued success while maintaining this commitment to the local communities that support us.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.