Ensuring Guest Satisfaction in the Green Space
By Brian McGuinness Senior Vice President, Specialty Select Brands, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide | April 28, 2013
To borrow the words of a certain famous frog, it's not easy being green - or at least it can seem that way to the hotelier, who must find a way to strike the right balance between protecting the planet's precious natural resources and providing for the comfort of guests. Yet, thanks to breakthroughs in smart design technology and unprecedented public environmental awareness, there has never been a more fortuitous time for the hospitality industry to embrace green practices.
Starwood launched the Element Hotels brand in 2008 as its green innovation lab, founded on an innovative, balanced-living approach to hospitality. Five years and 10 hotels later, Element's guest satisfaction scores are among the highest in the industry across hotel segments. The brand's remarkably loyal customer base demonstrates that sustainability and hospitality can go hand in hand, as long as a hotel's green practices are implemented with the guest experience in mind.
Element Hotels' green roots run deep. It first made history as the only major hotel brand to mandate that every hotel seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. By the end of 2012, Element reached an important milestone, securing the commitment of all of its hotels to 100% renewable energy, surpassing LEED requirements. Sustainability is a factor in every aspect of the brand's hotel design and services, from an innovative energy management system that employs in-room motion sensors to green housecleaning practices that reduce exposure to potentially hazardous chemical contaminants.
That said, if the green hotel is to succeed, sustainability cannot come at the expense of guests' comfort. From Element's own experience, it requires a thoughtful balance. Certain environmental practices should operate under guests' radar, while others can be used to engage, enlighten and in some cases even entertain.
For the green hotel, maintaining high guest satisfaction requires the seamless integration of eco-minded services, amenities and behind-the-scenes features. In the ideal scenario, a guest will be drawn to the services and aesthetic of a particular hotel or hotel brand, and experience its eco practices as an unexpected but welcome bonus. Plentiful windows and open interior spaces, for instance, go far to create a pleasing ambience for guests. At the same time, a window-centric design maximizes the use of daylight - as much as 90 percent in the case of the Element Hotels prototype. This reduces the energy needed to illuminate indoor spaces and provides guests and hotel associates alike the proven mood-boosting benefits of abundant natural light.