Mr. Slye

Eco-Friendly Practices

Important Lifestyle Changes to Recognize in Attracting Today's 'Green' Travelers

By Jeff Slye, Senior Consultant, Five Winds International

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).

#2 - Recycling

In-room recycling: Although recycling has been around for decades, there have been significant improvements and participation in recycling over the past 15 years. According to the EPA, there has been a 30% improvement in national recycling diversion rates (now at 32%) and there are now major cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles that recycle over 50% of their waste. Hotels have a unique and compelling opportunity to enable travelers, particularly their 'green' travelers, who would normally recycle at home to recycle at their "home-away-from-home." In 2007, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants instituted the first nation wide in-room program and guest comments poured in emphasizing how much they appreciated having the ability to bring this important part of their lifestyle with them when they traveled.
The solution: Launch an in-room recycling program, but ensure executive support is in place. These programs can be complicated to get started as in-room bins, proper housekeeping cart sections and/or bags, and training are all required. For those looking to invest in a quality in-room recycling container, T2 amenities offers some good ideas and options here

#3 - Energy

Turn off the lights and HVAC: Although CFL lighting gets most of the attention in the media, these 'green' customers get most turned off when they check-in or return to a guest room and all the lights are on and the heat/or AC is blowing full speed. There is a disconnect with a hotel's eco-credentials if there are CFL bulbs in place, but they are still left on all day/night long. Again, from a lifestyle perspective many of these 'environmentally conscious' consumers may still have incandescent bulbs in their house, but they are adamant about turning off lights and the heat/AC when they leave the house. Therefore, hotels need to be conscientious on how they set up guest room check-in policies and default heat/AC settings on thermostats. There is a way to take these steps while not impacting the comfort and experiences of guests.
The solution: There are great technologies that now use digital thermostats combined with infrared occupancy sensors or guest controlled key cards (Evolve Guest Controls) to always keep rooms at 'off' or 'default' settings when not occupied. These solutions also translate into significant energy and cost savings.

#4 - Looking into the future

Despite many 'green' hotels still being disconnected to the lifestyles and habits of their 'green' travelers, there are others already trying to anticipate the next 'green' customer demand. These hotels see the business benefits and value of attracting these travelers and are taking on ambitious initiatives to further connect with them. Some of these efforts include: (i) electric vehicle charging stations - New Jersey based Hamilton Park Hotel & Conference Center recently installed eight electric vehicle charging stations, (ii) Organic waste decomposition system - Hilton New York added onsite system using microorganisms to break down the food wastes into a disposable liquid, (iii) Water filtration - Hyatt began implementing a water filtration and on-site bottling system in its restaurants to eliminate bottled water, and (iv) Fuel efficient vehicles - Fairmont hotels in California is offering guests free parking if they have a hybrid vehicle.

Naturally, there are hundreds of actions a hotel can and should take as part of their green initiatives and many others are required to achieve green recognition, certification, etc. As hotels go through these processes it is important to remember that certain actions, such as those mentioned above, now have direct emotional connections to important lifestyle changes of 'green' traveler preferences. Therefore special attention, focus, and care should be put into highlighting and accentuating those products and practices in place at the hotel. This will demonstrate the hotel is in tune with their customer's core 'green' values and will create a deeper connection and relationship with those travelers today and in the future.

Jeff Slye is a Senior Consultant with Five Winds International and has fifteen years of consulting and software solutions expertise and has led and created sustainability initiatives for organizations across the United States and Canada. Mr. Slye is a specialist within the hospitality industry and has worked with over 100 hotels and restaurants, including Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants and Destination Hotels and Resorts and is currently a member of the American Hotel and Lodging Association's Sustainability Task Force. Mr. Slye was formerly CEO of Business Evolution Consulting, a sustainability consulting firm. Mr. Slye can be contacted at 415-871-1932 or j.slye@fivewinds.com Extended Bio...

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