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Ms. Kew

Eco-Friendly Practices

Inn by the Sea: The LEED-er in Maine's Sustainability Movement

By Rauni Kew, Public Relations & Green Program Manager, Inn by the Sea

Sustainability is not just the most responsible approach to hotel operations, but can be an efficient and powerful tool for generating revenue. Hoteliers generally agree sustainable operations are financially beneficial and most have realized savings from reductions around waste, water, energy and chemicals. But many still hesitate to market their properties' green initiatives. Inn by the Sea, on the coast of Maine, has had green design features coupled with guest-centric programs around sustainability in place for over a decade, and has had great success marketing the property as both a luxury and a green hotel.

Checking in on staying green: benefitting from sustainable hotel programs

Inn by the Sea has a long list of green firsts. It was the first hotel in Maine to build a Silver LEED© certified spa, to have dual flush toilets, to be carbon neutral and to heat with biofuel. The Inn has solar panels, recycled rubber floors and recycled cork floors, recycled sheet rock walls, uses low or no VOC paint and Green Seal cleaners.

However, unless they're incredibly eco-minded, most consumers don't want to hear about businesses' initiatives around waste or energy. Happily, the same is not true when it comes to green initiatives that engage the guest in a unique or authentic experience -a good story around food that's local, a class on how to plant beautiful nectar gardens to support endangered butterflies, or an educational hotel package that includes hauling lobster with the crew of a real lobster boat.

Success at marketing Inn by the Sea as a green hotel has come through programs that connect the guest to the Inn's location and environmental message through food, whimsy, education, and support for the local community and celebrating "sense of place". Every hotel, urban or rural, operates in their own unique setting comprised of its natural environment, history, culture, people, traditions and native foods. Preservation and celebration of a hotel's "sense of place" is not only an important piece of sustainability, but offers limitless opportunities to educate and engage guests in interesting and meaningful ways around a green hotel's commitment to sustainability, without being boring or preachy.

The term 'Green Hotel" has evolved. Originally the term was a catch all for properties with almost any innovation that reduced water, waste, energy or chemicals, while saving money. But that bar has risen rapidly over the last decade. No longer considered ' innovations', a green hotel is expected to do all the above, and also work to preserve the natural environment, support its community, celebrate all things local, and educate staff and guests on sustainability.

Hotels have come a long way incorporating green initiatives for good reason. A 2011 Harvard Business School study of 180 companies found that businesses with a history of both environmental and social policies significantly outperformed their counterparts, and this was especially true when the customer was an individual consumer.

From an industry perspective, after the launch of Travelocity's green hotel directory, it was evident that when given an easy and clear choice, a majority of travelers would choose to stay green. In 2010, in the first quarter of Travelocity's green hotel website, bookings for green hotels were 65% higher than for their non green counterparts, according to the on line travel agency.

Yet, despite industry surveys supporting the importance of sustainability to travelers, very few hotels are going after this significant majority by aggressively marketing green initiatives, or doing so in a guest- centric manner.

Tripadvisor's 2012 Eco Friendly Travel Survey of more than 700 US travelers found the majority of travelers, 57%, said they often make eco friendly travel decisions, such as their choice of hotel, yet 60% said they rarely felt informed about whether the hotel is truly eco friendly, and 41% would be more likely to believe a hotel's claims if they experienced green practices firsthand.

"Our survey shows that TripAdvisor travelers are interested in eco-friendly practices, but hungry for more information about which green plans and policies are actually in place." said Jenny Rushmore, director of responsible travel for TripAdvisor.

The Tripadvisor survey exposes a huge marketing opportunity for hotels to create interesting and memorable firsthand guest experiences around their properties' green practices. Sadly, the survey also highlighted the green experiences hotel guests most often encounter -- basic sheet and towel reuse programs, and low flow faucets. When compared to the enormous, and often truly creative, strides hotels have actually made towards sustainability, this points to a dismal miss on a great marketing opportunity for the industry.

From off the grid hotel operation, to voluntourism or offsets tied to rain forest protection, to support for local schools, to urban bee hives and green roofs, many hotels have stepped up to the challenge of incorporating social and environmental policies into operations. And yet, it remains difficult for the majority of travelers to learn about, or understand, most hotels' green initiatives, which are often not even mentioned on their sites.

Every hotel can connect guests to their green programs by supporting community and the environment through packaging or collaborations with whatever they have that is unique to their corner of the world. Here are some examples of marketing initiatives around food, community and conservation at Inn by the Sea.

The fastest way to a guest's green heart: local food

The Locavore movement is wide spread and popular. Celebrating food that is local, and exposing a sense of your hotel's community, with support for local growers and vendors, is an important part of sustainability. Current trends dictate a vital interest in the source of foods served. Giving credit to, and adding names of farms, foragers, fishermen and vendors to restaurant menus adds local interest while supporting community, and assures guests the food is fresh and nutritious.

At Inn by the Sea's ocean view restaurant, Sea Glass, Chef Kaldrovich celebrates all things Maine with regionally sourced menus and during the growing season hosts Al Fresco, four course Farmer's Table Dinners on the seaside lawn, featuring whatever is growing at neighboring farms. The Inn's weekly cocktail features talks with local growers, fishermen and vendors who expose their products as well as their knowledge of the region.

You won't find monkfish or even cod on the Inn's menus. Chef Kaldrovich serves underutilized seafood fresh from the Gulf of Maine. Kaldrovich is part of a Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) collaboration between chefs and local fishermen to raise consumer awareness around lesser known and undervalued, but perfectly delectable, local seafood.

The GMRI collaboration, Out of the Blue educates guests on underutilized species that are abundant, delicious and fresh from the Gulf of Maine. By having chefs serve under appreciated seafood, over fished populations get a break. The program goals are to achieve better dock prices for fishermen for fish with limited demand, to support the health of the Gulf of Maine, and the sustainability of an industry that is struggling but vital to Maine tourism. Imagine the Maine brand without a fishing industry!

GMRI supports Out of the Blue with colorful information cards on Maine's fisheries for guests, and this great "fish story", explained proudly by Sea Glass staff, adds to a uniquely Maine, and memorable culinary experience.

Collaboration and support for community: Giving Getaways

Collaboration is always a good way to support community and have greater impact than going it alone. Inn by the Sea supports local Habitat for Humanity projects through a Maine Innkeepers Association (MEIA) program called 'Hospitality for Habitat'. As travelers look for more meaningful vacations, this simple program engages guests by giving them a simple way to give back to the regions where they love to vacation. This program satisfies the growing trend to 'give while getting away'.

Each spring, Innkeepers all over Maine collaborate to help build homes for Maine families, by slashing their room rates by a whopping 50% for any guest willing to write a $35 donation check to Habitat for Humanity. It's a win-win. Guests have an opportunity to visit some of the states finest Inns and hotels at greatly reduced rates, Innkeepers benefit from increased business during a traditionally slow tourism period, and all enjoy supporting a great cause. Maine Innkeepers, together with the engagement of their guests, have raised over $100,000. to help get deserving Maine families into homes.

Conservation & preserving local environments: beaches, bunnies and butterflies

Planting beautiful gardens with native plants not only reduces the need for water and chemicals on property, but also creates habitat and food sources for local wildlife and adds to a property's sense of place. At Inn by the Sea, head gardener Derrick Daly cares for ever-blooming native gardens certified as wildlife habitat, and engages guests through garden tours, and seminars on 'how to plant for wildlife'. Children create their own bug costumes and learn about local eco systems from a bug's vantage point at "Bug's Life" classes for kids, families enjoy guided nature walks on the beach. Nectar gardens with milkweed for endangered monarchs attract a variety of butterflies which are an important part of the guests' summer experience.

Inn by the Sea and the Department of Conservation have collaborated on habitat restoration by developing a 'rabbitat' for endangered New England cottontail bunnies on state land adjacent to the Inn and near the mile of sand beach. The Inn removed over 2 acres of bittersweet, bamboo and exotic invasive plants from Crescent Beach State Park, and replanted with perfect habitat for the almost extinct bunnies.

The Inn's sheet and towel card let's Inn guests know the savings from the linen reuse program supports conservation and habitat restoration projects to help Crescent State Beach's endangered bunnies and butterflies, which guests see and enjoy on site. Who doesn't love beaches, butterflies and bunnies?

Hotels are in a unique position to share sustainability with their guests. To benefit from the growing number of travelers who prefer to stay green, create and actively market engaging programs and packages that support your community and environment, and connect travelers to your hotel's sustainable initiatives and the distinctive attributes of your region.

Sources

--Harvard Business School - Robert G. Eccles, Ioannis Ioannou, Geore Serafeim *Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior and Performance (Harvard Business School, Nov. 2011)
--Eco Friendly Travel Survey of more than 700 US travelers, Tripadvisor® - April 2012*

Rauni Kew's background is in marketing and public relations. Currently working in hospitality, she manages Public Relations & Green Programs for Maine’s luxurious Inn by the Sea, and Public Relations for The Maine Innkeepers Association. Ms. Kew served on the Maine Tourism Commission, has been a board and executive member of the Greater Portland CVB for 7 years and was the immediate past Chair, and is the Greater Portland Regional Representative for the Maine Office of Tourism. She frequently has published articles on sustainable hospitality in industry journals. Previously Ms. Kew was Marketing Director for a Chemical Process manufacturer. Ms. Kew can be contacted at 207-799-3134 or rkew@innbythesea.com Please visit http://www.innbythesea.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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Hotel Law: Issues & Events
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