Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green

Kermit the Frog had no idea when he first uttered those famous words, just how right he was.

It has become clear that the focus on responsible environmental practices is here to stay. As a result, the growing trend toward eco-conscious travel has brought with it a seemingly ever-increasing number of green hotel certification programs in the hospitality industry.

However, that, in and of itself has not helped to bring clarity to the situation due to the sheer number of different programs and options available, which has in turn led to confusion among travellers, AND hotel operators.

Clearly, each of the more well known programs, (Green Key, Green Globe, Green Leaf, Green Seal, LEED, and perhaps most notably – STEP: Sustainable Tourism Eco-Certification Program), has its benefits, and some offer more legitimate measures of eco-consciousness than others, but how does a hotel operator decide which program to participate in, or, whether or not you need to participate in all of them, especially in light of the cost, in some instances, for older properties to incorporate green technology into their older properties?

According to the World Tourism Organization, ecotourism is the fastest growing market in the tourism industry, growing at a rate of 5% worldwide and representing over 11% of all consumer spending. The non-profit International Ecotourism Society recently stated that more than two-thirds of U.S. and Australian travelers, and 90% of British tourists, consider active protection of the environment and support of local communities to be part of a hotel's responsibility.

Further evidence of the strong eco-tourism focus can be found in the J.D. Power and Associates' 2009 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, which surveyed over 66,000 guests who stayed in North American hotels between May of 2008 and June of 2009, and found that guests' awareness of their hotel's green programs increased significantly in 2009.

Sixty-six percent of guests said they were aware of their hotel's conservation efforts, up from 57 percent the previous year, and, in response to significant pressure from its membership base, AAA has added an "eco" icon to its 2010 Tour Books for hotels, motels, and other lodging facilities. The AAA Eco Program identifies and promotes AAA-approved lodgings that are certified by designated government and private programs.

Clearly, eco-conscious meeting and leisure travellers are putting their dollars toward travel-related businesses with a focus on sustainability, and their preferences can no longer be ignored. Not only are those travellers coming down on the side of green, but so are local, Provincial and Federal governments, as evidenced in their focus on, and bookings of, hotels that have a green designation of one kind or another, reflecting their environmental commitment.

As an example, we are seeing an increase in government mandates stating that government employees can only stay in or host meetings in green hotels. In response to the increasing demand, especially for government based business, and depending on your geographical location, many hotels have developed “green meeting packages” as a means to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and in the hope of securing business from companies who have made a conscious commitment to be environmentally responsible, and who, in turn, want to do business with other green businesses, as a means to demonstrate their commitment amongst their own audiences.

For those properties that are older, which is the majority of hotels and other accommodation providers, the costs associated with doing what it takes to implement and follow LEED standards are cost prohibitive. LEED has a much greater applicability to new-builds, which are the properties that are in fact adopting the LEED criteria as their mandate during construction, where the greatest opportunity exists to implement the necessary standards.

Older buildings, on the other hand, are what they are, and their operators desperately need a straightforward, meaningful certification program that fairly and comprehensively rates their operations so that guests and event planners can easily evaluate the steps the hotel has taken to be green, and in doing so, consumers can also come to understand and recognize the symbol or logo associated with an established green program, and know, with confidence, that when they book a designated green property, their expectations for an environmentally focused hotel will be met.

Clearly, the public's demand for these types of facilities is certainly growing, and people want to spend their money with businesses that share their same personal beliefs and values. The hotels that achieve certification identify themselves as leaders in green practices, energy conservation and a sustainable future.

There's no question that earning some type of green certification is imperative, not only for the health of the environment, but also for a hotel's continued success. Being “green” equates to “doing the right thing” in the eyes of both the consumer and your employees and this will in turn translate to a more sustainable business plan in the long term.

Environmental issues are here to stay and will only continue to grow as a fundamental priority and those properties that can get out in front of this issue and develop a comprehensive long term “green” strategy will win the hearts, minds and wallets of the consumers of today and tomorrow.

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