GLOBAL REPORT—It might not be a deal breaker, but meeting planners increasingly are looking at hotels’ sustainability programs when deciding where to hold their events, sources said. Hotel companies have responded with a variety of strategies to create greener meetings.
“I don’t believe meeting planners are choosing a hotel based on (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification,” said Tom Santora, chief marketing officer and senior VP of sales for Omni Hotels & Resorts. “Those things are nice, but at the end of the day it’s about availability, space, flow of meeting, quality of food and service. Those things trump green.
“However, if you’re doing those things from a green perspective, it adds value to meetings as something (for planners) to tout to their attendees and to their superiors,” he said.
An increasing number of planners consider a hotel’s green programs to be important in making booking decisions, said Jeff Chase, VP of sustainability for Freeman, a logistics management company that helps associations and corporations arrange and produce meetings.
“It took off in 2006 and ’07 and ’08, but then all of a sudden because of the recession it died down for a while as everyone went into survival mode,” he said. “But in the last two years or so the issue of sustainability has surged back to become much more a part of the standard operating procedure for many groups.”
Many meeting planners like to book events at hotels that are certified in sustainability, said Roger Simons, group sustainability manager for MCI Group, an association and event management company with 56 offices across the globe.
“Depending on the country, they’re looking for EarthCheck, Green Globe, LEED or something else. They want an external, third-party verifiable badge that your property is sustainable,” Simons said. “In the hotel industry, a lot of companies have developed their own sustainability programs, but that can be a challenge for planners because they don’t know how robust they are.”
David Catalon, area director of sales and marketing for three properties in the Washington, D.C., area operated by Hilton Management Services, agreed planners have become more concerned about green initiatives.
“I see it more in the (request for proposal) process than in direct sales calls,” he said. “The RFPs generally ask about our (International Organization for Standardization) certifications, whether or not the properties are LEED buildings and what green efforts we participate in.
“I haven’t found it to be a deal breaker at this point, but as we move forward the requests about greenness are only going to grow. Every group we work with has questions about it,” Catalon said.
One of Catalon’s hotels, the 248-room DoubleTree by Hilton in Silver Spring, Maryland, recently completed a $3.5-million renovation of its meeting spaces that includes a number of energy-saving upgrades, such as installation of LED lighting in the conference space. The new lighting uses 75% less electricity than incandescent and saves labor because the new bulbs last a year to 18 months before they need changing.
Energy-saving lighting was also part of a multi-million-dollar, two-year renovation project at the 613-room Wyndham Orlando Resort in Florida that included upgrading and adding 10,000 square feet of space to the hotel’s meeting complex.
In addition to the installation of LED lighting in the meeting rooms and other areas of the property, the hotel’s owners addressed energy and cost savings in many departments of the property—from all-electric golf carts and high-efficiency air conditioning units to low-flow faucets and toilets in guestrooms, and programmable thermostats in meeting rooms.
GM Richard Larkin said the rationale for emphasizing sustainability in the renovation was threefold.
“One was to exceed our company’s goals in terms of green initiatives and to carry the torch for Wyndham Worldwide. We also wanted to meet or exceed meeting planner expectations and to be ahead of the curve for expectations in the future.
“The third thing is we want to save money on utilities, both water and electrical consumption, which is a big bill every month: about $100,000 for electricity,” Larkin said.
Energy savings has been a benefit of green initiatives instituted at the Four Seasons Denver, according to the hotel’s director of public relations, Jim Guttau. Among new sustainability measures adopted recently by the hotel is installation of LED lighting in corridors, guestrooms and the hotel’s residential units.
The switch, Guttau said, will save the hotel more than $70,000 a year in electricity and labor costs.
Using Four Seasons’ chain-wide Green Meetings program as a template, the Denver property offers a number of environmentally friendly services for meetings customers: water stations with fruit slices or biodegradable water bottles instead of plastic, soda in aluminum cans instead of plastic bottles, recycling bins for paper waste, dry erase boards instead of paper flip charts, and china and silverware instead of disposable items.
Technology is another way hotel companies are changing their meeting environments to be greener while at the same time better serving groups.
Santora said Omni has developed several applications to greatly reduce the amount of paper used in meetings. One is an HTML file that can be loaded on a tablet or laptop and contains all of the information a meeting planner needs for the event. The other is an attendee-facing app that includes meeting agendas, attendee lists, speaker bios, videos and other information.