|The Green Leaf Inn, slated to open spring 2013, is being marketed as the first net-zero energy hotel in North America.
GLOBAL REPORT—While a considerable amount of energy goes into obtaining certification for a sustainable property, hoteliers are mixed over whether those efforts pay off when marketing the hotel to environmentally-conscious travelers.
Hans Pfister, president and co-owner of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality S.A., a Costa Rica-based management company with eight hotels in its portfolio, said his team has found guests visiting their hotels typically do not consider sustainability to be an important factor in the decision-making process. However, Pfister does believe once people visit and see how sustainable the properties actually are, it plays a large role in their decision-making process to visit again.
“The real communication actually happens on the property,” he said
Each of the properties under the Cayuga umbrella employs a sustainability coordinator, Pfister said.
One of the sustainability coordinator’s roles is to provide a behind-the-scenes tour to all guests, showing them the operational side of a sustainable property. In addition to getting a deeper look into the kitchen and laundry facilities, guests who go on the tour also learn how the sustainability coordinator develops and maintains a relationship with the local community.
“Once people see that … they are absolutely blown away,” Pfister said.
This, he believes, is what keeps his guests coming back to Cayuga properties and sharing their experiences with other potential guests.
Fritz Kreiss, co-owner of the Green Leaf Inn currently under construction in Delavan, Wisconsin, said environmentally-conscious guests and meeting planners actively are seeking hotels that are sustainable, and he plans to market his hotel to those customers.
“(Environmentally-conscious travelers) don’t want to go someplace and see nothing being recycled and just being wasteful,” Kreiss said.
The Green Leaf Inn, which Kreiss touts as the “first net-zero energy hotel in North America,” is slated to open in spring 2013.
The team is in the process of finding a social-media coordinator to start marketing the hotel on various networks, said Wen-D Kersten, director of marketing for Green Leaf.
Other marketing options the team is considering include advertisements in travel magazines, Google Ad Words and Facebook ads, Kersten said.
Because the property will house seven energy systems where people can go to learn about geothermal application, thermal storage and rainwater water storage, among other things, it will draw in a larger audience, Kreiss and Kersten said.
Live camera feeds from the energy demonstrations will be available online and also will serve as marketing for the property.
“We’re actively going to be promoting it, and not just within the hospitality group,” Kreiss said. Two environmental groups already have signed up to host webinars and seminars about the energy project housed on site, he said.
Joining efforts with an online travel agency that specifically caters to environmentally-conscious travelers also is a possibility down the road, Kersten said.
Leilani Latimer, director of sustainability initiatives at Sabre Holdings, also believes travelers care about sustainability. She said part of her company’s mission is to provide consumers with responsible travel alternatives.
The company aims to do just that with its Eco-Certified Hotel Program launched in January in partnership with Travelocity’s Green Hotel Directory, Latimer said.
Director of sustainability initiatives at Sabre Holdings
As the program is still in its early stages, Sabre does not have significant performance figures to report. However, the company tracks performance on the Travelocity site and has found eco-friendly hotels consistently register higher customer satisfaction rates than their non-green counterparts, Latimer said in a follow-up email.
The program consists of more than 4,700 eco-certified hotels consumers can browse through to find a right match for an upcoming trip.
Rather than working directly with the hotels that want to be listed in the directory, Sabre works with local certification programs instead, Latimer said.
As the hotels in Sabre’s directory are located in different geographic regions, the requirements for certification vary. Working with the certification programs ensures certain standards are met.
There are several things all hotels must have before getting listed on the Eco-Certified Hotel Program, Latimer said. “We require them to meet or exceed the global sustainable tourism baseline, and we require their certification include a third-party audit.”
On the leisure side, Sabre is using its newsletter and social media to promote the program. In the corporate space, the program is embedded in the company’s corporate request for proposal tool.
“It makes it easy for corporate travel managers to start promoting within their own employee sets … without having to do anything themselves,” Latimer said.