Green benefits run the hotel gamut
11 MARCH 2014 6:09 AM
Hoteliers from properties big and small can—and should—reap the benefits of sustainability.
LONDON—The Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers and Beechenhill Farm reside on opposite ends of the hospitality spectrum. The former is a 366-room, branded new-build just outside a major city center. The latter is a centuries-old bed and breakfast, cottage and converted barn for up to 14 people located in a national park.
Yet for all their differences, the driving philosophy is remarkable similar: Deliver big guest experiences on small ecological footprints.
The principle is one all hoteliers should work toward, according to speakers during a panel titled “Toward a green hotel future” at the Hospitality Technology Europe show in London.
But at what cost? It all depends.
The owners of the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen invested an additional £3 million ($5 million) in upfront development costs to implement state-of-the-art, sustainable systems in the hotel, which opened in 2009. Highlights include a groundwater system that uses naturally cooled or heated water to “fuel” the building’s HVAC and a “solar park” that drive significant electrical savings, said GM Allan Agerholm.
The result is an experience indistinguishable from less ecologically attuned Crowne Plazas—with none of the additional costs passed on to guests.
“You will not be met with an environmental or green fee … as an excuse for the sustainability,” Agerholm said.
The property’s owners instead are recouping their investment through notable cost savings, he explained. “That makes it a no brainer because the payback on the return on investment is there.”
Less definitive were the savings a top-to-bottom green retrofit of Beechenhill’s properties would yield, said owner Sue Prince.
“We spent a ridiculous amount of money on our project,” she said, including a biomass wood pellet boiler that cost £70,000 ($116,571) alone.
While the property is seeing a slow-but-steady return as a result of energy savings, government incentives and other credits, the motivating factor was more a matter of conscience than cost, Prince said.
“We wanted to feel good in our business and be … totally confident in what we were offering,” she said.
Sustainability supporting demand
Sustainability initiatives bring with them other benefits, the panelists said. Chief among them is exposure.
The Crowne Plaza, for instance, has become something of the poster child for Copenhagen’s broader carbon-neutral movement. The hotel has appeared in countless media outlets, including CNN.
GM Agerholm attributes that attention to the hotel’s rapid ramp-up, which occurred as the broader market was experiencing a freefall. Within nine months of opening, the Crowne Plaza was matching its more established peers in market share despite its location on the outskirts of town.
“I don’t think we would have been able to do that if we had not commercialized sustainability in the way that we did,” he said.
The Beechenhill has made a considerably smaller splash, although the property has received awards from various hotel and green councils. Owner Prince attributes 10% of the property’s demand to its green credentials.
Beyond that, the credentials reinforce a belief that is becoming increasingly important for many guests, she said.
“Many guests say that green issues are very, very important for them. That is something like 70(%) or 80% of guests say that is an important thing. However, that isn’t to say 70(%) or 80% come to us because we are a green place. They come to us because we do a good job and have a fantastic holiday,” she explained.
In addition to accommodations, the Beechenhill encourages guests to explore the Peak District National Park through various partnerships and programs. As an organic farm, Prince also hosts locally sourced weddings and events in a converted hay barn.
Offering such holistic holidays that tie into the local community is an oft-forgotten element of sustainability, said Jeremy Smith, a communications specialist focusing on ecotourism.
“All hotels are extremely well-positioned to prosper by supporting the communities and environments in which they are based,” he said.
As case in point, he described the efforts of a resort in the Maldives where guests can help rebuild the surrounding coral reef ecosystem by reusing old rebar, air conditioning units and other metallic structures from the hotel.
Comparing apples to apples
Missing in the push toward sustainability was a uniform system of measurement, which became crucial as more corporations began evaluating green credentials in their meetings request for proposals.
That’s where the International Tourism Partnership comes in, said Head of Programmes Fran Hughes. The group partnered with some of the world’s largest chains to develop the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, which allows individual properties to measure their carbon footprint for apples-to-apples comparison.
More than 17,000 hotels have adopted the HCMI around the globe, she said.
“Price, quality and location are always going to win,” she said of the factors that drive bookings, “but there’s increasingly a correlation between those hotels which go the extra mile on the environmental front” and the quality of the guest experience.
Or as Prince said, “Our vision is to please you so you return while pleasing the planet and pleasing ourselves, too.”