On-property produce could be great for hotels
On-property produce could be great for hotels
15 APRIL 2016 7:23 AM

With AccorHotels announcing plans for vegetable gardens at 1,000 properties, more hotel companies should consider the combination of hospitality and agriculture. 

AccorHotels has been in headline-grabbing mode for a while now, particularly with its recent penchant for gobbling up other players in the hospitality space such as FRHI and Onefinestay. But the company made another move this week that’s not as sexy but definitely just as interesting.

The company announced this week that it plans to roll out a set of food sustainability efforts, most notably starting vegetable gardens at 1,000 properties. Chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin hopes this move will cut down on food waste by as much as 30%.

I feel like this should be lauded for that exact reason, but also it should be drawing groans from a lot of folks who started their careers at a little college near the southern tip of Cayuga Lake in Central New York.

The marriage of hospitality and agriculture is not, technically, a new thing. There are already hoteliers who pride themselves on growing produce on property that they employ in their F&B. But generally, these are resort properties with the space to spare. The idea of making this a standard practice on a large scale seems compelling to me.

So it’s somewhat surprising that this wasn’t a plan formulated by some Cornell alum, because I can’t think of anywhere the intersection of hospitality and farming is more obvious than that school.

I began my career as a journalist not far from Ithaca, in the small town of Geneva, New York. About 40 minutes away from Cornell’s campus, Geneva also serves as the home for the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which is operated by Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

By covering that place for a time, I learned a lot more about apple varieties and pest management than I ever thought possible. But in a broader sense, what they did there showed me the possibilities for agriculture went far beyond what a typical neophyte like me had imagined.

It would be great to see someone (or some company) enterprising and inventive enough to really take this to the next level. Why can’t vegetable gardens be a standard amenity at hotels? Is that any less logical than ice machines?

Every hotel, even those crammed into tight urban spaces, has unused space in one way or another, so why not find a way to dedicate that to growing produce?

Urban farming already exists to some extent, but the hotel industry could be the engine that drives it forward as it becomes more mainstream while reaping the benefits it generates for F&B, sustainability and goodwill.

At this point, it seems like a great way for some brands to differentiate in the market without sinking in a significant investment. On top of that, it would grant some of those big-box brands that more “local, authentic” feel everyone seems to be chasing.

If I’m traveling to Florida and stay at a Holiday Inn Express that can offer me not just selfie pancakes for breakfast but oranges grown on property, I instantly feel a connection to that hotel and the surrounding area. If I’m in a Courtyard in Nebraska and I can get fresh sweet corn grown on property as a side with my dinner while working in my guestroom, that turns a mundane workday into an experience I’ll tell my co-workers about when I get back to the office.

This should serve as a reminder to hoteliers that on-property food matters beyond just the revenue it generates. It’s something that establishes a connection with guests if done in the right way. Being able to say, “This is our food that we grew, prepared and served just for you” makes it seem more special than a typical meal.

Let me know if you agree or disagree by emailing me at smccracken@hotelnewsnow.com or on Twitter, where I’m @HNN_Sean. I look forward to hearing from all you Cornell grads telling me how wrong I am for calling you out.

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