On-property beehives are growing more popular across the hotel industry, but hoteliers have to plan staffing around them.
GLOBAL REPORT—Beekeeping is not something new to the hospitality industry, but the practice is growing more prevalent.
Beekeeping programs are now in place for brands such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Mandarin Oriental. Additionally, a cross-company beekeeping effort among San Francisco’s hotels recently grabbed headlines and the attention of the sustainability-minded.
The increasingly popular practice of running on-property apiaries can help build a buzz around both a hotel’s marketing efforts and food-and-beverage offerings. But sources said hoteliers should educate themselves on how to deal with the bees—as well as how to staff maintenance positions and expose guests to the hives—before embarking on their own beekeeping efforts.
Michael Pace, GM at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, said he works with a local beekeeper to maintain hives on his property, which is now part of a larger effort by seven San Francisco hotels called the “Urban Bee and Herb Garden Project.”
Pace said the beekeeping has several benefits for the hotel, including allowing the hotel to use its homegrown honey in several dishes and a pair of cocktails. Beyond that, he said the hives have become a point of interest for guests and something that helps establish the identity of the hotel, which now hosts regular beekeeping-related events.
“It’s something fun for the guests and something different,” Pace said. “It reinforces the culture and vibe you expect in San Francisco. … It’s another way of showing guests we can do things differently and do something that’s good for the environment.”
The Clift now has 800,000 honeybees on property.
Officials with Fairmont said their bee sustainability program has existed since 2008. In addition to honeybee hives, Fairmont Hotels also have “Pollinator Bee Hotels,” which are designed to provide habitats for other varieties of bees that are largely responsible for pollinating flowering plants.
Donny Parrella, assistant director of engineering and chief beekeeper for the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown, oversees the honeybee hives at that hotel and agreed that beekeeping helps give a property a unique identity. And that’s not just with guests, but also with the surrounding area.
“You definitely see a lot of people in the neighborhood interested in it,” Parrella said. “It puts us in a good light. A lot of people around here know us as the hotel with the bees on the roof.”
Staffing the hives
Pace said one of the most important steps for his hotel when establishing the beehives was deciding to bring in an outside party to maintain them. He said he believed it was important to hire someone with more experience and direct knowledge in beekeeping.
“We pretty quickly decided that we’re not beekeepers, so we had to find a third party to manage this,” Pace said.
He said he found the hotel’s beekeeper through a San Francisco-area beekeeping association.
Guillaume Chapalain, public relations manager for the Mandarin Oriental Paris, said that hotel’s hives are similarly staffed by a third party. That person is given direct responsibility for the hotel’s roughly 50,000 bees that produced more than 50 pounds of honey at last harvest.
“He installed (and) maintains the hives and is in charge of the harvest once a year,” Chapalain said via email.
Parrella said his hotel decided to keep operations largely in house, and he was appointed as the lead beekeeper for the property. There are two hotel employees responsible for dealing with the bees, Parrella and a pastry chef, but the hotel is looking at bringing more employees who are interested in the bees into the process. He said multiple employees work on the garden created for other varieties of pollinating bees.
“We see people want to take a sense of ownership (over the beehives),” Parrella said. “It can be a bit tough working directly with the bees, and a lot of people are frightened and have to get over that fear. But we have an overwhelming number of people interested, and people always want to go up and work on the garden.”
All three hotels include their in-house chefs in the beekeeping operations in some capacity, as the honey is utilized in dishes and signature cocktails.
Parrella said it’s up to hotel chefs to make sure they’re managing demand with the honey supply. He said his property, which now has more than 100,000 honeybees, is more than meeting the honey demand for the time being.
Pace said once guests find out about the hives, it’s not uncommon for them to be curious enough to ask to see them. While he noted it is mostly safe to be around the bees—assuming you aren’t agitating them by removing their honey—he said his hotel still takes some precautions.
“I make sure to take employees up in small groups to educate them in what we have, and that helps them to talk to guests about (the bees),” Pace said. “We’ve had guests begin asking about tours, so we want to set those up with a little more infrastructure around safety.”
He said his safety concerns revolve more around adding railings to the roof than guests’ exposure to the bees.
Parrella said guests often go up to see the bees at his hotel, but they are first asked to sign a waiver to mitigate the hotel’s liability. He said they can only go up if supervised by someone involved in the beekeeping process.
Chapalain said guests are barred from the Mandarin Oriental Paris’ roof for “security reasons,” so they are not given close access to the hives. But the hives are specifically placed so guests can view them from a nearby terrace.
Victoria Wojcik, research director for the nonprofit Pollinator Partnership, said her organization has been working with Fairmont for roughly three years to make sure sustainability efforts extend beyond honeybees.
“There’s a bit of well-intentioned misinformation out there that focuses only on the role of honeybees in the ecosystem’s health,” she said. “But in North America, there are not only honeybees but another 4,000 species that are all important.”
Wojcik said any hotelier looking to add pollination gardens on property as a sustainability program should check what kinds of plants are important for local species.
“You have to make sure you’re taking the right steps for the bees in your area,” she said. “You can do that by reaching out to local conservation groups and plant societies or by going to our site where we have ecologically specific planting guidelines that are searchable by zip code.”