Thinking green can offer long-term benefits for hotels, and sources at independent hotels are not deterred by the cost to implement sustainability initiatives.
GLOBAL REPORT—Independent hoteliers don’t have the brands pressuring them to meet standards on sustainability and reuse. Nonetheless, many aren’t hesitating when it comes to continually incorporating green practices at their properties.
Many independent hotels even are going beyond the typical practices, such as recycling, linen reuse and energy efficiency, to tie earth-consciousness in with unique experiences for their guests.
Hotel El Ganzo, in Los Cabos, Mexico, was built in 2013 with sustainability in mind. Efforts were made from the start to reuse materials, such as wood from the original construction site, to make furniture and doors, said Ella Messerli, the hotel’s managing director.
Messerli, who is on the board of directors of the Center for Responsible Travel, said from then on, slowly and surely, additional practices were implemented at El Ganzo. These ranged from herb and vegetable gardens, BPA-free reusable water bottles for guests, compost and recycling to locally-sourced bath products.
Red Frog Beach Island Resort & Spa, in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, took similar approaches to its goal of preserving 80% of the land on which it was built, said Joe Haley, president of Oceans Group International, which led the restoration of the resort in 2009.
At Provenance Hotels, meanwhile, there was no direct impetus for the company’s focus on sustainability, Regional GM Chris Bebo said. “It was, and continues to be, an evolution of sorts,” he said.
Clean and green saves machines … and cash
While linen reuse is an option at Hotel El Ganzo, a bigger impact is being made by the hotel’s choice of laundry soap, which is made 100% of nopal cactus, Messerli said.
Because the all-natural soap is less aggressive than soaps high in chemicals, “it’s reduced our water consumption by 80% compared to normal laundry soap, our gas consumption by something like 65% and also our electric consumption by again almost 60%,” she said. “The linens last longer and the machines last longer. We won’t be throwing out our laundry machines for the next 25 years; normally it takes every 10 years.”
Bebo said Provenance Hotels’ properties worked with their vendor to develop a comprehensive laundry and cleaning program to better manage costs.
“We lean on our vendor to constantly check, adjust and report on machine settings as well as tracking water and energy consumption,” he said.
Staff and guest involvement
For sustainability to be successful, the hotel staff needs to get involved, Messerli said, and to do that the staff must be trained on best practices, such as recycling.
The staff at Hotel El Ganzo join together to pick up cans and bottles for recycling, and then split the money made from it, she said. “You’re generating sometimes $200 every two weeks, and you can actually hand out money to people and turn it into an incentive,” she said.
El Ganzo also brings in a sustainability expert to help introduce different ideas, Messerli said. For example, the expert worked with the staff to come up with a more natural, eco-friendly insect-repellent spray. The ingredient? Cloves.
The hotel’s food-and-beverage team prepares clove tea to be put in recyclable spray bottles that the guests can use to fend off pests. Mosquitos hate this trick, Messerli said—and it eliminates chemicals, while at the same time offering a conversation starter among guests.
Bebo said Provenance properties also take advantage of educational training, offered by a vendor, to help the staff understand proper use and dilution of their eco-friendly chemical products.
Preserving the community
Red Frog’s approach to sustainability has gone beyond reforestation and land preservation. Each rentable unit and villa on the property is equipped with insulated walls to reduce heat, large overhangs for shade and double-pane, low-E windows—all of which have helped with energy costs, Haley said.
However, larger savings come from the resort’s centralized solar system, including 664 panels that yield 220,000 kilowatts a year on solar power. “It’s a tremendous saving,” Haley said, currently powering 22% of the resort’s energy needs. Also, unlike any other resort in Central America, Red Frog has its own waste treatment plan, he said.
Haley said that locals on the island weren’t sure about the changes at first, and resisted. But the more the resort built up its socially responsible model, working with the nearby schools and indigenous neighbors to provide workable and clean resources, the locals came around.
“It’s really an all-inclusive type of approach and plan that started from the beginning. And from there, it accelerated when we reconstructed … and brought on new partners, with the same ethics and integrity that we wanted to do it right …. We knew eventually it would pay off in return,” he said.
Red Frog also had the environment in mind when building new resort amenities, such as its natural spa and zip line course.
The zip line component is fairly typical, in that it’s tied from tree to tree, but all of the construction used local materials, and included spacers and bumpers to protect the trees, Haley said.
As for the hotel’s spa area, it is the opposite of what a guest might find at a Four Seasons Hotel, he said. Also built from local wood, it is set outdoors by a creek with waterfalls—and sans air-conditioned buildings.
“We went this way because we felt it was more conducive with our vision, and it’s also something that people want …. You get your treatment in open air, there is no air conditioning,” he said. “We don’t have that because it’s not good for the environment.”
Something that’s good for the environment can also be good for promoting the hotel, Messerli said.
Guests at Hotel El Ganzo, for example, can take home reusable shopping bags, which are labeled with the hotel’s name. While there’s a cost involved for the hotel, there’s a return on the investment sometimes even years down the road, she said. Guests may take that reusable bag to the grocery store, or even pull it out in the middle of Macy’s in Manhattan, she said.
“Yes, it’s a cost, but at the same time you’re helping with sustainability, you’re giving somebody an experience, and you’re giving a souvenir,” she said, “which is fine because these things go on being little brand ambassadors wherever they go.”
While Provenance Hotels’ properties do weigh the pros and cons of sustainability practices through the lens of cost versus ROI, not every decision can be quantified in that way, Bebo said.
“Sure, we continue to spend money to enhance our program, but we don’t justify these expenses from a bottom-line financial position,” he said. “Rather, we judge these expense decisions based on whether we are enhancing value for our guests or earning media attention for our hotels.”
Giving guest incentives
Guests play an important role by continuing to voice their needs and wants, Bebo said. The alignment of guest values and sustainable business models also helps to build loyalty, which in turn is great for business.
“We integrated a Tree Hugger program whereby our guests can opt out of towel replacement,” he said. “We also developed a Green for Green program by which we reward guests who opt out of housekeeping service by giving them honor bar food-and-beverage credits.”
Bebo said he’s seen a 25% opt in rate with the Green for Green program, and honor bar revenues have gone up since starting the program, despite the additional cost to implement it.