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An Analysis of the Green Hotel/Meeting Decision Connection

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Accommodation providers around the globe are adopting environmental marketing and management strategies to not only improve efficiency, but also increase competitiveness and gain access to niche markets. The cost savings and public relations benefits associated with hotel greening are well known, but the question remains: do meeting and conference planners care about green accommodations? Also, does the presence of environmental practices influence which vendors meeting planners select? Available research, association case studies and public policy suggest that it does.

According to IMEX, the Worldwide Exhibition for Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events, 67 percent of meeting and incentive planners have taken environmental considerations into account when planning a conference or incentive program. Furthermore, 61 percent of buyers believe that they, or their colleagues, would likely avoid a destination or venues known to have a poor environmental record.

Associations are adopting environmental clauses in their request for proposals process and including specific green practices in contracts for meeting venues, food and beverage providers and accommodation services. The United States Green Building Council and the Sierra Club are the most recent meeting hosts to receive the Gold and Silver Environmentally Responsible Meetings Award by the Green Meeting Industry Council and IMEX. Both organizations were recognized for taking specific measures to be able to provide green services, including accommodations.

Canada’s Green Mandate

In addition to associations, government agencies are also mandating the use of green accommodations. The Government of Canada’s Policy on Green Procurement sends a clear message to the business community that, in the words of Margaret Kenny, Acting Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, “If [businesses] have not already done so, they need to start looking carefully at how the goods and services they produce measure up from an environmental perspective.”

Although this evidence suggests meeting planners and the organizations they represent are buying green, according to MeetingNews 37 percent of planners still know little or nothing about green meetings, while 47 percent believe they lack the skills and information to plan a green meeting. Despite this lack of knowledge, 67 percent of planners indicate green meetings are beneficial in terms of cost savings and environmental protection. These statistics illustrate that planners possess environmental values and see the benefits of greening, but in many situations lack the education and experience to plan them.

This gap in knowledge represents a critical opportunity for green lodging providers to add value to their services and distinguish themselves in the marketplace. Increasing planner awareness of environmental practices offered at your property during the RFP process shows planners not only how you are minimizing costs and increasing efficiency, but also demonstrates how partnering with you aligns with their individual values and those of the organizations they represent.

Environmental Criteria for Planners

Environmental management for accommodations is a complex and potentially overwhelming process. So where to start? Recent research has helped to shed light on those environmental criteria that are most important for the planner market.

According to the 235 meeting planners responding to MeetingNews’ 2006 survey, the most important environmental criteria for accommodations are:

• Energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems and appliances.
• Recycling programs and the promotion of paperless communication.
• Water conservation programs, such as linen and towel reuse programs.

Another recent survey of planners meeting in green cities indicates similar findings, with the following identified as the most important environmental criteria for accommodations:

• Energy efficiency programs.
• Linen and towel reuse programs.
• Environmental purchasing.
• Recycling programs.

For those properties that also serve as meeting venues, the most important environmental criteria for planners include:

• China and linen catering service.
• Food donation programs.
• Recycling and reuse programs.
• Energy efficiency programs.
• Local, organic and/or vegetarian menus.

For planners, ease and convenience in organizing meetings is key. Accommodations and meeting venues that provide these environmentally responsible services as part of their regular business stand to earn business over competitors by adding value to their clients’ meetings without creating unnecessary hassle.

Importance of Green Hotels

Hotels provide a key service to meeting planners and as such are one of many partners that can share in the development of greener meeting and event destinations. Around the world, meeting destinations are beginning to embrace and integrate sustainable principles into how they market and manage their cities to the meetings market. From Portland to Toronto, Manchester, and Madison, many cities are trying to foster, package and promote a more sustainable meeting product, and gaining positive media coverage and access to niche markets as a result.

The hotel sector is a key partner in the green destination product that also includes convention centers, transportation providers, caterers, exhibition services and other host city meeting vendors. By preparing ahead to meet planner needs and expectations regarding green lodging, accommodation providers can stay ahead of the growing trend toward greener meetings.

Shawna McKinley is the Executive Director of the Green Meeting Industry Council. She managed the creation of the green meetings toolkit at www.bluegreenmeetings.org, served on the Convention Industry Council’s Green Meeting Task Force and helped to create the IMEX Green Meetings Award. She has a background in environmental education and community event management. She holds a Degree in Tourism Management with a Major in Regional and Urban Planning and a Master of Arts in Environmental Education and Communication. She is the author of Green Event Destinations: Modeling Practice and Testing Markets.

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