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HEDNA Conference Touched on Sustainability’s Possibilities

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LISBON, PORTUGAL—The speed of technological innovation, growing realities of environmental sustainability and more demanding, value conscious customers are some of the most key near-term decision drivers for the hotel electronic distribution industry. These challenges and their various impacts were examined and debated during the final day of HEDNA’s recent 2008 EMEA Conference, held at the Corinthia Lisboa Hotel.

The next 18 months will be some of the most challenging for the hotel business since 2001 due predominantly to economic concerns and the rapidity of technological evolution, said Dr. Lalia Rach, renowned dean of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. The hotel business and the environment in which it functions is changing so fast that now, more than ever, there’s a real need for true globality, conductivity and continuity in our industry.

Global tourism is the most positive industry in most countries, Rach said. And increasingly travelers are not only interested in visiting countries such as India, China and the United Arab Emirates, but citizens from what economists now refer to as the “BRIC bloc” (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are traveling and will travel in incredible numbers. China has in a brief period improved their infrastructure to handle increased tourism and the projected upswing in tourism post-Olympics was the motivation. The next decades will see travelers who are seeking to follow the Silk Road, an ancient trade route, with travel from and to Europe, North America and the Caribbean taking a back seat.

New Generation of Travelers

Rach also drove home the point that today’s travelers aged 35 and under are not only the next customer base for the hotel industry, but that hoteliers need to understand their motivators and demands. “They view travel as a right, not a treat and often are unable to recall their first airplane flight,” she said.

In fact, Rach said they have participated in the purchase and decision since their earliest days. They demand a company’s loyalty, before they’ll return their loyalty. They are seeking new travel experiences. They are also extremely focused on sustainability issues and will demand to know what hotel companies are doing to really reduce their carbon footprint. They know when they are being lied to. The 35 and under group is so technologically oriented that they are in part the reason semantic technology innovation is emerging in the very near future.

While there are many bright spots in the hotel industry, there are also a number of serious and dramatic challenges. People will still travel, but will value their vacations more, Rach said. This means the distribution industry must understand how to reach customers. Rach advised hotels to deliver on what they’ve promised to deliver, and to not expect the customer to know the minutiae of the travel business, and be consistent and helpful.

The increasing emphasis on hotels to have customer service as their core value will be the defining factor in who survives, Rach warned. “Saying it is easy; doing it is more difficult,” she said.

This savvy next generation of hotel guests has amazing radar to spot a phony marketing story. Finally, one needs to be prepared to market, sell and serve the customer in an increasingly tight economic situation. She challenged the audience to ensure their staffs know how to deal with sales in a tighter market.

Introducing the Hotel Carbon Index

Dr. Lalia Rach and Michael Ball, CEO of WORLDHOTELS, both highlighted to the hundreds of HEDNA conference attendees the importance of true and quantifiable environmental sustainability for travelers of all ages and nationalities. It needs to be “a top concern of the hotel industry” emphasized Peter Ducker, CEO of U.K.-based CarePar. “Business is awake to the issues” around sustainability and cannot underestimate the huge opportunity this provides. He quoted Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart, who said, “Sustainability is the single biggest business opportunity of the 21st century. It will be the next source of competitive advantage.”

According to Ducker, there are a number of steps businesses can take to become more sustainable beyond whether a guest washes their towels or sheets. These steps include implementing energy reduction programs, recycling waste, buying and using only recycled products and measuring sustainability achievements. Telling customers how one is contributing to the planet’s sustainability in a quantifiable manner will become standard.

CarePar, a term cleverly coined in the family of RevPar, has recently developed the “Hotel Carbon Index.” The index is a number that measures a hotel or venue’s actual carbon emissions per available room per day, per function room per half day or per restaurant per meal, Ducker said. The Hotel Carbon Index is an actual measurement that can be used to certify and verify carbon values. CarePar can help the hotel make this vital data available to a wide range of interested parties who increasingly ask in RFPs for the hotelier’s social responsibility policies. In addition, it will assist hotels in identifying areas where costs can be reduced through sustainable practices and can help marketing and distribution channels meet the demand for standards as greening plays an increasingly vital role in operations.

Go to HEDNA.

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