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Marketing “Greenness” to the Luxury Traveler: A Case Study of the Bardessono Hotel

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YOUNTVILLE, CALIF.—When Bardessono Hotel, Restaurant, and Spa was conceived, the vision was simple—to be the greenest and best luxury hotel in the world. Period. Clearly, this was not an easy undertaking. On February 2, 2009, at the absolute bottom (almost to the minute) of the lodging industry’s economy, Bardessono opened in Yountville in the heart of Napa Valley, California. This 62-room property was developed at a cost of more than $1 million per key, enabling it to quickly join Auberge, Calistoga Ranch, and Meadowood in the elite group of Napa Valley’s finest luxury hotels.

Its differentiation was two-fold—its “greenness” and its location within the town of Yountville, considered by many the most desirable location in the Valley, and home to arguably some of the finest restaurants in the United States, including Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. Bardessono was developed and then operated to LEED Platinum certification standards, and not long after it opened, earned that certification officially from the U.S. Green Building Council. It currently is one of just a few LEED Platinum-certified hotels in the world, and with revPAR commensurate with its market-leading luxury positioning. How it was developed and how it is operated are the subjects for another story. Suffice it to say that the 72 geothermal wells, 972 solar panels, the materials used in construction, and the green operating practices all speak volumes to its extreme eco-sensitivity. But that’s not what this is about.

It’s about marketing and the consumer response to green luxury. When MTM Luxury Lodging, now part of the Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels by Benchmark Hospitality International, opened Hotel 1000 in Seattle in 2006, the property began as the most technologically-advanced hotel in the world. Hard to believe, but true nonetheless. The PR, as a result, was phenomenal. When MTM opened The Liberty Hotel in Boston, the story there was the conversion of an 1851 iconic county jail into a luxury hotel, and again, the PR was phenomenal.

First Market Focus on ‘Green’

In 2009, Bardessono’s opening PR thrust was its greenness, the result being much more media attention than what just another new luxury hotel would garner. We were an instant hit among environmentalists. Groups and individuals, rooted in environmentalism, all came to see us. Good for occupancy. Not as good for ADR.

Within a year, it became crystal clear to us that our lead story might not be the right one for our targeted customer. With our “in-your-face” approach to marketing our greenness, we lost sight of the need to focus on our location, extraordinary luxury, and staff ratio of two per room and the resulting attentive service we consistently deliver. Some prospective guests, used to the finest things in life, were stuck in the conventional wisdom at the time that green and true luxury are mutually exclusive. They conjured up visions of minimalism and discomfort. In some respects, the initial media attention we received for our greenness worked against us. Our guests seek a great hotel experience first, and can get one at comparable rates elsewhere. Our “value add” to them is the knowledge that the carbon footprint they leave behind in Napa Valley is about half the size it would be at another hotel.

So into and throughout 2011, our marketing and its messaging was all about being a world-class hotel. Our greenness has become a secondary message….an “oh, by the way…we’re one of the greenest luxury hotels in the world, as validated by our LEED Platinum certification.” The customer response has been excellent as evidenced by Bardessono being named by TripAdvisor the #1 Hotel in America for “Relaxation and Spa,” and the #5 Hotel in the World.

While the green message is secondary, it is still an important one. When groups and individuals are weighing their options with respect to the Napa Valley’s finest lodging, those with even a shred of an environmental conscience choose us. A good example being an “A list” film celebrity, who wanted to do her latest movie media launch in Napa Valley, and when she learned about our eco-sensitivity she chose us because of her strong environmental awareness and support for like-minded organizations.

Getting a Feel for Guest Desires

While our guests are here, we subtly make them aware of their support for the environment by association with discreet physical messaging, as well as staff dialogue. When we pique their interest, we can go into the role of being “full on” educators. If we sense disinterest, we move off the subject of the environment and move on to what we believe will interest them. Most often wine and food. Go figure.

The moral of this is remarkably simple. Know your prospective and existing customers. Market to them as individuals— not as market segments. Promote your hotel on the basis of its merits and what each of your customers wants and needs, either consciously or sub-consciously. Your greenness is a value-add, and is appealing to more and more travelers. Its ability to drive revPAR is increasing.

But in our world, it’s all about luxury first—how we market it, then how we deliver it. This is the foundation upon which Benchmark Hospitality’s Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels is built. Being green is increasingly good for business, and much more importantly, it’s good for the world in which we live.

Jim Treadway serves in the dual roles of vice chairman of Benchmark Hospitality International’s Advisory Board and general manager of Bardessono in Yountville, Napa Valley, California, one of Benchmark’s Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels properties. Previously founder and chairman of MTM Luxury Lodging, he is well known and respected in the hospitality industry for his 23 years with Westin Hotels and Resorts, at which he rose to the position of president of the North American Division.

Go to the Bardessono Hotel, Restaurant, and Spa.

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