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Sustainability, Economy Top of Mind at Annual Resort Conference


MCLEAN, VA.—The themes of economic downturn and corporate social responsibility were prevalent during the recent eighth Annual Resort Conference held at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. The event was presented by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and the University of Denver’s School of Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism Management.

Chip Conley, founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, opened the conference with a general session on ways to build loyalty among travelers and employees. “In the era of the Internet, customers have a lot more choices available to them so they are less loyal,” Conley said. “Hotels and resorts must find a way to connect with consumers on a deeper level to build loyalty.”

The conference boasted record attendance of more than 250 resort industry professionals and included sessions on sustainability practices, travel industry research and the use of social media for marketing.

Not Just Another Fad

“I was happy to see the significant focus on sustainable development in this year’s agenda,” said Bruce Hutton, dean of Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. “Sustainability is not another fad that will go away and it’s important for our industry to understand the need to incorporate green practices not just for economic prosperity, but for environmental integrity.”

Resort executives shared ways they incorporate sustainability practices into their properties at a breakout session on the topic of “Embracing the Power of Green to Market Your Resort.” The session included case studies on Mauna Lani Resort in Hawaii and Tiamo Resorts in the Bahamas.

“It’s important to spread the word about your green efforts and continue to raise the bar within the industry to set an example,” said Mark Glickman, director of sales and marketing at Mauna Lani Resort. “When you set an example, green efforts will spread out to the community beyond your resort.”

However, the panelists noted that resorts must make sure they are following true sustainability standards and not just “greenwashing” their efforts. Mike Hartman, owner of Tiamo Resorts added, “Being green has to be authentic, no matter whom the customers are. If a resort makes the claim that they are sustainable, the guests will want to participate in those green practices.”

Will Consumers Pay More for ‘Green’?

Although travelers want to frequent resorts and destinations that are “green,” they won’t pay a premium for sustainable travel, according to Peter Yesawich, president and CEO of YPartnership, who presented findings of the 2008 National Leisure Travel Monitor at a general session during the two-day conference. He also stated that although consumer spending has slowed due to a slumping economy, many Americans are still planning to travel.

“Consumers are more pessimistic in their travel attitudes, especially about the money they have for travel and its affordability,” said Dr. Suzanne Cook, senor vice president, research at the Travel Industry Association. “However, despite all the bad news, consumers are still planning to take a summer trip in the next six months.”

In order to attract consumer dollars, resorts will need to differentiate themselves in the market. “As prices become more transparent,” Yesawich said, “brand clarity becomes more important.”

Go to HSMAI and the University of Denver’s School of Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism Management.