Home Guest Columns Sustainability is the Core of an Authentic Hospitality Experience

Sustainability is the Core of an Authentic Hospitality Experience

Dina Belon

Hospitality is not just about offering a place to sleep. It comprises the entire experience of travel, from transportation to lodging, dining, shopping and entertainment. Leaders in hospitality recognize a guest’s experience begins when planning their trip, before a single reservation is booked. This is the ideal time to start making an impact on their traveling decisions, and sustainability can and should be a core part of the message to guests.

At Paladino, we approach our work in sustainability through an abundance lens. We first evaluate the abundance of resources and opportunities within an environment or situation to determine the prospect for change and then center a sustainability strategy around these opportunities that creates business value. Within hospitality, we see an industry that is growing and is ripe for change. Sustainability is not an add on, but an integrated decision making process through which the hospitality industry can directly impact their capital investment and operations and achieve bottom line as well as top line growth.

Divya Natarajan

In this post, we explore some of the leading reasons why hotel owners are incorporating sustainability into their design programs and operations and how it makes a difference.

Enhanced Value through Enhanced Guest Experience

The guest experience is at the heart of the hospitality industry. Sustainability features and programs can enhance the guest experience by providing a compelling story that connects the guest more deeply to their environment and community.

A great example of this is The Brando, a unique luxury resort on French Polynesia’s pristine private island of Tetiaroa that successfully positioned itself as culturally authentic, super green and super luxurious. The project combined the owner’s commitment to preserve and protect the natural beauty of the island while providing the phenomenal level of service guests would expect of a first class resort, through integrated design management. The design program utilizes innovative technology paired with the island’s abundant resources, such as a sea water air- conditioning system and renewable solar energy to maintain guest comfort at the highest level in a responsible way. In addition, the guest experience is authentic to the local context by incorporating community and wildlife activities, allowing visitors to connect to the abundances of the property. Incorporating sustainability features and creating a community story impacted not only operations, but also created a powerful brand image.

Economic Impact of Sustainability

It is time to disprove some existing myths related to sustainability in hospitality. The oft heard stories that sustainability is expensive, that guests do not care, and that hospitality can wait to incorporate sustainability can be easily contested.

Through our abundance approach, we recognize that green does not mean less; in fact it actually takes hospitality to the next level. Studies indicate that socially conscious, environmentally friendly companies tend to be more resilient in times of economic uncertainty and often outperform their peers within the market.

Instead of being an added cost, sustainable design and operations have become so ubiquitous that owners and developers are essentially throwing away money when they elect to disregard green building best practices.

For example, the Marriott Marquis in Washington D.C. is embracing sustainability in its operations, and boasts one of the largest stormwater harvesting systems in the district. The system was designed as an integrated solution that addresses stringent D.C. stormwater regulations, provides long-term operational savings and reduces the impact on the city’s sewer system. Noting the abundance of runoff created by the project, a 40,000 gallon cistern was installed to collect stormwater and condensate for reuse as cooling tower makeup and irrigation water. What could have had massive negative impact was instead harnessed to create an upside with the potential to replace 10 million gallons of potable water each year. Additionally, this contributes to $500 K projected energy savings in conjunction with savings from the efficient building systems, which makes a convincing business case for sustainability.

And it’s not just operational cost savings—sustainability generates top line value too. Research shows that when travelers compare similar hotel properties, they pick the one they perceive as more sustainable. A 2013 TripAdvisor report found that 62 percent often or always consider the environment when choosing hotels, and that 69 percent say they plan to make even more eco-friendly choices in the future.

Sustainability is also a top priority today for Fortune 500 companies and is driving corporate travel policies. Measuring and reporting sustainability results is more pervasive than ever before and the hospitality industry is poised to leverage this market shift. When cities, conference centers, and hotels make sustainability a priority, it makes them more desirable as business travel destinations and increases their total addressable market.

By looking at sustainability as an opportunity to make a difference, properties have been able to differentiate themselves and generate the results to prove it.

Walking the Talk—And Proving It

Today, consumers demand authenticity and expect corporations to walk the green talk. It is no longer enough for a brand to say that they are green because they have a towel re-use program. Brands that use “greenwashing” in their marketing messaging without the backing of any meaningful green programs will be called out by guests on social media and sites such as TripAdvisor. Ideally, hotels need to prove the impact of their green initiatives through metrics that are easily accessible and connect to customer values.

However, one of the biggest challenges that the hospitality industry faces is the lack of a common industry standard for measuring the impact of sustainability. There are multiple standards and certifications that cover various aspects of operations and development. But which one is the best? Which one will guests better connect with? With such a diverse number of programs to choose from, owners can select one or build their own programs based on factors that best align with the brand, the investor and guest values.

Brands like Wyndham have established their own comprehensive internal programs to meet their energy, water, and waste reductions goals. By providing brand developers and owners with its Green Toolbox, an internal online environmental management system, plus the ability to link upfront costs to long-term operational benefits, Wyndham has empowered each owner to partake in creating an impact. Beyond the operational benefits, rolling up results can improve business to business, market and investor relations. It also helps create a strong sustainability story that can be communicated to customers, which will help drive demand.

The Opportunity for the Hotel & Tourism Industry

Hotels and tourism destinations that want to optimize their success in the 21st century should be focused on maximizing the abundance of their resources, minimizing waste, and making positive connections in the community and environment we share. We believe that sustainability is not a singularly focused effort but an integrated approach that results in positive impacts for people, planet and prosperity.

To support making this a reality across the industry, Paladino’s hospitality market team plans to develop a series of blog posts to help our readers better keep their finger on the pulse of the latest in sustainability trends and best practices in hospitality.

Please travel along with us as the series develops—we hope some of these ideas may not only inspire you to implement new sustainability initiatives for your properties, but inspire your guests as well.

Dina Belon, LEED AP ID&C, is a director in Paladino’s Seattle office, and Divya Natarajan, LEED AP ID+C, is an associate consultant in Paladino D.C.