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What Hotels Should Consider When Joining an Eco-certification Program

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Caroline Dal’lin

In the first half of 2021, we surveyed Bidroom customers about what impacts their travel decision-making process. The majority, 58 percent, said sustainability played a role in this. Fast forward to 2022, and you need only search through the news headlines to see similar surveys from travel platforms, like Booking.com and Expedia, showing how much more significant this trend has become.

And it is significant because climate change is not just a passing trend. It is a pressing issue that needs urgent attention worldwide. Hoteliers and other lodging providers can no longer afford to ignore this from an operational and marketing standpoint, particularly since the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic has passed. It is also likely that green hospitality will be much more regulated in the future.

One of the biggest challenges for hoteliers is knowing where to start and how to improve their eco-practices since the guidance on these is evolving every day. This is where eco-certification programs come in. They are helping to collectively move our industry towards a sustainable future.

What are Eco-certification Programs?

If a hotel or other property type has been designated as “eco-certified”, it means that they have reported earning a voluntary certification from an agency. These agencies include national bodies to international organizations, such as the EU Commission Ecolabel, Green Key Award, and Green Globe, and will assess the property’s sustainability practices using globally recognized criteria and, often, an on-site third-party audit. Generally, these programs incur a fee.

There are now over 200 certification agencies worldwide to choose from, all requiring different levels of investment of time and money. Hoteliers should consider several factors when it comes to picking the right one for them. Above all, they should ensure that they are being transparent, accountable, and genuine throughout the eco-certification process.

Check How the Certification is Assessed

There are many different types of certification systems which is why some may initially find it confusing—some certification agencies even have different levels of participation themselves! Check the specifics of the assessment—verification can be done by the same entity, but it is better to aim for an independent body that conducts an on-site audit.

It is possible for hotels to self-assess themselves against external criteria and self-declare themselves as eco. Some booking platforms may be using this to enlarge their eco-hotel inventory. I would argue that the best way to be transparent to your guests is to aim for third-party certification because this can help increase the customer’s trust in your eco-credentials. Self-assessed sustainable measures are obviously better than none at all but working to global standards will ultimately help consumers make more informed choices about their travel.

Check the Geographical Scope

Geography is an important factor when it comes to choosing an eco-certification for a couple of reasons. International agencies, like Earth Check, have the benefit of being better recognized by a wider range of consumers. Some have a particular regional focus, for example, the EU Commission Label, Fair Trade Tourism which operates in Africa, and Green Key Global, which has a big presence in the Americas. National agencies may be better placed to understand the complexities of the local environment and tourism eco-system that your hotel operates in and assess your sustainable practices accordingly.

Find Out What Criteria It Uses

The fact that there are currently over 200 eco-certification agencies worldwide offers a lot of choice for hoteliers and lodging providers, but it also means there is a lack of standardization across them all—potentially jeopardizing the trust that guests are placing in us. One factor that many have in common is adherence to criteria from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). These are available for the public to view, and in fact, many hotels use these criteria to self-assess before engaging with a certification program. By choosing a program that works with these criteria, we are collectively helping our industry to work towards standardization.

Check if It Takes a Broader View of Sustainability

According to the UN, sustainable tourism should take “full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts.” This means that it is not just the consumption of energy and materials that hoteliers should be monitoring and improving, but a holistic view of its impact on people and the communities around it. Make sure you check whether your chosen eco-certification assesses against this broader definition of sustainability. Green Globe, which measures the sustainability of both the business and its supply chain using nearly 400 compliance indicators, is one example of this. Otherwise, choose any that follow the GSTC Criteria.

Check the Visibility of Your Certification to Guests

Major booking platforms now signpost eco-certified hotels to consumers to help them make more eco-friendly choices. Bidroom introduced an eco-tag program in November, at the same time as Booking.com and Google. Earning the right to display an eco-tag on your booking channels will help keep your property visible and differentiate it from competitors, as well as drive reservation volume. Hoteliers should take note of what eco-certification programs their booking channels are partnered with and whether this will mean they will be designated an eco-tag on their listing. At Bidroom, we’re now moving our eco-tag into a tiered system to distinguish how eco-certifications have been awarded, such as those with an on-site, third-party audit or those using GSTC guidelines.

Weigh the Cost & Time Investment Versus the Benefits

Different certifications will require differing levels of time and money to participate. Ultimately, that’s a decision that will be unique to each business. The benefits of joining an eco-certification are multiple: brand differentiation, getting ahead of regulations, boosting the reputation of our industry, and of course, protecting our planet. It can also have bottom-line savings that should be weighed into your decision making: a study from TUI in 2017 showed that certified properties achieved a 24 percent lower waste volume, 15 percent less water use, 10 percent lower CO2 emissions per guest per night, and higher guest satisfaction overall.

And finally, once you’ve chosen your eco-certification program, one of the most important things you can do is commit to continual assessment and improvement. Best practices in being a sustainable hotelier and lodging provider are changing all the time as our world evolves and keeping fresh and up to date with the latest news—and educating your staff on this, too—is vital.

About Caroline Dal’lin

Caroline Dal’lin is the Commercial Vice President of Bidroom, the world’s first membership-based hotel platform. With a mindset strongly directed towards innovation and sustainability, Caroline leads the Commercial activity and Strategic partnerships at Bidroom and uGO.

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