Can you reduce energy but still deliver a luxury service?

Solar panels on the curved roof help heat the pool.

Solar panels on the curved roof help heat the pool.

Green Hotelier Talking Point

Continuing our Talking Point theme for June looking at energy efficiency, today we’re asking how can hotels provide the service their guests’ demand, whilst sticking with their sustainability principles and reducing energy? Pat Smith of Bosinver Farm Cottages thinks she has found a good compromise, but can you reproduce it in your hotel?

Bosinver Farm is very different today to the business we bought 16 years ago. Over the years we have transformed the site into the award winning holiday destination it is now. Our farming heritage means the countryside has always been a valuable asset, and we have been sympathetic to our surroundings in the business choices we have made for the site. However, we eventually got to the point where we had achieved most of the goals we originally set, and it was time for something more challenging.

We have always taken an active role in our local leisure and tourism networks here in Cornwall, and thrive on taking that one step ahead and leading by example. Resource efficiency is key to any business, and for a business like ours, energy is one of the biggest costs. With prices rising, and renewable energy technology becoming more mainstream, we decided it was time to see what we could achieve. With 700+ families a year visiting Bosinver, we felt we were in an ideal position to promote an energy efficient lifestyle, but were also aware, that when people are on holiday, they want to forget about the day to day choices facing them. We wanted to create a project that would inspire, not just our guests, but other local tourism business. With one plot remaining on the site, we aimed high and designed an energy neutral building to level 5 of Code for Sustainable homes.

The result was Lowen. The whole project was managed by local company ZLC Energy Ltd. Working with local architects they were able to run the whole build, including all the renewable energy elements. Lowen is a low energy straw bale build, featuring a ground source heat pump, solar PV and solar thermal technologies. All the fixtures and fittings were carefully sourced to meet strict energy efficiency standards. Our aim was to use ‘alternative’ approaches to create a high spec building, showcasing low energy building principles and living, in a truly desirable style.

It was an ambitious project, and for the first year after completion, we’ll be honest, it took a while to get the lettings to the same level as our other cottages. We didn’t find our market instantly, and we ended up installing a hot tub – not instantly associated with energy efficiency! As business owners, we are passionate about energy efficiency, but we discovered that at the price point of Lowen, it wasn’t a high enough priority for our customers. Compromise was the best way forward, and Lowen has since been booking as successfully as our existing cottages. It has also proven to be a real showcase for our business. We have had several open days for other local businesses to come and learn from our experience, and Lowen has been featured several times in local and national press.

The Lowen project needed compromises to attract guests

The Lowen project needed compromises to attract guests

 

Lowen was a fantastic experience, so when the time came to replace our outdoor pool we were confident to take the same approach with the new project. Our core market is families with pre-school and young children, so the biggest factor in the pool design was keeping it warm – a big energy cost. We again worked with ZLC Energy, who supported us through the whole building project. They gave us all the information we needed to make the best fit business decision, based on both energy costs and energy efficiency, and what our options could be to make changes in the future. The pool is currently run on gas, topping up the solar thermal system installed on our beautiful curved roof. As with Lowen, our intention was to showcase what is possible and inspire local businesses – since our pool build we know of at least two similar businesses locally, who have taken the plunge.

While we don’t currently have any big projects lined up, we are always looking for ways to improve our energy efficiency. We have continued to make obvious changes, such as installing solar PV on our suitable roof spaces, but we are also finding solutions to day to day challenges. With a business like ours, tumble driers are a big energy guzzler. The cost of laundering the towels for a business of our size is prohibitive, so we launder our own – and the weather is often not kind on wash day! Our solution to save energy and reduce costs has been to build a laundry barn with slatted wooden sides for the wind to blow through. Designed to be in keeping with the adjoining 16th century farm house, we and our guests can now dry laundry using zero energy.

Our approach to energy efficiency means we are always looking for ways to reduce our energy, and are currently considering our next steps. We have decided to stick with ZLC Energy as we know we can trust them to give us an honest appraisal of our options. For example, we are considering a gas powered heat pump for the pool, new thermostats on our boilers and swipe cards on the cottage doors. ZLC have explained that we may not make a quick return on some of these choices, so we feel able to evaluate the environmental benefits and return on investment and the best choice for us.

We aim to run a financially prosperous business, while taking as many steps towards energy efficiency and environmental improvements as we can; achieving the Gold Green Tourism Award since 1998.

While our customers don’t explicitly choose our business for its environmental credentials, their experience brings them back time after time, and that is as a direct result of our approach.

It’s important for us that we are pushing ourselves to achieve everything we can as a business: to lead by example, to inspire people by the choices we are making, and openly share our experience. But ultimately, we still have to provide a service that our customers demand. The challenge is in meeting those demands without sacrificing our principles.

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