Talking Point: Hotels Can Take Bigger Strides to Cut Water Use

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Can towels be a part of a hotel's sustainability message to guests?

World Water Week is fast approaching when experts gather in Stockholm to discuss the impending water crisis and what needs to be done to tackle it. Towel re-use programmes are all very well but in this Talking Point, Jonathan Benjamin, global president of Xeros says, as a high water consuming industry, the hotel sector needs to do a lot better.

According to the Guardian article by Richard Hammond, ‘Why sustainable tourism is the travel industry’s duty’, the sector as a whole is not particularly kind to the environment, to say the least. Airlines, hotels and their associated suppliers generate huge amounts of waste and pollution, accounting for 5% of global emissions.

Whilst ecotourism is a growing trend with thousands of people each year opting for holidays that have a reduced carbon footprint, the vast majority of people don’t actively seek out these sorts of holidays. Rather, most people are aware of the need to ‘be green’ and care about the environment but they expect airlines and hotel companies to lead the way in terms of helping them fulfil this.

Many hotels have embraced towel reuse schemes, which certainly help establishments save water and energy. Results from a recent survey by Xeros showed 85% of people reuse towels because they care about the environment. However, there are much bigger strides hotels can take in terms of their approach to saving water, energy and waste but still boost customer satisfaction.

Simple ways to reduce water consumption include dual-flush toilets, lo-flo taps and aerator shower fittings. Hotels can ensure housekeeping teams flush toilets only once and kitchen staff know not to leave taps running. Clever landscaping can reduce the need for watering and hotels can collect rainwater run-off to irrigate plants. Greywater harvesting can turn shower water into water for flushing, and leftover drinking water can be deployed in cleaning cycles.

Undoubtedly laundry is a heavy water use area of the hotel, but there is an opportunity to combine laundry with a water saving message for guests to consider the environment.

Savvy hoteliers should consider rethinking the role of towels in their overall brand story. Towels are a relatively unexplored branding touch point in the customer journey – they have the potential to be an emotional tipping point turning a visitor into a loyal customer.

Encouraging guests to reuse their towels undoubtedly has an impact on a hotel’s bottom line as well as the environment. But introducing eco-friendly laundry facilities goes that extra step and is something to really shout about when it comes to telling your hotel’s brand story.

Xeros’ survey showed 77% of people said that when choosing a hotel, they actively search for places that have eco-friendly laundry facilities.

Whilst traditional washing machines rely on high temperatures and harsh chemicals to get fabrics clean, Xeros’ polymer beads help reduce chemicals and water footprint. The Hilton Los Angeles reduced water consumption by 83% as Xeros uses two litres of water per pound of laundry, compared with 12 litres per pound in a traditional washer. The hotel reported annual savings of £15,698, but with California in the midst of a drought, the water saving helps make the hotel that much more sustainable.

Steve Thompson, director of property operations, Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City, said, “The Xeros system is the exact type of solution that many businesses in California need, as it helps to significantly reduce water while improving our laundry cleaning capabilities.

“We are doing our part to meet the state’s water restrictions, and we are actually able to improve our customer experience by providing cleaner linens.  It’s a win-win situation no matter how you look at it.”

Hotels can take lots of practical actions to reduce their water footprint but guests are a big part of the story. In some countries hotel guests use up to ten times more water per day than is usual for local people. Encouraging guests to consider the environment, their location and their use of water is an important message hotels can share.

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