Responsible Hospitality in Independent Hotels and Smaller Chains

Large hotel groups are able to put significant resources behind their environmental and corporate social responsibility programmes. However, being small can sometimes be an advantage

There can be no doubt that the corporate social responsibility programmes of large hotel groups have a substantial reach and impact on the local and global environment and upon surrounding communities world-wide. But the collective efforts of smaller scale establishments are no less significant.

In fact in some respects, it is easier for independent accommodation providers and smaller hotel chains to implement environment and social policies.

Consider your strengths
In a smaller establishment decisions such as whether to install energy-efficient lighting, water-saving equipment or even soap and shampoo dispensers can be implemented swiftly and unilaterally by the hotel owner as soon as is practical and affordable. There are few corporate constraints such as the need for branding consistency or co-ordination across the chain. Another advantage is that smaller operators may be more tuned in to the concerns and needs of the community and how best to respond.

The more difficult obstacles for smaller hotels to overcome are the de-motivating forces of lack of time and resources and these are often the reasons given for not addressing environmental issues. However, not only can environmental programmes save money, but they can also free up staff time, particularly when it comes to initiatives such as towel and linen programmes. Susan Biemens of the Bucuti Beach Resort in Aruba says:

“I think the issue for small independent hotels is to educate and motivate those who do not have an environmental programme about how important and simple it is to implement one. We spend a great deal of time on stewardship on Aruba to help solve this issue, both in our industry and for Aruba's residents. There are now eight properties certified as Green Globe 21 in Aruba. None of them are chain-affiliated hotels; they are all individually owned and operated. This applies for the most part throughout the Caribbean -over 60 properties are certified".

Don't 'reinvent the wheel'
A key to success is to remember that you are not the first organisation to introduce an environmental programme and to take advantage of the expertise and assistance that is available externally. This can include sourcing environmental information from the Internet or working with your hotel association (see the case study opposite) and with other hotels in the area by pooling information and resources. Find out whether you are eligible for any incentives that may be offered by your national or local government to encourage businesses to invest in resource-saving equipment.

The New Zealand Government, for example, has recently introduced a NZ$1.2 million project to help tour operators implement sustainable business practices.

Environmental help for small hotel operators in the Caribbean is available from the Caribbean Hotel Environment Initiative (CHEM!), while in the UK there are many regional schemes for hotel and tourism businesses. These include Scotland's Tourism & Environment Forum and, in England, the South East Cornwall Tourism Association's (SECTA) Green Acorn scheme, the Cornwall Sustainable Tourism Project (CoaST) and the Green Tourism Business Scheme (South Hams, Devon) to name but a few. They offer practical help to tourism businesses and run schemes to help visitors and tourists identify more environmentally proactive properties and tour operators.

International and national green tourism certification schemes (such as Green Globe 21 and the VISIT European ecolabel programme) provide tools and support to help tourism businesses to implement environmental and sustainability programmes and achieve high standards.

Another example is South Africa's Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (TTSA) which encourages and publicises fair and responsible business practice by tourism establishments through its TTSA Trademark and by providing links to other international sustainable tourism organisations and resources. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assists trade associations, business development institutions, corporations and entrepreneurs to incorporate sustainability as a core value of any economic activity. UNEP provides technical assistance and supports voluntary initiatives such as the Tour Operator Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development.

In the United States, the Centre on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development, a joint programme of the Institute for Policy Studies and Stanford University, offers conferences, courses, and research projects in Washington and California. Another organisation which can help any business onto a more ecologically, socially and economically sustainable path is The Natural Step (TNS) which is backed by an international network of sustainability experts, scientists, universities, and businesses in 12 countries.

A particular (and growing) concern for hospitality businesses is keeping up with the seemingly endless amount of environmental and other legislation. Research commissioned in the UK in 2003 by NetRegs (an online service providing free, practical guidance on how to comply with environmental legislation) revealed that many smaller businesses had poor awareness of environmental legislation and wanted more help. The site helps them to stay within the Law and cut their costs in the process. In the USA similar guidance is available through the Environmental Protection Agency's Federal Register of Environmental Documents and, in the Asia Pacific region, through the Regional Institute of Environmental Technology (REIT) REIT offers information on environmental Legislation and other support in Singapore, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

These are just a few suggestions for where to start -more sources of information are listed at the end of this article. On the following pages we look at how various smaller hotel operators have put responsible hospitality into practice by integrating more sustainable thinking into their operations. They are an inspiration to others seeking to do the same.

Case Study
Roteiros de Charme Hotel Association, Brazil

The Roteiros de Charme Hotel Association was set up as a non-profit organisation by five independent hoteliers in 1992. Today the association comprises 42 independent hotels, inns and ecological refuges throughout Brazil. As well as uniting their individual standards of charm, quality of service and comfort, Roteiros de Charme members are committed to preserving the 39 tourism destinations where they are established, including the Atlantic Forest and the Pantanal, by applying the principles of environmental and social responsibility.

In 1999, the association developed and adopted a voluntary Ethics and Environmental Code of Conduct in close co-operation with UNEP's Tourism Programme. The code (which is independently monitored) set an important benchmark for biodiversity conservation and destination quality in Brazil. Its implementation has helped reduce pressures and impacts by:

  • preventing pollution from untreated sewage, depletion of fresh water supplies, and contamination of waterways and marine environments
  • reducing the generation of solid waste and inappropriate waste disposal
  • preventing loss of habitats and pressures on fauna and flora
  • strengthening public awareness of biodiversity issues for guests, staff, local inhabitants, authorities and businesses • supporting conservation projects for endangered species
  • preventing inappropriate design, building and land-use
  • promoting sound guest consumption patterns
  • supporting protected areas and biodiversity corridors such as the creation of private reserves.

Members of Roteiros de Charme are helping to improve the quality of life within local communities through, for example, initiatives concerning marine aquaculture, reforestation, horticulture and recycling. Financial awards are provided to staff from environmental savings generated in the hotels and by local community projects. The association also provides guidance to hotels that would like to join, but do not yet meet its social, environmental or service quality criteria.

Monica Borobia, Roteiros de Charme's Environment Director, says: "We believe that the sustainability of our initiative comes from three key elements: training and education, monitoring and evaluation and the building of partnerships.

These remain crucial objectives for us to attain results and achieve tourism development that is truly sustainable. We have found that engaging the families of hotel staff is very effective in building environmental awareness and establishing ties with local communities. By applying environmental management practices and continuously monitoring their impact, we have built up a knowledge-base and a feedback mechanism which are essential for the credibility and sustainability of our work.

Equally important is to establish and expand alliances. Partnerships allow for strengthening of activities, breaking down barriers among stakeholders, minimising duplication of efforts and devising alternative solutions to common problems". She adds: "In 2003 we signed a memorandum of co-operation with UNEP for the development of sustainable tourism, which has been recently renewed for another two years".


Case Study
Best Western Premier Hotel Victoria, Freiburg, Germany

Since 2004, the 63-room Hotel Victoria has been marketed under the Best Western brand -one of the largest 'chains' in the world.

However, as with other Best Western hotels, the property is independently owned and run.

Apart from meeting common criteria such as electronic locking systems and standardised television sizes, its owners Bertram and Astrid Spath take their own management decisions.

Last November, the Hotel Victoria won the chain-affiliated category in the International Hotel & Restaurant .Association (IH&RA) 2004 Environmental Awards. The theme for the awards was 'Innovation in Environmental Best Practice', something to which Astrid and Bertram are deeply committed in their pursuit of environmentally friendly, modern and sustainable management.

The hotel purchases electricity generated by renewable resources.

In addition, solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels generate 7,000 kWh electricity a year (enough to supply a quarter of the rooms). Central heating and hot water are supplied by solar thermal panels and supplemented by a 300kW boiler.

This system burns pellets made from dried compressed sawdust (a by-product of sustainable timber production)' saving 50,000 litres of heating fuel a year. In addition to energy saving bulbs, motion detectors and 'fuzzy Logic' mini-bars that use 30% less energy, the hotel has fitted water-saving equipment automatic dosing for cleaning agents and refillable dispensers for soap and shower gel. Meat bread, eggs, milk and other produce are sourced from local farmers.

A solar powered vehicle is available for guests to hire or they can use one of the hotel's three bicycles. Employees are given season tickets for unlimited free travel on local transport and guests are also offered free public transport within a radius of 40km. Environmental progress is continuously monitored and reviewed against targets by independent consultants who advise on ways to improve performance.

Astrid says: "We actively involve our staff and our guests and remain open to both criticism and suggestions and to exploring new avenues, while preserving what has already been achieved.

As a model environmentally friendly hotel we wish to encourage others to follow our example. This applies to other hotels, suppliers, guests, partners, neighbours and companies".

To this end, Astrid and her team frequently conduct tours of the hotel's environmental features for professional groups, visitors and guests. The Hotel Victoria is also actively involved in various research and development projects with Stuttgart University, Renewable Energy for Sustainable Tourism (REST), the Staudinger Comprehensive School in Freiburg and a shareholding in a hydroelectric project.

"It was a great honour for us to win the IH&RA award" says Astrid. Through a meeting with all Best Western directors and owners and via the chain's software they will be sharing their environmental expertise with over 4,000 other Best Western hotels worldwide. Objectives for the future include working with the Fraunhofer Institute to develop a solar air-conditioning system and installing 'green roofs' on all three roofs.

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Case Study
Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Costa Rica, Central America

Set in a private nature reserve that extends over 1,000 acres of CentraL America's Last remaining Lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, Lapa Rios Ecolodge overlooks the point at which the Golfo Dulce meets the Pacific Ocean. It is a perfect destination for people who are open to learning about conservation, culture and biodiversity, with activities such as rainforest hikes, bird watching, ocean kayaking, horse riding, catch-and-release sport fishing, surfing or camping overnight in the jungle.

In 2003, the Lodge received 'five leaf accreditation from Costa Rica's tourism ministry under its Certification for Sustainability in Tourism (CST) programme. CST is internationally recognised for its rigorous sustainability criteria, and the five Leaf achievement is the highest level possible. The only other Costa Rican property to have met this standard is the boutique hotel Finca Rosa Blanca in San Jose.

Lapa Rios is the vision of John and Karen Lewis from Minnesota, USA who, between 1990 and 1992, sold everything in order to purchase a large tract of rainforest and build a small supporting tourism project.

The Lapa Rios reserve is connected through a corridor with Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula and, thanks to a land easement being negotiated with The Nature Conservancy and Cederena (an Ecuador-based NGO)' the rainforest will be preserved. This is the first arrangement of its kind in Costa Rica and, once it comes into effect (hopefully in Late 2005)' will set a precedent for the future. The accommodation was designed to harmonise with its surrounding forest and beach environment. The main Lodge and 16 private bungalows line three ridges connected by paths and steps.

Each of the bungalows has an indoor solar and gas-heated shower, a private garden shower and a Large deck overlooking the rainforest and the Pacific Ocean. Built over 350 feet (107 metres) above the sea, Lapa Rios catches the cooling tropical breezes and thus avoids the need for air-conditioning. Like the bungalows, the Lodge (which houses the restaurant and bar) is built using local natural materials. Palm-thatched roofs meet a three-story hardwood circular stairway which ascends 50 feet to provide views of the forest canopy and the ocean. The bamboo furniture is all made by local craftspeople.

The Lapa Rios Ecolodge project strives to show that 'a forest Left standing is worth more than one cut down'. Winner of many awards, it employs only people from the local community (around 50 in total) and is committed to environmentally sound practices. A

In the same time, the resort aims to provide its clients with the highest Levels of service and comfort possible, within the confines of its situation in one of Costa Rica's most remote and isolated areas and its commitment to work exclusively with a local workforce. Training is largely 'on-the-job', with additional regular sessions in areas such as hygiene, service excellence, wines and sustainability carried out through a specialist consultancy.

A thought-provoking list of 'good environmental habits to take home' has been produced to help guests change their living standards and 'become models to lead a cleaner and less contaminating life'. The list is also available on the Lapa Rios website.

Case Study
Primrose Valley Hotel, St Ives, Cornwall, UK

As a partner in a small10-bedroom hotel situated less than a minute from a European Blue Flag beach, Andrew Biss, owner of the Primrose Valley Hotel in St Ives, Cornwall is in no doubt that they have a responsibility to the locality. However, despite his best intentions, the greatest obstacle to becoming an icon of environmentally friendly tourism is often time, or the lack of it. "There never seem to be sufficient hours in the day between the physical side of cooking, cleaning, maintenance and meeting, greeting, serving, informing, marketing, PR, website development paying bills, staff wages, VAT, cashflows, development plans and finding a plumber or plasterer. It's easy to see why the quick option is so often taken", he says.

Nevertheless, the hotel has committed to several environmental measures over the past three years. "We do use local suppliers and manufacturers wherever possible" Andrew explains. "Although this sounds simple in theory, sometimes there are difficulties. The vast majority of our suppliers are in Cornwall and the next county, Devon. However, the produce they supply is not necessarily within these borders. Whilst cost is a factor, we never advocate the cheapest option and it is often worth spending a little more to deliver better quality. I remember trying to change our breakfast jams to a Cornish producer, but my phone calls were never returned. A Cornish hand-made soap company made no reference on their labelling to the ingredients, which is important to us in terms of guest perception.

We also had a fruit and vegetable supplier whose quality varied so greatly that we couldn't continue using them. However there are some local heroes such as the company who made all our new oak and walnut dining tables to our specification at a cost that was comparable with larger national companies. We are finally at a stage where we are very happy with our suppliers and their produce and I would say that we now source 90% from within Cornwall."

"Because we used to pay for every trade bag of waste we produced it seemed logical to pay a contractor to recycle it instead. Now we recycle 60-70% of our waste. We probably pay slightly more and have to store the bags because the collection is only once a week but we believe it is worth it. Our room information also invites guests to recycle their rubbish such as newspapers and magazines in order to keep it out of landfills".

"We introduced a towel and linen programme which dramatically reduced the amount of laundry each day. However, there is a paradox in that having saved huge amounts on bathroom laundry; our new power-showers pushed our water bills up by over 100%. Nevertheless, there is a net benefit in terms of cost time saved and guest satisfaction. Let's face it the vast majority of guests are happy that you are have some environmentally-friendly policies, but when they have travelled up to eight hours to reach us and the excuse we use for a pathetic shower is our championing of water conservation, I can't see them coming back or recommending us to friends!" he says.

All toilet cisterns are the smaller European size with dual flush that save up to six litres (per flush) and information is offered on alternatives to car use. The hotel is also a major sponsor of 'International Reef Clean Up Day' on Porthminster Reef under the auspices of the Marine Conservation Society each September when teams of local divers clean up accumulated rubbish from the seabed. Now that it is threatened from over fishing, cod has been taken off the menu and local non-trawled alternatives are offered whenever possible.

Andrew and his colleagues are pragmatic about the conflicts thrown up by trying to be both environmentally proactive and to become one of the best small hotels in St Ives, so they aim to be environmentally responsible wherever this is possible.

For Further Information Contact
Primrose Online

Case Study
Spier, Stellenbosch-Winelands, South Africa

The 17th Century Spier Estate was purchased in 1993 by the Enthoven family who have restored and extended it. Two businesses have been created -a 155-room hotel and property development with six restaurants, conference facilities, golf course and retail outlets, and a winery with vineyards and a bottling plant. Other business activities include a nursery and the treatment and production of organic waste.

Over the past 12 years Spier's owners have introduced solid waste and waste water recycling, given 65 hectares of land and water to 16 small farmers from historically disadvantaged backgrounds (as part of a broader land reform programme), built a new government primary school for local children and supported a range of community based NGOs.

Their vision was for Spier to become a model of transparency, accountability, corporate governance, citizenship and sustainable development within the private sector, and in 2003, the process of integrating sustainable principles and practices into daily business operations began.

This brief is the responsibility of Tanner Methvin, Director of Sustainable Development. A set of sustainability measure indicators was created in order to measure Spier's economic, social and environmental impact systematically so that the results could be bench marked against South African and other businesses throughout the world.

Over 150 sustainability indicators measure everything from compliance with basic employment regulations and energy and water use to measuring the impact of Spier's HIV / AIDs prevention and treatment initiatives. Stakeholders across the community were consulted in order to determine the most appropriate indicators against which goals could be set.

These goals include the targets to purchase 50% of goods and services from local businesses, 30% from black-owned and operated businesses, and 50% from small medium and micro-enterprises. They are reported on as part of the ongoing management reporting system and staff performance reviews, and published in an annual sustainable development report.

Spier's annual procurement spend of more than R200 million has proved to be an effective tool for change. "Beyond our employment equity and training and development practices, one of the most powerful tools Spier has at its disposal to redress the Legacy of Apartheid is how we spend our money" says Tanner. In 2004 questionnaires were sent out to 357 of Spier Leisure's suppliers. They covered ownership, management and employee numbers and information on skills development procurement corporate social investment occupational health and safety compliance as well as a spectrum of environmental issues.

The results offered a clearer baseline from which to establish future targets that would make a meaningful contribution to job creation and equity. Nine key areas (natural gas, laundry, wood, vegetables, cleaning chemicals, guest supplies, non-perishable goods, building repair, and crafts) were identified that offered the best opportunity of transforming Spier's procurement practices. Since then, Spier has established a craft market on the estate where eight individuals now sell their craftwork. In addition, 50% of all the laundry is now contracted out to a local black-owned business -creating six new jobs -and 25% of the natural gas supply comes from a local black owned business.

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Case Study
The Orchid, Mumbai, India

The Orchid is highly regarded around the world for its leadership in environmental best practice and the Ecotel-certified, 245-room property has won more environmental awards than possibly any other hotel in the world. On joining, staff undergo a six-month programme of environment training, and can only be confirmed in their position once this is successfully completed. Environmental management also forms part of the annual appraisal process. The 'Green Team' comprises 19 members from different departments, who, in addition to taking part in the various programmes, implement and audit the environment practices in their respective departments and conduct training and inspections.

The hotel provides incentives for team members to be environmentally proactive such as giving out T-shirts for clean-up drives, cloth bags as an alternative to plastic ones and cash awards. Green team members are also given the opportunity to represent the hotel at seminars and events with which it is involved.

Team members produce an in-house newsletter called 'The Orchidian', a quarterly publication which includes a special 'green corner'. In their spare time, staff take part in clean-up drives and other activities that spread the message of eco-friendliness and its benefits. Their hard work has brought business benefits. For example, the hotel has a 55.9% repeat clientele made up of more than 3,500 corporate clients and has been able to pay a dividend to its shareholders since it opened as a direct result of its environmental savings. These include an annual saving of Rs. 4,2 million or Rs. 11,416 per day through the use of compact fluorescent lamps alone.

Clothes hangers in the guest rooms are made from processed sawdust whilst pencils and pens are made of recycled cardboard, reprocessed plastic and scrap wood. Plants, instead of cut flowers, are used to bring the rooms alive.

Guests actively support The Orchid's environmental programme in a number of ways: • Within the room the guest can press the Eco-button on the master control panel (which is made of recycled plastic) beside the bed. This raises the air-conditioned temperature by 2°C, thus lowering the energy requirement. The Building Management System (BMS) monitors the number of guests participating in this programme -on average more than 30% of daily occupancy.

  • To reduce waste, newspapers are only delivered to guest rooms (in cloth bags rather than plastic) if they have been requested on check-in, something only half the guests actually want.
  • All the guest rooms contain bins with compartments for recycling.
  • Guests who join the Orchid Evergreen Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programme earn points for qualifying spending in the hotel which they can redeem for rewards such as a package holiday. Alternatively, they can donate them to the 'green account' to help fund and promote eco-friendly causes supported by the hotel.

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Case Study
Bucuti Beach Resort, Aruba, Dutch Antilles, Caribbean

The approach to management at Aruba's Bucati Beach Resort is not only to invest in the latest technologies and equipment to help protect the environment, but also to set standards of environmental stewardship that will influence hoteliers in the Caribbean and beyond.

The resort's environmental ethos is due to the vision of Ewald Biemans, developer, owner and manager of Bucuti, who has always been passionate on the issue, log before it became 'fashionable'. Through his example and leadership, he has installed his concern for nature and its preservation throughout the organisation. Responsible environmental practice is a priority for all staff and they all participate in the programme.

ALL 58 rooms and five suites at Bucuti Beach are equipped with separate waste bins for recycling, energy saving Lamps and water saving toilets, shower heads and taps. ALL the water used in showers, sinks and baths is collected in the grey water recycling system, irradiated by powerful ultra violet (UV) Lamps to eliminate bacteria and then re-used to irrigate the grounds. The gardens are planted with species indigenous to Aruba and are clearly identified for visitors. The island receives minimal rainfall and all water has to be desalinated from the ocean. Although there is no shortage and the quality is excellent the desalination process is costly, energy-intensive and the environmental impacts need to be carefully managed, so there are good reasons for not wasting it. Each day, water consumption is Logged by the chief engineer on a spreadsheet and calculated against occupancy.

Any daily fluctuations in usage can identify a leak or plumbing problem. Water use (including the laundry and the pool) in December 2003 was 484 litres per guest night compared with 508 litres per guest night in December 1998.

All public and back-of-house areas have faucet valves requiring a lever to be activated before water is released to prevent Leaks or wastage from leaving the tap running. Waste water from the toilets flows to the government treatment plant for re-use by businesses and the two golf courses on the island.

Electricity use has been reduced from 23.9 kWh/guest night in December 2003 to 22.1 kWh/guest night in December 2004, due largely to the installation of a new high efficiency air-conditioning unit in the Tara Wing. Similar units are being installed in the main wing and in the offices.

Ewald established an environmental committee within the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association over ten years ago. Through it he has enlisted experts to conduct seminars and create other educational opportunities for his colleagues within tourism so they can learn how to be environmentally responsible. He is also a frequent visitor to the Ministry of Tourism where he Lobbies government for a dedicated effort to preserve Aruba's environment for future generations by changing and enforcing Aruba's Laws.

Beyond the island, Ewalld has spoken at environmental conferences and events throughout the Caribbean for the Caribbean Hotel Association and, most recently, for the Dutch Government during a conference in Trinidad and Tobago in 2004. He also sits on the board for the National Park of Aruba which covers 25% of the island.

Winner of many environmental awards, Bucuti Beach Resort is frequently used as a best practice example for other resorts in the Caribbean, including hotels that are part of large chains. Tours of the resort focusing on its environmental programmes are frequently given to staff from other resort hotels in Aruba and groups of students. Bucuti is a major sponsor of Aruba's Sea Turtle Foundation and Auba's chapter of Widecast, a network involved in sea turtle protection.

The resort also sponsors the island's Reef Care Foundation. Guests are invited to participate in the resort's water and energy-saving programmes, monthly beach clean-ups, back-of-house tours with green team members and focus group meetings. They regularly send in plaudits expressing their enthusiasm for Bucuti's environmental efforts.

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