Talking Point: Encouraging Sustainable Guests

Can you engage holiday guests on sustainability issues?

Can you engage holiday guests on sustainability issues?

Green Hotelier Talking Point

With the holiday season approaching, our Talking Point for July looks at the issue of engaging guests on sustainability. Opening the subject is freelance journalist and blogger Joanna McCaffrey who works as F&B Guest Relations Executive at the Connaught and has some suggestions on how hotels can put their guests in a green frame of mind.

Going away on holiday, everyone’s keen to leave their problems and worries behind. We hope to be footloose and carefree.

For hotels this makes it difficult to ask guests to keep global sustainability issues in mind without ruining their stay.

As a regular hotel guest, my view is the best way to lead is through example. This applies not only to employees but also to guests. There are many things you are likely to be doing that earn green credentials; from composting, through eco-toiletries to shower flow regulators. Why not let guests know?

A simple information sheet informing guests of your sustainability efforts should be included in the information pack and may incline guests to think twice. List your activities and why you undertake them, what are the current results (reduction in waste, water usage, CO2 emissions) and what are your plans for the future? If the hotel is situated in a beautiful corner of the world, why not remind guests that the fragile eco-system may not survive if efforts are not taken to preserve it.

There’s a simple solution to the bottled water problem: offer guests tap water first and only if rejected present a selection of bottled waters. It’s a controversial step as it infringes on profits; tap water having famously high margins. But it’s an easy way to prove to guests your commitment to sustainability. A lot of guests would be happy to drink tap water, but are not sure if it is drinkable or are embarrassed to ask for it in a posh hotel restaurant. A clear information placed by taps and waiters offering tap water would send the right message. is a not for profit organisation promoting drinking of tap water in the UK. Others include Blue W in Canada, Tap It in America, De Dopper, jointhepipe and We Tap Water in Holland. All of these organisations provide maps of local businesses offering to fill reusable bottles with tap water for free and therefore help reduce the waste and emissions produced by bottled water.

If infrastructure and terrain permits, offer bikes or promote use of bicycle hire schemes (like Barclays Cycle Hire in London) as a sustainable means of transport and sightseeing. Present cycling as an advantage. It brings guests closer to the local population, and the slower pace gives them a better chance to appreciate local attractions. It gives guests the feel of the local atmosphere and pace of life. To help encourage bike use, offer a map of local bicycle paths and picturesque picnic spots (naturally you can offer to prepare a picnic basket for the guests).

With 1.087 billion international tourist arrivals in 2013 and figures expected to grow, pollution created through leisure travel is high. While tackling CO2 emissions from flights is a big international subject, a small contribution from guests can be using group airport transfers. Obtain flight details and offer a group transport with other passengers arriving or leaving at similar time. Yes, some guests may have to wait a short while for others to get through security, but the lower cost compared to a cab journey may make it attractive to a money conscious traveller.

Temptation is something most people find hard to resist so it’s a great tool to encourage them to do something! If you use local (and organic) food suppliers, make sure your diners know this. If your chefs offer guests a delectable meal, this will help show them that fresh local produce is worth buying.

The toughest challenge is faced by luxury and spa hotels. High energy use is encrypted in their facilities: saunas, air-conditioning, mounds of towels used for treatments, round-the-clock kitchens. Guests expect that. They choose these hotels to be spoiled and pampered, they don’t want to think about saving the world. They came to wash away the stress of their daily lives and they often don’t care how much water this will take and how many air miles it takes to fly Russian caviar to New Zealand.

Given that the hospitality sector accounts for more than 8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year this has to be addressed. World populations are increasingly aware of global warming and pollution issues. One way forward for the luxury sector is to educate the next generation of guests. Many parents arriving in resorts arrange for their children to spend time in the children’s clubs. Sandos Caracol Eco Resort and Spa in Mexico is among several that offers eco based activities for kids that focus on protecting the environment and interacting with local flora and fauna. If their imagination is captured at such a young age, these children may keep this information as core values and make their future holiday and life choices accordingly.

Remember that hotels wishing to look at the carbon footprint of their guest stays can use the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative tool to first measure and then start to reduce the CO2 footprint of their stay.

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