Hotels turn a darker shade of green


Upscale hotels and resorts have for some time been adopting ‘conservation’ programmes, which could include simple measures such as giving guests the option of not having their laundry changed every day.

However, in the past 12 months or so, according to this year’s ILTM Report, there has been a move to adopt much more serious environmentally and socially responsible practices.
“Whether these are in response to customer demand, or because the companies concerned believe it is the right thing to do is not always clear. But, to give the respective hotels and resorts due credit, the initiatives largely appear to be supplier led,” says the report.
“Although there are too many initiatives to be able to discuss their merits and demerits in this report, it is worth mentioning a few of them. And hotels are not alone in embracing these new initiatives. Within the air transport industry, both legacy airlines and low-cost carriers, as well as private jet companies, have jumped on the carbon offset bandwagon. NetJets, for example, is now charging customers around $5,600 a year to offset their carbon emissions and air partner in the UK has a programme with Sustainable Travel International (STI). STI offers clients the choice of which programmes they want to benefit from their contributions.”
According to the research conducted for this study, some of the more exclusive travel concierge services/companies (such as Earth London and Quintessential) and travel agency networks (Virtuoso) are also taking responsibility for offsetting their customers’ carbon emissions without always passing on the cost. “One of the more recent hotel initiatives is the LHW Green carbon offset scheme paid for by LHW on behalf of its guests, and operated in conjunction with STI. LHW pays 50 US cents to STI for every night’s stay. The programme is in its pilot stage so is currently being kept separate from LHW’s own site to see whether people are actively seeking out green hotel sites.
Given the choice and the fact that there is no increase in rates required of guests, LHW is finding that consumers will invariably choose the carbon offset alternative. But guests do ask how much it will cost and whether their level of comfort will be affected,” the report noted.
Other hotels with good programmes included Six Senses Resorts & Spas, owners of Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, a 65 villa resort that has announced plans to become totally carbon neutral by 2010. By the end of 2007, it plans to have installed projects including a biodiesel plant to convert oil from island coconuts and used cooking oil from the resort into fuel that can be mixed with conventional diesel to power the resort’s two generators.
Soneva Fushi also plans later this year to impose a mandatory surcharge on guests to pay to offset their flight related emissions (on their transfer from the main airport). Working with a non-profit group, Six Senses plans to use the money to build its own emission-offsetting projects, such as a wind turbine in neighbouring India, rather than buying commoditised offsets on the international carbon market.
Hotels are also adopting community support programmes and other initiatives in corporate social responsibility, and the report quotes Marriott Hotels & Resorts as one the leaders in this area.
As to whether the buyer groups were actively promoting suppliers’ efforts to offset their carbon footprint, the evidence came back more negative. About 23 per cent of all the ILTM buyers interviewed in a survey said they did try to promote suppliers’ efforts among their customers, but 77 per cent did not. However, 49 per cent have said they planned to do so.
From the interviews conducted among buyer groups it was apparent that even among some travel agencies and tour operators who sell luxury travel, and who have their own programmes of environmental practices, ‘green travel’  was still not yet commonly used as a marketing tool.
As well as climate change, other issues relating to the environment and social responsibility were identified during the research for this project. Generally, it appeared that luxury travellers were “solid citizens concerned about the local communities in the destinations they visit, and prepared to contribute to supporting impoverished communities, training local employees, providing clean water, and helping fund local health care”.
It became apparent, from the research gleaned,that a significant share of luxury clients – based on at least three continents (Europe, North America and Asia) – tend to think that small-volume upmarket tourism is acceptable and will not damage the environment, or have any negative impact on the culture and heritage of local communities. Instead, they say that the problem comes with mass tourism.
“Some aspects of maintaining the local environment and being ‘socially conscious’ are attractive to luxury travellers – particularly those associated with local culture and communities,” the report said.
“But any practices that involve luxury travellers losing comfort or wasting time during their trip are definitely less attractive. There are some creative ideas about, but the fact remains that luxury travellers are still going to travel to unspoilt destinations, sleep in and use valuable energy resources for air conditioning, and participate in other ‘luxury’ activities, such as enjoying imported food and drink (often because the kind of food they want to eat during a luxury holiday simply is not available in the destination country),” concludes the report.