The hotel sector has been criticised recently for asking guests to adopt cost-saving practices by dressing them up as sustainability initiatives. So what shouldÂ hoteliers do?
Hotels are big users of energy and water. Or, rather, their guests are.
That consumption translates into significant running costs, which hoteliers are forced to pass on to their guests or forego a slice of their profits through no fault of their own.
It’s entirely acceptable then for hotel owners to encourage their guests to be less wasteful so that it’s possible to continue offering reasonably priced accommodation.
If they can also encourage sustainable behaviours at the same time, so much the better.
The problem is that, according to recent research, guests are put off when they feel that hotels promote ‘green’ practices purely to safeguard profits.
‘Greenwashing’ dirties hotel reputations
Writing in the Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Washington State University hospitality researchers Imran Rahman, Jeongdoo Park and Christina Geng-qing Chi investigated the consequences of ‘greenwashing’ in the hotel sector.
They surveyed over 3,000 hotel customers to see whether recognising a hotel’s hidden profit motive caused them to be sceptical about the hotel’s environmental claims, if it influenced their participation in environmental programmes (such as linen and towel reuse) and whether they’d visit the hotel again in the future.
They found that recognition of self-serving motives made guests sceptical and reduced participation levels in ‘green’ programmes. Crucially, they found it also meant they were less likely to stay at the same hotel again.
Christina Geng-qing Chi, one of the researchers, says that as well as recognising self-serving motives, guests may also be sceptical of hotels that fail to integrate sustainability practices throughout the entire establishment – for instance, asking guests to reuse towels where they can to cut down on energy and water use, but then not making recycling bins available.
Embedding sustainability in the hotel industry
Considering that some research suggests consumers may be willing to pay more to stay in hotels with a strong commitment to sustainability, there is a compelling reason to embrace sustainable practices properly whilst improving customer loyalty.
Here are 5 tips on how to do that:
1. Be transparent. Explain to guests that you’re genuinely trying to reduce your environmental impacts, and theirs, but be upfront about the savings to your business and how you use them to improve the quality and comfort of people’s stay, whilst remaining price competitive.
2. Show them the money. Highlight what it costs to leave the bedroom lights on for an hour every morning whilst they’re at breakfast, or how much more expensive a bath is compared with a shower. Show them the environmental costs too.
3. Play your part. If you’re asking your guests to behave in a ‘green’ manner, it’s important they see you doing your bit too. Lead from the front and show them that you’re not expecting them to make all the effort.
4. Share the value of any savings. Offer discounts to guests that, on check-in, commit to reusing towels and bed linen on stays of more than one night for example. Let them share the savings they make on your behalf – they’ll appreciate how it translates into value for them.
5. Reward the right behaviours with a prize draw. Monitor your environmental performance and if you hit your targets, put all the guests that stayed with you in that period into a prize draw to win a free 2 night stay.
You’ll find this last tip about a prize draw is genius, because it will do several things:
Firstly, it will encourage guests to participate in your green initiatives for the duration of their stay – everyone likes to be in with a chance of winning something. Secondly, it will create regular PR opportunities for you to share, and will likely encourage guests to give your establishment a positive review on online ratings sites like Trip Advisor so that you benefit from word-of-mouth promotion. And, thirdly, even though you’re giving away some free accommodation, the likelihood is your returning guests will spend money with you in the bar, restaurant or even just the mini-bar.
But before you rush off and implement this amazing idea though, remember that there’s a reason it appears last in our list of tips; you have to do the other stuff first, and get that right, or a prize draw competition will be greeted with scepticism too.
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