Get On the Green Bandwagon

I got religion last month in Dallas. The source of my epiphany wasn't a tent revival or other house of worship; it was the Green Hospitality Conference, a first-time event produced by Lodging Hospitality and Ray Burger, proprietor of Pineapple Hospitality and the head cheerleader for the concept of green hotelkeeping.

It's this evangelical fervor that informs Burger, whose firm markets a variety of energy-efficient and otherwise-green operating products to hotels. But Ray's not a huckster; he firmly believes in his cause, but not in a way that is off-putting or patronizing. He's convinced, as I've become, that sustainability will be one of the most important trends driving the hospitality industry in the years to come.

The one-day conference, positioned immediately before LH's Strategic Conference on Hospitality Operations and Technology, was held at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. While it's not the greenest hotel in the industry, you couldn't tell from the enthusiasm shown by conference speakers and attendees alike. As with any nascent movement, green hospitality has an insiders', preaching-to-the-choir kind of vibe to it. As a result, everyone in attendance, and especially the speakers, were more than willing to share their insights, practices, problems and solutions to anyone who would listen. They believe in the green movement because it's right for their companies, right for the industry and right for the world.

As a result of our friendship, I'm now part of Ray's e-mail chain, in which he periodically sends tips, examples, aphorisms and other information on the efficacy of green hotelkeeping. In one recent missive, he implores me (and others on his list) to encourage hotel owners to switch all their incandescent lightbulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs. And while the initial cost of the fluorescents are more than standard incandescent units, he says the industry can save a stunning $147 million annually in energy costs by going fluorescent.

This illustration goes to the heart of the argument for green hotelkeeping. Sure, it's the right thing to do, but it is also the best business decision, particularly in the long run. Not all opportunities to switch to green products or practices pay off like the lightbulb example, but many do yield cost savings and, perhaps more importantly, produce vast quantities of goodwill.

An increasing number of hotel guests actively seek properties that are environmentally responsible, and some meeting groups will only select green hotels for their events. A new poll done by Orbitz reinforces this point. According to the survey released earlier this month, 67 percent of those surveyed say the eco-friendliness of a destination is important to them when they book a trip. A similar percentage of travelers say they're more likely to stay at a hotel that uses solar or wind energy to supplement its power supply.

Even if you think (wrongly, in my opinion) that global warming is bunk, you need to face the fact that “green” is here. Even the hotel business, typically one of the last industries to embrace change, increasingly realizes that operational efficiencies can be attained, guests can be satisfied and good deeds can be done by adopting many of the principles of sustainability.

We plan to host an expanded Green Hospitality Conference next year, and we hope the enthusiasm and response to this year's event carry over. But next March is a long way away. You as hotel owners and operators need to immerse yourselves in the principles of green hotelkeeping and how they may apply to your operations. And to help you, we at Lodging Hospitality will be devoting more space to the topic in coming issues.

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