Hotels should lead the way in modeling sustainable living habits that are cutting-edge today and hopefully the norm for tomorrow.
During the past few months, I took a detour from my regular calendar of hotel investment conferences and instead attended several events with themes of wellness and sustainability.
These conferences included the Global Wellness Summit in Palm Beach; the Costa Rica Sustainable Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference; and the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Each of these events framed their topics from unique viewpoints, and each provided expert information from different locations along the spectrum of the three pillars of sustainability: persuasive economic arguments, alarming environmental news, and ambitious social goals of channeling an increasing share of the benefits of tourism and tourism-related investments in the destination communities that host travelers.
As a reminder, wellness is typically regarded as the absence of disease, as well as the state of vitality—typically characterized by hope, joy and energy in individuals. My favorite definition of sustainability is “development that meets our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” The link between the two? Wellness is vitality at the level of the individual, and sustainability is vitality at the level of community, environment and even the planet (the oceans and atmosphere). That is, one cannot live optimally well in a community that is depleted, polluted or overly stressed by population and development.
The following are just a few of the key personal takeaways that will remain with me from these recent events.
Green buildings: What’s the big deal?
A study was funded by United Technologies and conducted by a team of researchers from Harvard University, Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical School examining the impact of green buildings on cognitive function. Results published in October 2015 and reported by The Washington Post, found “quite a strong link between the two variables under examination—office air quality (determined by the mix of gases in the air and the amount of ventilation) and cognitive performance,” wrote Joseph G. Allen, the study leader at Harvard.
“We saw a doubling of cognitive performance scores in the environments that started with a green building,” he wrote.
Couldn’t business hotels differentiate their brands with not just a good night’s sleep but better performance during the day from better air at night? Whether or not for marketing purposes, isn’t providing a superior indoor climate within the charter of what the lodging industry aims to provide? Unlike the gym or enhanced fit menu choices, higher performance air and ventilation affect everyone who works and stays in the building.
Most green building standards focus on the sustainability of the construction and operating systems in terms of reducing carbon footprint. But sustainability is not just a resource minimization exercise. When combined with the social and economic benefits of a more effective workforce and sharper traveling guests, the cost-benefit analysis quickly tilts investment decisions from “no-go” to “go.”
One of the keynote speakers at the Costa Rica conference was Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau. Part of his presentation was directed at one of the leading sources of plastic in the oceans that becomes toxic fish food or just trash. I was not aware that in the United States we dispose more than 500 million single-use plastic straws per year—equal to approximately one full garbage truck per minute. In addition to bamboo and paper, there are many alternatives to plastic straws.
The lodging industry can certainly have an impact in reducing plastic straw waste and educating guests that there are alternatives they can use going forward.
Once sensitized to sustainability issues, I increasingly notice the cost of seemingly worthless business processes in our industry.
Almost every hotel asks for my email address at registration if they don’t already have it. When I left the Sustainable Investment Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, and checked out of the hotel the next morning, there was a two-page invoice from the hotel slipped under my door during the night. I belong to the hotel brand’s loyalty program, so they have my email address. I didn’t ask for the invoice, and I’m less likely to lose it if it is sent to my email. For a typical 200-key hotel with 75% occupancy and a three-day average length of stay, a typical 1.5-page invoice printed for each stay consumes 36,500 sheets, or more than 75 reams of paper per year.
Most airlines print and attach “priority” bag tags to the checked baggage of their loyalty program elite status members. As an “executive-level” flyer, I have seen these tags attached to my luggage when I travel with too much for carry-on. I also know from my experience with my preferred airline, that there is no correlation between my bags’ position in the unloading process and the presence of a priority tag. I have had my “priority” bags come out of the conveyor near the end of the batch as frequently as I have had them delivered at the front of the pack. Between One World, Star Alliance and SkyTeam airlines, approximately 38,000 flights per day are flown. If just 25 bags per flight have priority tags, the annual number of tags used would be in excess of 345 million, just to give frequent flyers the feeling, if not the experience, of receiving preferential treatment.
For at least two generations and perhaps longer, the excitement that many travelers associate with hotel stays is partly due to the aspirational lifestyle they often represent. As hotels are heavily utilized environments, they are renovated and refreshed more often than most people’s homes. Therefore, they often feature the cutting edge of design, décor and residential technology. This tradition can be continued with hotels leading the way in modeling sustainable living habits that are cutting-edge today and hopefully the norm for tomorrow.
Andrew Cohan, MAI, is managing director of the Horwath HTL office in Miami primarily serving Florida and the Caribbean Basin. A seasoned hospitality professional with extensive real estate, marketing and account management skills in North and Latin America, Andrew has consulted for leading branded management companies such as Canyon Ranch, Six Senses, Montage, Solage and Bulgari. He has extensive experience with health and wellness resort properties and has performed numerous feasibility studies for planned resorts in the Caribbean and Central America. He especially enjoys working on greenfield projects, teaming with land planners to determine the optimal resort configuration in order to fit market demand with destination and site attributes. As health and wellness have moved from the margins of the industry to become important components of mainstream hospitality projects, Andrew’s expertise has been in demand to conduct an increasing number of assignments for proposed resort properties, particularly as the industry recovery continues to strengthen in Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico and the “sunbelt states” in the United States. Acohan@horwathhtl.com; 305-606-2898
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