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Rethinking the Hotel Experience
Sarah Rich, 12 Dec 06
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When traveling, it's generally good to adopt a "You can't always get what you want" attitude. Even in the most luxurious multi-star hotels, the carefully calculated atmosphere has been created to please a broad swathe of travelers, and there's bound to be something that just isn't quite right for you.

If you're a green-minded globe trotter (oxymoron aside), then a hotel is almost certainly going to raise a few gripes -- new [bleached] sheets and towels every day, a million tiny plastic shampoo bottles, excessive climate control, lots of lights -- it's a throw-away-and-start-over-fresh business.

There are some token efforts being undertaken by a number of hotels, budget and luxury alike, to conserve water and energy; but a wholesale reconsideration of hotel design and operations will be necessary in order to take the industry from one of continuous waste to one of earth-conscious comfort.

Archinect recently pointed to two juxtaposing articles about the future of the hotel business through 2007. The industry management journal, Hotel & Motel, is placing their bets on a greening trend, while the New York Times predicts a return to lavish excess.

From Ft. Lauderdale to Vegas, you can find hotels that deal in both arenas by offering eco-savvy luxury. But organic bath products and bamboo floors don't amount to a sustainable hotel. The Hotel & Motel article argues for consideration of people and surroundings, including hotel employees and neighboring residents. Particularly in areas where a luxury hotel sits within the boundaries of a struggling city, it may become more popular in the coming year for those establishments to offer guests a means of interacting with and contributing to the community and environment they're visiting. This falls somewhere at the intersection of eco-tourism and travelers' philanthropy, offering varying degrees of engagement for people who want to feel like their presence isn't a net negative on the town where they're staying.

Besides active contributions to the community, several people in the article cited evolution in hotel design as leaning toward a mixed-use model, including bigger central spaces that facilitate social interaction, and employing new technologies to improve efficiency.

Like most shifts in practice, it often takes a big leader making a change to cause others to fall into line. Just over a month ago, the giant hotel and resort conglomerate, Starwood, announced the launch of a new brand called "1," which aims to preserve the luxury identity of the umbrella company while taking guidance from the NRDC in building green. And in the great tradition of good green branding, the eco elements will be largely undetectable -- or at least they won't stand in contrast to the sense of luxury.

Guests and residents will not necessarily be conscious of all of the green aspects at "1," but they will be delighted by the richness, beauty and variety of colors, textures and materials. The green theme will only be noticeable to the extent that it will help create a healthy and invigorating environment.

Of course, most of the initial work in greening hospitality remains in the realm of the rich. For change to take place in more affordable accomodations, hotel owners may require incentive that goes beyond knowing that their clientele will pay for guilt-free indulgence, since drivers like liability and longterm payback on investment do not have the same power in a scenario where guests pass through so briefly.

The Times seems to think that travelers may not be as interested in eliminating guilt from their hotel experince, but it's our belief that the more people see and understand the immediate and dramatic impact of their actions on the planet, the more they will seek ways to get what they want without leaving a wake of waste and harm. Given how many aspects of travel and tourism remain completely unsustainable, it's a long road ahead, but the combined strength of green building and ecotourist alternatives make this seem a likely target for innovative change.

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Where's the oxymoron in being 'a green-minded globe trotter'? Does being a supporter of sustainability require that I don't travel?

Posted by: Darren on 12 Dec 06

Unless you're offsetting carbon emissions from flights, auto, etc. it is nearly impossible to travel in a sustainable manner. I think that is what they meant by the 'oxymoron' commment.

jc - austin, tx

Posted by: jc on 12 Dec 06

Yeah, I suspect that's what was meant too, but it's a pretty narrow-minded approach to travel. What about eco-tourism that supports local peoples and helps protect natural habitats? If one can't be both green-minded and a traveller, this industry ought not to exist.

Posted by: Darren on 12 Dec 06

Sarah, thanks for this post. You might want to check out the efforts of Ted Saunders of Boston. Ted's family, the Saunders Group, owns a number of hotels in the Northeast, and Ted has worked tirelessly to "green" the hotels, increasing the bottom line in the process. He wrote a great book called The Bottom Line of Green Is Black.

Posted by: David Foley on 12 Dec 06

Oh and Darren, take the Ecological Footprint Quiz, then decide if globetrotting is "green".

Posted by: David Foley on 12 Dec 06

In Colorado, Boulder Outlook Hotel and Suites is part of the Eco-Cycle Zero Waste campaign and is the first such ZW hotel in the state.

Posted by: Doug Grinbergs on 12 Dec 06

Eco turism will just be bigger all the time. And I think people would like to have the choice. Just like the simple choice to keep your used towels (by hanging them to dry) or simply throw them on the floor (I would like to have new ones even if it will add to the pollution. I simple choise - at least for myself....

Posted by: David Carlson on 13 Dec 06

I'm sure there's actually quite a few green hotels around. The one in Austin is Habitat Suites. Convenient to my house, so I used it for my wedding guests -- that was three years ago. I couldn't remember their name, so I googled "austin motel green highland" (they're near Highland Mall), and found the Green Hotels Association.

Posted by: ERic on 14 Dec 06

I believe a hotel chain in Sweden, inspired by the Natural Step, strives to be a greener option. Dispensers instead of packaged toiletries, etc. Composting, etc.

Posted by: Holly Robbins on 30 Dec 06



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