Monday, March 30, 2009

LEED Not So Important Now for CityCenter

When Green Lodging News first reported on MGM Mirage's $7 billion CityCenter project more than two years ago (the cost is now up to $8.6 billion), the project was the talk of the lodging industry—not only because of the cost but also because of MGM Mirage's commitment to build the complex to LEED standards. It was almost two years ago that I also had an opportunity to visit the CityCenter sales center. I was impressed with what the builders were doing to recycle construction waste and what MGM Mirage was planning to reclaim water and generate power once the project was completed.

All of that initial talk about LEED just does not seem to matter now, does it? Dubai World, which is a 50 percent partner in the project, recently announced it is suing MGM Mirage amid concerns about the CityCenter project's viability. MGM Mirage, like any other business with a stake in Las Vegas gaming, has been hurting big time lately and is more than $13 billion in debt according to a recent article in The New York Times. MGM Mirage's stock has recently lost 95 percent of its value.

If completed and if it does earn LEED certification, CityCenter could become the largest oxymoron in the history of green building—a "green development" with a mammoth impact on the local environment.

Maybe CityCenter will teach other developers not to take such enormous risks. Good times do not last forever and you have got to prepare for the worst; that is part of what sustainability is all about.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Marriott Hotels to Participate in Earth Hour

Earlier this week, I posted an article on Green Lodging News summarizing how hotel companies around the globe intend to celebrate Earth Hour this Saturday (March 28). I also wrote about Earth Hour in an earlier blog entry. In a press release yesterday, Marriott International announced that it will officially participate in Earth Hour. Kudos to Marriott for joining this celebration. According to Marriott, hundreds of hotels and timeshare units across Marriott's multi-brand portfolio will turn out or dim non-essential lighting for one hour at 8:30 p.m. local time, joining tens of millions of people in more than 2,700 cities worldwide.

"Marriott International's support of Earth Hour is a symbol of the company's commitment to the environment," says Arne Sorenson, chief financial officer of Marriott International and co-chair of the company's Executive Green Council. "Energy efficiency makes good business sense—it saves money for our hotels and their owners, while conserving resources so that we can continue to welcome guests at our hotels worldwide in the long term."

Marriott hotels and their guests will be participating in Earth Hour in a variety of ways. The JW Marriott Hotel Washington, D.C., will dim its lights and host a World Wildlife Fund celebration featuring the organization's CEO Carter Roberts and other dignitaries. In Australia, guests at the Surfers Paradise Marriott will dine on a variety of eco-friendly foods and "carbon-neutral" beverages, while newlyweds and their guests at the JW Marriott Hong Kong will switch off the lights and celebrate their wedding banquet in candlelight.

If you intend to participate in Earth Hour, contact me afterwards to give me your thoughts on the experience. I can be reached at

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

LEED 2009 to Launch April 27, 2009

Those involved in the development or operation of hotels built or renovated to the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards need to be aware of a change coming on April 27. According to the website, it is then when USGBC will launch LEED 2009 (including the new LEED Online). The same date will see the transition of LEED project registration and certification to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the third party that administers the retooled LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) credential.

Projects may be registered under either the new or the old LEED rating system until June 27, 2009, from which point all projects must be registered for LEED 2009. Beginning with the April launch and going through September 27, 2009, GBCI will be encouraging projects registered under the older LEED Online to migrate to the new system. With the administration of the LEED AP credential having transitioned to GBCI in 2008, several versions of previous LEED AP exams will be retired and new versions introduced.

Be sure to visit the USGBC website and Green Lodging News for additional news on LEED 2009.

Monday, March 23, 2009

EcoRooms, EcoSuites Adds Nonsmoking Criteria

Of all of the green lodging certification programs I have run across since launching Green Lodging News in 2006, only one has made "100 percent nonsmoking" a criteria for certification—Green Globe Certification since 2001. Anyone who has read my weekly column on a regular basis knows that I believe that no hotel property can truly be green until it has eliminated tobacco smoke. There are three reasons: first-, second- and third-hand smoke. I believe there are ethical and financial reasons for discouraging first-hand smoke. Even with the help of air filtration systems, second-hand cigarette smoke does not just disappear. Housekeepers are most often exposed to this when they clean guestrooms. In hotel casinos, many other employee types are affected. And, as I wrote recently in one of my weekly columns, third-hand smoke—the chemical residue that remains on room surfaces—can be especially harmful to children.

I just learned from Ray Burger, president of Pineapple Hospitality, that he has made being 100 percent smoke free a criteria for qualifying for his EcoRooms & EcoSuites program. The criteria joins seven others listed on the EcoRooms & EcoSuites website. Congratulations to Ray for taking this important step. I strongly encourage all of those who run state-wide, national and international green lodging programs to follow Ray's lead.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Turn Earth Hour Into Something Bigger

The World Wildlife Fund's third annual Earth Hour will take place on Saturday, March 28 at 8:30 p.m. As you will soon read on Green Lodging News, hotels all over the world will be participating in the event. Properties representing brands such as Westin, Kimpton, Accor, Fairmont, the InterContinental Hotels Group and others will be turning off lights for an hour in recognition of the need to take action on climate change. Even some of the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip will be turning off their lights.

It is exciting to see how many hotel chains are taking Earth Hour seriously. These companies have historically paid a lot of attention to energy management, water conservation and minimizing their overall carbon impact. I am convinced that most of these companies do turn off lights when they can, do retrofit with low-wattage bulbs, do turn HVAC systems down when guests are not present, etc.

As great an idea Earth Hour is, what it should be is the start of much more. For those hotels not yet implementing energy and water-saving measures, Earth Hour should be used as a launching point for long-term change. There are an incredible number of simple things a lodging establishment can do to reduce its impact. They all translate into greater profitability.

As encouraging an event such as Earth Hour is, I remain a bit skeptical. How many of us really believe that the lights on the Las Vegas Strip will be turned off again before next year's Earth Hour? Or that development of new mega-hotels there will be stopped because of climate change? At least it is a beginning.

Will your property be participating in Earth Hour this year? If so, be sure to write to to let me know how you intend to mark the occasion.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cable Guy!

It was about 6 p.m. last evening when I heard the doorbell ring. The first thought that came to me: "Someone asking for money." I was right. Turns out it was the "cable guy." In fact, he introduced himself as "Frank, the cable guy." (He did not look at all like Jim Carrey from the movie.) Frank represents a company that competes with the one I currently have. I gave Frank the chance to give me his pitch. Turns out I will be able to save about $44 a month if I switch over to Frank's company. Frank is willing to even throw in an extra movie channel and a $100 credit to get my business. Frank is supposed to return later today. First, I am going to call my current company to tell them about Frank. My question to them: "Are you willing to beat Frank's offer?" I suspect they will lower their rate to keep my business.

I mention this incident from yesterday because it is indicative of the competitive environment our industry finds itself in today. The consumer is king and you have to do what is necessary to get that person's business, even if it means slicing your rate significantly and tossing in a spa visit, or free meal or two. Last year I went to several conferences where speakers advised/warned against dropping rates but we all know it is happening. What else can you do? According to Smith Travel Research, for the week March 1-7, revenue per available room compared to the year earlier dropped by 23 percent in the United States to $52.18.

Is there any good news to report? Yes. According to the February travelhorizons survey, the U.S. Traveler Sentiment Index rose to 90.2 in February 2009 from 78.2 in October 2008 due to an increase in the perceived "affordability of travel." The spike in the perceived affordability of travel appears to be a direct result of many travel suppliers' recent efforts to stimulate short-term demand through the aggressive promotion of discounted fares and rates. Promotional pricing and related incentives are now offered by suppliers representing practically every segment of the travel industry from airlines to cruise lines, hotel companies, attractions and rental car companies, some of which are featuring rates and fares that are up to 50 percent off the prices being quoted just six months ago.

Our industry has gone through this before and rates will recover as they always do. Until that happens, consumers will benefit from some of the best deals in a long time.

What do you think? Should I ask the cable guy to throw in a cruise to the Bahamas?

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Greenpeace Guide to Toilet Paper Purchasing

It is no secret that hotels go through a heckuva lot of toilet paper, facial tissues and other paper-based items. I have often heard hoteliers talk about the challenge of finding toilet paper made with recycled content that is suitable for their guests. While Greenpeace's new "Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide" does not answer the comfort and feel questions for toilet paper, it does provide information to help one better select a "green" brand for testing. Greenpeace took a close look at toilet paper, paper towels, paper napkins and facial tissues and rated each brand based on the following criteria: percentage post-consumer content, percentage overall recycled content, and whether or not chlorine was used to bleach the paper.

Greenpeace ranked products as either "Recommended," "Could Do Better," or "Avoid." Many of the more well-known consumer brands fall into the "Avoid" category. How does your brand rate?

According to Greenpeace, Americans could save more than 400,000 trees if each family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper just once. To access Greenpeace's guide, click here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Florida Green Lodging Program in Trouble?

I just posted an article last evening on Green Lodging News that details how Florida's state government, as part of it budgeting process for the coming year, is considering cutting four full-time and two part-time employees from the Florida Green Lodging Program—almost the entire staff. The program has been the fastest growing state green lodging program in the United States for quite some time. In fact, there are now almost 900 properties that have been designated as members of the program or that are in some stage of the application process. If the cuts remain in the budget (they may not), the program would fall on the desk of just one full-time employee (I can hear the THUD now.)

How could one employee effectively handle a statewide green lodging program? It would not be easy. If the program were reduced to one person, it would lose its on-site inspection component and properties would have to self-certify themselves. Would hotel owners cut corners if they knew their properties were not going to have to undergo an on-site inspection? Perhaps. Inevitably, what would happen for sure is that the program's momentum would slow, it would take longer to field property inquiries, and ultimately environmental impact would not be reduced as much.

Let's hope Florida's Governor Charlie Christ leaves Florida's Green Lodging Program alone. It is one of the best things going in the entire lodging industry.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Accommodate Those Travelers With MCS

It is estimated that 15 percent of the population suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). MCS is a medical condition in which individuals develop symptoms from very low levels of chemicals in the environment, levels which they previously tolerated and which most people don't even notice. MCS usually results from exposure to toxic chemicals, either in a single massive dose or from long term exposure to low doses.

Assuming the U.S. population is currently 305 million people, almost 46 million people of those individuals are impacted by MCS. Many of those people travel and are always on the search for places to stay where the air is cleaner, where insecticides and toxic cleaners are not used, where volatic organic compounds (VOCs) are not present, and where smoking is certainly not allowed.

In the past I have been in touch with the owners of the Safer Travel Directory. I just learned that this guide has a new owner. Her name is Kathleen Gray. Kathleen says she is understanding of the needs of people with MCS, as her daughter has been chemically sensitive for 17 years. For a very reasonable fee, the Safer Travel Directory lists those properties that are friendlier to those with MCS. Be sure to check out the website. It includes a Resources page with links to helpful websites, tips, and links to suppliers of products for those with chemical sensitivities.

If you are not targeting this type of traveler, you are excluding a lot of people who could be staying at your property. Is that a wise idea in this economy? (See article mentioning company profiting from implementation of PURE rooms.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Green Building Survey Results Worth Analyzing

The 3rd Annual Allen Matkins/CTG/Green Building Insider Green Building Survey produced some interesting results. More than 900 green building professionals were surveyed in December 2008 and follow-up interviews were conducted in January 2009. A super majority of respondents (93.4 percent) support green and sustainable construction. Despite this endorsement of building green, just 66.2 percent in 2008 (down from 76 percent in the 2007 survey) of respondents agreed that it was worth obtaining official LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED was perceived as attractive by just two-thirds of green building supporters.

Why the decline in the support of LEED? According to the survey's authors, they believe several factors came into play: financial concerns due to the recent financial meltdown, competition from other certification programs, and LEED's failure to fully address greenhouse gas and a building's carbon impact (items LEED is addressing this year).

The majority of respondents expressed the view that the cost premium for green construction is less than 4 percent, and building owners participating in the survey stated that the greatest risk in green construction for them is not recouping capital costs.

While the survey results did not spell out exactly what sectors the survey respondents represented, the results, I believe, fairly reflect the sentiment of many in the lodging industry. Some companies are sold on LEED while others are not, and recent LEED projects are coming in with less than a 4 percent cost premium. (See recent column on The Nines hotel in Portland, Ore.)

To read the complete results of the survey, click here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Social Networking and Its ROI

Garry Trudeau, in his Doonesbury comic strip, has been poking fun at social networking—primarily Twitter—the last few days. In the strip, journalist Roland Hedley has been exploring micro-blogging. Trudeau, as cunningly as only he can, makes Hedley appear as if he has just a little too much time on his hands. I could not help but laugh reading the strip.

One of my favorite lodging columnists of all time, Howard Feiertag, recently wrote about social networking in his "Sales Clinic" column for Hotel & Motel Management magazine. Feiertag, who is on the faculty of the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Va., asks his readers if spending time on sites such as LinkedIn, Naymz or other sites is really bringing in new business for hotels. "So far, we have not seen any firm results reflecting sales published on this," Feiertag says.

Feiertag argues that sales staff should concentrate their time on the tried and true phone calling and e-mailing to drum up new business. "Sales staffers and managers should start measuring time productivity on these networking sites versus the time spent developing relationships via phone calls and e-mail messages," he says.

I could not agree more. Communication vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. may be fun but when it comes to establishing meaningful business relationships with substance, face-to-face contact, phone calling and e-mailing matter most. Especially in this economy, if there is no ROI on time invested, it is wasted time. Speaking of which, back to work....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hotel Commits to Carbon-Neutral Meetings

According to the Steigenberger Hotel Group, the Steigenberger Hotel Berlin is the first corporate hotel in Germany to offer certified carbon neutral meetings. All the conference rooms in the new convention center of the five-star Berlin hotel have been rebuilt with ecological factors in mind. Modern design ideas combine with ergonomic comfort and environmentally friendly high-grade materials. For example, all carpets are made of wool with no artificial fibers while the conference chairs were manufactured without using synthetic materials and then finished with a water-based lacquer. Care was also taken to ensure that low-emission materials were used in the paint, wallpaper and veneers. The hotel's electricity supply comes from 100 percent renewable resources. The entire rebuild cost more than $12 million.

The conference catering policy deliberately embraces a wide variety of organic and ecological produce. Priority is given to the purchase of organic products, sourced, where possible, from local suppliers. Not only does this satisfy demands for healthy eating but it also places an emphasis on low food miles and low-emission, environmentally friendly production methods in order to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible. The Steigenberger Hotel Berlin offsets all those emissions that are unavoidable in the course of a conference or an overnight stay. The climate partner in this enterprise is the company "greenmiles," which supports recognized climate protection projects. For each event the hotel issues conference clients with an official TÜV-approved certificate.