Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Videoconferencing Conundrum

As a cheerleader for protection of the environment, my initial reaction to video conferencing is, of course, that it is a great idea. It almost eliminates the carbon impact of travel entirely. All you have to do is show up at your office or a nearby location where video conferencing is available, have your "face-to-face" meeting, and return to your work. Not bad, eh? Not having to sweat making a flight, getting through security, and going through all of the other inefficiencies of travel? Well, in the case of video conferencing what is good for the planet is not necessarily good for the travel business—especially hotels. And that is the conundrum.

According to an article appearing recently in the Chicago Tribune, many companies are slashing travel budgets and real face-to-face meetings and transitioning to video conferencing. Cisco Systems Inc., for example, has cut its annual travel budget by two-thirds, to $240 million from $750 million, by using video conferencing technology. Video conferencing technology has improved in recent years to the point where it is highly reliable.

As the recession resides, business travel will pick up once more but one has to wonder if companies like Cisco will ever allocate the same kind of dollars for business travel again. What is a hotel company to do? Offering video conferencing services is certainly a good idea, of course. Finding new ways to identify and market to prospective customers is also important—through social networking tools like Twitter, for example.

As an environmentalist and lodging industry supporter, the issue of video conferencing tears me in half. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pillows for Patriots Worth Supporting

Most of us take a good night's sleep for granted. We also think very little about the pillows we sleep on each night. It is difficult to believe but many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan do not have pillows to sleep on. Their pillow each night is often rolled up clothing. When you think about it, a standard-size pillow would be cumbersome to carry in a backpack. But a small pillow that is packable and half the size of a standard one? That is possible.

When a client of mine—Beaufort, S.C.-based Harris Pillow Supply—received a call from a local mother in late July asking for filling to make pillows for her son—a captain in the U.S. army—and some of his soldiers, the company offered to make and donate the pillows. Harris Pillow Supply committed to donating and making 250 pillows and since has been making additional pillows at cost as part of a "Pillows for Patriots" program that was launched by the aforementioned local mother and another family. Harris Pillow Supply has now made approximately 3,000 pillows for U.S. troops.

"We will continue to participate as long as we can," says Patrick Harris, vice president of Harris Pillow Supply. "It was the least we could do. I am honored to do a small thing for those guys that sacrifice so much. The pillows are small enough to fit in a backpack and we vacuum pack them for shipping."

To learn more about Pillow for Patriots and to donate dollars for the program, contact either Barbara and Dave Farrior at (843) 525-9262 and, or Jenny and Ken Bush at (843) 525-6578 and*

*Pillows for Patriots is not a registered charity. All of the donations are used to actually make and ship the pillows directly to troops.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Good News for Renewable Energy Advocates

An increasing number of hotels are investing in solar technology for the purpose of generating electricity and heating hot water. Cooper Hotels just announced that two of its hotels in Tennessee will be implementing solar thermal systems. The Hilton Asheville (N.C.) is about to open with a solar water heating system atop its roof, and the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Ore., will soon be using solar technology for both electricity generation and water heating. Solar thermal systems (for water heating) have become especially affordable lately thanks to available incentives.

The growth of renewable energy in lodging reflects an overall trend in the U.S. economy. According to the latest figures released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its "Electric Power Monthly" report, net U.S. electrical generation from renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) reached an all-time monthly high in May 2009. Combined, those sources accounted for 13 percent of total electrical generation.

More specifically, renewable sources generated 40,395,000 megawatt-hours (Mwh) of electricity in May 2009 (the latest month for which EIA has compiled and released data). That level is 7.7 percent higher than that produced in May 2008 (37,515,000 Mwh) and appears to be the highest monthly figure ever reported by EIA for renewably-generated electricity. Total net electrical generation from all sources, including renewables, fossil fuels, and nuclear, in May 2009 was 311,411,000 Mwh—a drop of 4.1 percent from the 324,589,000 Mwh generated in May 2008.

To learn about lodging establishments that have invested in renewable technology, go to Green Lodging News and search on phrases such as "solar thermal" and "wind turbine."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

'Responsible Hotels' Featured on New Travel Site

If one were to put together a collection of green, socially responsible hotels, you could not find a much better name than "Responsible Hotels of the World." That is the name of a collection of 40 hotels now found at The site, launched last month by those running travel website, also includes a dedicated travel agency division to book the hotels.

According to the Responsible Hotels site, all hotels within the collection have been carefully screened for their commitment to responsible tourism. Some of the criteria required for inclusion include the following: evidence of an initiative to reduce waste and a company policy that requests waste management be practiced by suppliers; evidence that the company policy requests destination suppliers to employ local people wherever possible; and evidence that travelers are provided with relevant suggestions to minimize damage to the environment, wildlife and marine ecosystems. Click here to read additional criteria.

Hotels currently listed can be found in the Caribbean, South East Asia, the Indian Ocean, Central America and East Africa. Featured properties include: Banyan Tree Phuket, Thailand; Beachcomber Royal Palm, Mauritius; and Chumbe Island Coral Park, Tanzania. No U.S. properties are currently included. Be sure to check out this new site.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Valuable Resource for Electronics Recycling

I recently learned about a great resource for those interested in recycling electronics--computers, TVs, audio equipment, etc. I highly recommend checking it out. It was published by (Click here to access the site.) The Electronics Recycling Superguide details a range of ways you can recycle properly--through maufacturers, local electronics stores, and on the Web.

Electronics waste is a huge problem in the United States. The EPA estimates that the number of obsolete consumer electronics sold between 1980 and 2007 is 235 million--a total weight of 2.25 million tons. Where are the 235 million units now? Eighteen percent of the products were collected for recycling; the rest are, unfortunately, sitting in landfills.

Hotels generate a huge amount of waste in the form of outdated televisions, as well as computer equipment. The article suggests that one should consider donating items before considering recycling--possibly to a local school, church or other organization. A great idea. You should also ask vendors you are purchasing new equipment from if they accept used items for recycling--even if they are from another manufacturer--or if they have a take-back program for the newly purchased items once they are no longer useable. Do business with those vendors who support your efforts to recycle.

Don't ever just throw away TVs, computers, and other electronics. They include toxic metals and are a danger to our environment. Sending the items to a landfill is the easy thing to do but not responsible at all. (See article in Green Lodging News for additional information.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some Hope On the Travel Horizon?

I receive a lot of e-mail newsletters on a daily basis. Not many have included good hotel performance news as of late. In fact, here is the typical preface of a Smith Travel Research press release: "The U.S. hotel industry posted declines in all three key performance measurements during the week of...." That is why it was refreshing to read yesterday's travelhorizons survey results report from Ypartnership and the U.S. Travel Assn. According to the quarterly report, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of U.S. adults expect to take at least one trip for leisure purposes between August 2009 and January, 2010, up from 61 percent who expressed the same intention in July 2008. Assuming Americans act on their stated intention, this will translate into an estimated 142 million U.S. adults taking at least one overnight trip during the next six months.

It is certanly not a huge increase but an increase it is. According to the national survey of 2,362 respondents conducted between July 21 to 28, 2009, the average number of overnight trips U.S. adults intend to take during the next six months increased to 2.8 from 2.6 in July 2008. The July Traveler Sentiment Index also reflected consumers' improved sentiment. After falling slightly between February and April 2009, the index rose to 92.1 (against a base of 100 in March 2007), and three points above the number recorded in April 2009 (89.1).

Was there bad news in the report? Yes. Survey respondents indicated they plan to spend less on travel this year. That means they will be shopping for the best deal and will most likely do that online. Still, it is good to see some favorable trends emerging. The stock market has recovered substantially over the past several months, the number of those losing their jobs on a monthly basis is also decreasing. Here's hoping there is more good news on the travel horizon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Greenbuild Bucks Trade Show Attendance Trend

In the past year I have attended many conferences and trade shows and all but one have had one thing in common: attendance lower than in previous years. In fact, you would have had to be pretty brave to launch a new conference or trade show this year. The one trade show and conference that actually grew in the past year is Greenbuild. It is an annual event planned by the U.S. Green Building Council and focused on green design, construction and operations.

Greenbuild was just selected by Tradeshow Week magazine as one of the 50 fastest growing trade shows in the United States and Canada. Greenbuild has been one of the 50 fastest growing events the past four years. Greenbuild 2008, which I had the opportunity to attend, was held in Boston and drew more than 28,000 attendees. Attendance the previous year in Chicago: approximately 21,000. In Denver in 2006: 13,500. You get the idea. This event has been wildly successful. Event planners in our industry would love to have to worry about accommodating such growth.

This year's Greenbuild International Conference and Expo is scheduled November 11-13 and will be held in Phoenix. The event is immediately after the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show in New York City (November 7-10).

What I wonder is why nobody in our industry has had the desire or capability to capitalize on the growth of green building and operations in the form of a national conference or trade show. Given the success of Greenbuild and our industry's gravitation toward LEED and other certifications, one would think it would be a no brainer. Any takers?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Plaza Pours Out 100-Mile Drink

As part of its 100-Mile Menu, New York City's The Plaza recently unveiled its new signature drink, the POMONA. It was rolled out in front of a national television audience on the Today Show. The POMONA is made from ingredients that hail from the 100-mile area around New York City, including American Fruits’ Black Currant Cordial, Lieb Family Cellars Blanc de Blancs, New York sparkling wine, and local honey. The beverage was commissioned by CPS Events, the partnership entrusted with the hotel’s famed Grand Ballroom, and designed by mixologist Brittany Chardin of Atlanta’s iMi Agency.

“Creating a signature drink for The Plaza was both an honor and a challenge,” Chardin said. “At the onset of the project, CPS Events required the drink be developed utilizing ingredients produced within a 100-mile radius of the city. I was thrilled and surprised by the interesting array of amazing products produced in New York City and the 100 miles that surround it. The enthusiasm of the local distilleries and producers to work on this project was infectious. I know guests will truly celebrate in a memorable way with this drink.”

The signature drink was named the POMONA for the Roman goddess of abundance and orchards. A statue of POMONA adorns the fountain outside The Plaza’s main entrance.

I have read and written a lot about the importance of sourcing local but this is the first time I have come across a hotel developing a signature drink with a sustainability angle. It is certainly a great opportunity to generate some publicity about the property's 100-Mile Menu. Has your property done anything similar? If not, give it a try. Develop the formula for your local drink and then hold a contest among your guests and in your local community to name the drink. Give away a room for a night and bottle of wine to the winner. Invite the media to the unveiling of the new drink.

Practicing sustainability can be fun; use it to your advantage when you can.