Thursday, April 29, 2010

Victimized by the Reality of the Global Economy

When a client of mine e-mailed me yesterday and asked me to call her I knew there must be a problem. Turns out the company is having cash flow problems and is going to have to cut back on its advertising commitment for 2010. Given the long-term, friendly relationship I have had with the company, I am certainly not going to hold them to their contract; I understand today's economic reality.

What concerns me is one of the reasons the company is having cash flow issues. It is having a more difficult time selling its products to U.S. hotel companies because those firms are buying their products from companies in overseas countries such as China instead. Those companies are able to sell my client's particular type of product for about one-third less. I know what you are thinking: "Tell me something I don't know."

My client has one of the best green stories to tell in our industry. Its products are recyclable and made from sustainable materials. Yet, because my clients' products are made here in the United States--where labor and other costs are higher--my client is bleeding business. Meanwhile, companies in places like China benefit and badly needed dollars leave the United States.

In a traditional global economy, the companies that produce most efficiently at the lowest cost deserve to win. That said, in a global economy where sustainability and environmental responsibility are a priority, buying locally made goods is the most responsible thing to do, even if there is a cost premium. Those dollars invested trickle throughout the local economy and help everyone. Of course buying locally results in a much smaller carbon footprint as well.

It is easy for me to say because I do not own and operate a large hotel but wherever you live--in the United States or elsewhere--support local companies first. It will be one of the most sustainable things you can do.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April National Geographic a Worthwhile Read

Here in Ohio where I am based, water conservation is not something discussed very often. The state typically gets its fair share of rain and Lake Erie provides a seemingly endless supply of fresh water. Many parts of the world are not so lucky. Better than just about any publication I have read, the April issue of National Geographic unveils the sobering truth about our world's supply of fresh water. I strongly recommend reading the issue that is dedicated 100 percent to water.

Perhaps you have heard the statistics before: Though water covers our world, more than 97 percent is salty. Two percent is fresh water locked in snow and ice, leaving less than 1 percent for us. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will live where water is scarce.

The hospitality industry can do a lot to help conserve water and use it more wisely--without necessarily impacting the guest experience. The Green Lodging News website includes many water conservation tips but the "no brainers" include: towel and linen reuse programs; low-flow toilets, showerheads and aerators; pre-rinse spray valves in kitchens; serving water only upon request in restaurants; recycling water from laundry operations; and planting plants and trees native to your local area. Smart golf course management is also important as 2 billion gallons of water are needed every day just to irrigate U.S. golf courses.

What unique steps have you taken to conserve water at your property? Be sure to leave a comment at the end of this blog.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Earth Day Worth Celebrating

Happy Earth Day! For someone who edits and publishes a green publication--Green Lodging News--Earth Day is the best day of the year and certainly worthy of being a national holiday. Ideally, Earth Day should be a day when all of us volunteer to help clean up our planet and commit to being better stewards of the natural resources Mother Nature provides us.

I have been swamped with press releases the last few weeks from properties announcing Earth Day commitments and celebrations. Here are just a few examples:

  • Hyatt Regency Aruba is holding an Earth Week. The property already hosted a trade show for local businesses to showcase their environmentally friendly products. Today, the property will have a tree planting.
  • At Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort Riviera Maya, guests will tour the resort grounds and learn about the native flora and fauna and plant mangrove trees. Children will have an opportunity to create artwork using recycled newspapers and plastic bottles.
  • The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake hosted a day of activities including a T-shirt design contest, aluminum can recycling drive, and group cleanup of Geneva State Park.
  • Accor North America is holding its annual Accor Earth Guest Day. Activities include the cleaning up of local parks, collecting items for recycling, planting hundreds of trees, donating clothes and toys, and collection of used linens for donation.
  • In recognition of Earth Day and Arbor Day (April 30), students at partner schools of Doubletree hotels are committing to complete a series of "Tree Task of the Day" activities--everything from creating a recycling bin at home to creatively repurposing paper bags.
  • Chefs and other culinary officials who work for Delaware North Companies are pledging to refrain from using 90 percent of the fish and seafood species that are listed on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch "avoid" list.
  • Atmosphere Hospitality Management announced its new Adoba Eco Hotel & Suites brand. Each will be built to earn LEED Gold or Platinum certification.
  • Hilton New York team members and their families will participate in an Earth Day tree planting on Randall's Island.
  • Great Wolf Resorts is celebrating the one-year anniversary of earning Green Seal certification for all of its properties.
  • Pineapple Hospitality has launched a new website called Hotels will have to be certified by one or more of six certification programs to be listed on the site.

These are just some of the activities that have already taken place or will be taking place. This year's Earth Day is the 40th one. Be sure to take some time to think about what you can do to lighten your property's environmental footprint in the coming year. Once again, happy Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shocking Energy Star Revelations

Makers of everything from refrigerators to computers have used the Energy Star label to tout the efficiency of their products for years. Turns out the label may not have actually meant much...until now. An audit of the program by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that it was easy to obtain Energy Star approval--even for fake products. How? For years the EPA and DOE relied on an automated approval process. Products were not tested to ensure that they were as efficient as the maker stated. Sometimes applications were not even reviewed by a human being. It is a good think Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, requested the GAO study.

Thanks to the study, changes are in the works. Effective immediately, according to a recent EPA/DOE press release, manufacturers wishing to qualify their products as Energy Star must submit complete lab reports and results for review and approval prior to labeling. EPA will no longer rely on an automated approval process. All new qualification applications will be reviewed and approved individually by EPA. By the end of this year, all manufacturers must submit test results from an approved, accredited lab for any product seeking the Energy Star label. Testing in an accredited lab is currently only required for some products. The new process will extend the requirement to each of the more than 60 eligible product categories under the Energy Star program.

It is encouraging that the Energy Star program is being strengthened. What is disappointing and shocking is how much "teeth" the program lacked for so long. It is just one more reason to always question and challenge government-run programs. Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Summit Brings Attention to Workplace Safety

In February, the American Journal of Industrial Medicine published a study with the title, "Occupational Injury Disparities in the U.S. hotel industry. A total of 2,865 injuries at 50 unionized hotels over a three-year span were analyzed. The injury rate was higher for female hotel employees because they work disproportionately as housekeepers, which is the most injury-prone hotel job. According to the study, housekeepers have a 7.9 percent injury rate each year, 50 percent higher than for all hotel workers. The study also found that Hispanic women are more likely to get injured than their white counterparts.

This week, according to a press release issued by UNITE HERE, the union organization that represents hospitality workers, nearly 50 housekeepers traveled to Houston to participate in OSHA's National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety. The conference is sponsored by OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The housekeepers are participating in the Summit to bring attention to the high rates of injury for hotel housekeepers--in particular Latino housekeepers.

Just prior to the start of the OSHA Summit, housekeepers revealed their Hope Quilt, a 150-foot quilt made by housekeepers from across North America. Each patch on the quilt represents a story of pain or injury caused by working in hotels.

The housekeepers certainly have a right to be concerned. According to John Wilhelm, the president of UNITE HERE, "Hotels are the only place we know that Latina workers face higher injury rates...."

As mentioned in one of my previous columns, it is imperative that those who employ housekeepers do what is necessary to provide the proper training, tools and cleaning products to ensure an ergonomically and chemically safe working environment. There is no excuse for workplace injuries--ever.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bees are the Buzz at Six Fairmont Hotels

Spring is here which means the bees are back at six Fairmont hotels in the United States, Canada and Africa. Hotels in Vancouver, B.C.; Toronto; Washington, D.C.; Kenya; Quebec; and St. Andrews by-the-Sea have bee hives on rooftops or in on-site gardens. The bees help pollinate area gardens and parks while also supplying hotel chefs with honey.

At the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, more than 390,000 honey bees are expected to produce 500 pounds of honey. At the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, nearly 800 pounds of honey has been harvested since June 2008, much of it going into the hotel's cocktails and cuisine. At the Fairmont Washington, D.C. (see related article), three hives each have their own names: Casa Bella, Casa Blanca, and Casa Bianca. At the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, eight hives will be in place by June. Each hive will host about 4,000 honey-making bees. The first honey harvest is expected by September. The resort will offer lectures for guests so they can learn about bees and honey production.

At the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, honey is harvested three times each year from four hives. Each hive contains about 70,000 bees. The hives produce more than enough honey for the hotel; the excess is sold to guests. At the Fairmont Algonquin in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, honey is showcased in Chef Ryan Dunne's cooking at the hotel's three restaurants.

Beekeeping requires expertise and is certainly not something one can start alone. In launching its hives, Fairmont partnered with area experts. To become aware of beekeeping basics, there is plenty of information online. Whatever you do, don't get stung in the process.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Travelzoo, Travelocity Offer Earth Day Specials

Travelzoo, the global Internet media company with more than 18 million subscribers, and Travelocity, one of the largest travel companies in the world, are both offering promotions this year in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Travelzoo's Earth Day hotel deals page features offers from only LEED-certified hotels. All deals are researched and test-booked by Travelzoo staff. A few examples of deals offered: The Orchard Hotel is offering a $99 rate--a $100 discount; the CityFlats Hotel in Holland, Mich., is offering a rate of $109--an $80 discount; and the Courtyard Portland City Center (Ore.) is offering a $94 rate--a $75 discount.

Travelocity is highlighting the top 40 green hotel deals on its site. Savings of up to 40 percent are available. The company will flag the more than 75 global eco-friendly hotels participating in the sale with an "Earth Day" sale tag, and only hotels that are included in Travelocity's Green Hotel Directory are eligible to participate. Travelocity's Green Hotel Directory currently includes more than 1,500 global eco-friendly hotels.

I have received many press releases from individual hotel properties that are offering Earth Day packages. What will you be doing this year to put more heads in beds on the greenest day of the year?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hotels Prepare for Electric Vehicles

This August, Nissan will begin taking orders for its LEAF electric car. In November, General Motors will begin selling its long-awaited Volt vehicle that can be driven 40 miles on an electric charge and an additional 360 miles thanks to its gasoline engine. Other companies are also getting closer to rolling out electric vehicles. Whether or not hotels purchase these for their own use remains to be seen. They are expensive. At least some hotels, however, are installing charging stations for guests who drive electric vehicles.

I just received a press release from the Seaport Hotel in Boston. The hotel will soon offer guests a charging station in the Seaport Garage. It is located directly below the hotel. There will be no "charge" for guests to use the charging station and guests driving electric vehicles will also receive a free night of valet parking. What the Seaport Hotel is doing is a great idea and a demonstration of leadership--not waiting until charging stations are an expected amenity.

The Seaport is not the first hotel to offer a charging station. Starwood's Element property in Lexington, Mass. has one and Starwood plans to install charging stations at its other Element properties. According to The New York Times, Hyatt installed several at its hotels in California as far back as 2007.

Have you considered installing a charging station at your property? How long will you wait to do so? (Click here for information on charging stations.) I will look forward to reading your comments.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Element's Message in a Bottle

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide's Element hotels throughout the United States will be celebrating Earth Day weekend in a unique way this year. Guests who bring in 10 single-use plastic bottles April 22 to 25 will get a free night during that weekend. The "I Am Not a Plastic Package" promotion is limited to the first 100 guests who book through the brand's toll-free number and mention the word "GOGREEN."

Element Hotels, Starwood's 100 percent LEED certified brand, currently has hotels open in the following cities: Lexington, Mass.; Las Vegas; Baltimore; Denver; Dallas; Houston; and Ewing, N.J. Additonal Elements will open later this year in New York City and Omaha, Neb.

Starwood's promotion is a great way to bring attention to the waste problem associated with water sold in plastic bottles. As written about in one of my previous columns, about 60 million water bottles are discarded daily. Only about 12 percent of them are recycled. Producing those bottles burns 1.5 million barrels of crude oil annually. Bottled water is 500 to 1,000 times more expensive than tap water and not necessarily safer to drink.

"We thought this would be a fun, timely way to engage guests on recycling, which has been in practice at Element from day one," said Brian McGuinness, senior vice president, Specialty-Select Brands, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. "Element guests keep telling us they want to take an active role in our efforts around environmental responsibility, and this is a very rewarding way for them to do it."

As part of the "I Am Not a Plastic Package," Element will also offer a complimentary reusable water bottle at check-in as part of the package.