Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sometimes It's Better Not to be Number One

A new study conducted by the University of Adelaide (Australia), Princeton University and the National University of Singapore ranks the world's countries based on their negative impact on the environment. The research involved 228 countries and took into account seven indicators of environmental degradation: natural forest loss, habitat conversion, marine life, fertilizer use, water pollution, carbon emissions and species threats.

The country having the worst environmental impact is Brazil, followed by the United States, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, India, Russia, Australia, and Peru. The study found that the wealthier the country, based on gross national income, the greater the likelihood of being an environmental offender. It's a good thing the study was done prior to the recent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Something tells me we won't be seeing the results of this study in any collateral promoting the United States as a tourism destination.

Thanks to Robert Kravitz at AlturaSolutions Communications and Sustainability Dashboard Tools for sharing this news item with me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Numerous Sites Providing Oil Spill Updates

Green Lodging News just reported on the Florida Keys Tourism Council and its efforts to keep visitors to that area updated on the impact of the oil spill on the Keys area. The Council's website has been getting a lot of traffic. Information from official authorities, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is updated daily.

Living Green Magazine, an online publication, is providing live updates from the oil spill on its website. The site's Gulf-spill section includes the latest news from major media sources, blogs from the staff of the Natural Resources Defense Council, videos and photos from the oil spill zone, hotline phone numbers where people can report beach and wildlife endangerment, links to organizations asking for donations and volunteers, and ideas for how people can take action wherever they are.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also established a website to inform the public about the oil spill's impact on the environment and the health of nearby residents. The site contain's data from the EPA's ongoing monitoring along with other information about the agency's activities in the region.

Additional information on the broader response from the U.S. Coast Guard and other responding agencies is available by clicking here.

Of course all of the major news agencies are providing updates as well.

Let's hope BP finds a way to stop the massive oil leak soon. It is already too late for some areas of the Gulf Coast.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Too Much Silence in Response to Oil Spill?

What should the proper response of the U.S. travel and tourism industry be to British Petroleum's oil leak disaster? (BP defines it as the "MC252 oil well incident.") Of course it should be furious and prepared to seek compensation for physical damage (if and when that happens) as well as business lost. On Monday of this week, BP announced grants to each of the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to help their governors promote tourism around the shores of the Gulf of Mexico over the coming months. BP will provide $25 million to Florida and $15 million each to Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. That money will certainly help but if oil starts hitting the coastlines of the affected states in significant amounts, the states are going to need a heckuva lot more money to address the problem.

I checked the American Hotel & Lodging Association website and there still has not been an official response made to the oil spill. Why not? The U.S. Travel Association issued a statement early on that it was working with member organizations in the affected states to monitor the situation but it also still has not taken an official stance critical of the spill. Again, why not? We should all be furious!

The truth is that our industry, like every single one of us, is extremely addicted to what BP was drilling for in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil, at least for now, is our industry's oxygen. While yelling about corporate irresponsibility and the damage being done to the water and life of the Gulf of Mexico, we should all be thinking about how to transition to cleaner, renewable energy. In the meantime, however, we do have every right to be furious. I just wish our industry would collectively express that more forcefully.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Doubletree's 'Teaching Kids to Care' Going Strong

Whether helping Haiti recovery efforts or helping to protect endangered species, Doubletree's Teaching Kids to Care program has been very successful--one of the most successful chainwide community involvement programs in the lodging industry. I checked and I have posted almost 10 articles mentioning the program on the Green Lodging News website. The program even has its own Web page.

This spring, as part of its "Love Your Trees, Love Your Community, Love Your Earth" initiative, Doubletree is working with the Arbor Day Foundation to help educate kids about the importance of trees, environmental stewardship in the community, and their positive impact on the environment. Students are being encouraged to pledge and practice 10 easily doable tree conservation challenges.

This Thursday, May 20, Shannon Dunavent, general manager of the Doubletree Guest Suites Fort Shelby/Detroit Downtown, along with her hotel team, will host a Community Urban Garden planting in Detroit. Students and teachers from Gompers Elementary School will help transform a courtyard of concrete into a "Made in Michigan" educational garden. More than 350 tree seedlings will be planted.

The Detroit event is the culmination of more than 175 similar events that have been celebrated during the past month by 10,000 grade school students and hundreds of Doubletree employees as part of a global adopt-a-school initiative.

Teaching Kids to Care is now eight years old and still going strong. Congratulations to Doubletree for touching the lives of more than 150,000 students in 200 communities.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Improving Economy Good News for CityCenter

It has been a long time coming but I will get to visit CityCenter for the first time next week while attending HD Expo in Las Vegas. I am looking forward to it. The project has already earned six Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council. CityCenter has also won numerous other environmental awards since opening at the end of 2009. Sustainable features range from an 8.5-megawatt natural gas cogeneration plant to a fleet of stretch limos powered by compressed natural gas.

It is pretty obvious that CityCenter did not open at the best time but it is what it is. According to an article in the Las Vegas Sun, the complex, which is owned by MGM Mirage and Dubai World, recorded an operating loss of $255 million in the first quarter of this year. That includes a $171 million write-down in the value of the project's condos. It has only been able to finalize sales of about 100 of its 2,400 luxury condominiums. The owners are also involved in a dispute with the project's chief contractor, Perini Building Co., over about $500 million in construction fees. Before accounting for the write-down and other charges, CityCenter incurred a loss of $32 million. When you think about it that way, things could have been a lot worse.

Company officials and industry experts do see better things on the horizon for CityCenter and Las Vegas as the economy improves and groups and individual travelers return to the city. The project, plagued by problems from its beginning, does deserve a chance to shine--especially since it is one of the best examples of green building design in the United States. I will report back here after my visit to CityCenter next week. Have you been to CityCenter? If so, what did you think? I will look forward to reading your comments.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Author Takes Look at Voluntourism Hot Spots

Voluntourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, at a rate of nearly double that of general tourism. What are you doing to capture the business of the tens of millions of U.S. travelers who care about giving back when they travel? Have you connected with organizations in your area that offer volunteer opportunities? Do you have a list prepared for meeting planners and others who ask about local options? Have you or your staff volunteered in the local community?

In "Ecotourists Save the World," Pamela K. Brodowsky and the National Wildlife Federation detail 300 international voluntourism opportunities--from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in Homer, Alaska to the Hen and Chickens Islands Weeding Project in North Auckland Peninsula, New Zealand. With each location the author provides a project description, location, contact information, cost, dates and duration, and field notes (level of fitness required, age limitations, etc.)

According to the author, one in three amphibians, nearly half of all turtles and tortoises, one in four mammals, one in five sharks and rays, and one in eight bird species are now considered at risk of extinction. So, there is certainly a lot of work to do.

How are you using voluntourism to put more heads in beds? I would love to read your comments.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Green Choice Program Criticized by Staff

Last August I wrote about Starwood's Make a Green Choice program. (See article.) Through the program, guests at Sheraton and Westin properties have the option of opting out of housekeeping for a day. Guests can choose to participate up to three consecutive nights. To participate, a guest must hang a "Make a Green Choice" card outside the guestroom door before 2 a.m. Guests are not eligible for the program the night prior to checking out of a room. For each night they participate, guests are given a $5 gift card to use at any of the hotel's restaurants. Guests also have the option of receiving 500 Starpoints as part of Starwood's loyalty program.

The environmental benefits to Make a Green Choice are significant. Of course there are labor savings as well. I gave the program a lot of praise in my article and still believe the concept makes a lot of sense.

According to an article in "The Canadian Press" dated May 5, however, some hotel workers in Toronto are saying programs like Make a Green Choice are fake green programs. Workers at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto are saying that it takes three times longer to clean a room that has gone without cleaning for several days and requires more cleaning fluids. With so many guests participating in the program at that hotel, housekeepers have also lost work hours.

This is one of those instances where a very good idea--one that results in greater business and environmental efficiency--causes unexpected pain. I can certainly understand the housekeepers' concerns. How would you solve a dilemma like this while still running a socially responsible enterprise? I would love to hear from you with your comments.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hand Dryers Versus Paper Towels

Kimberly-Clark, the U.S. paper towel and Kleenex maker, is causing a bit of a stir among restroom hand dryer proponents. A video on its website cites two studies that found that hand dryers actually increase the amount of bacteria on the hands. According to Kimberly-Clark, jet air dryers without warm air increase bacteria on the hands by 42 percent while air dryers with warm air increase bacteria on the hands by 254 percent. Kimberly-Clark says its hand towels made from AIRFLEX fabric actually reduce bacteria by up to 55 percent.

Assuming for a moment that what Kimberly-Clark is promoting is fact, are paper towels an environmentally preferable alternative to hand dryers? Here, Kimberly-Clark's case is shaky. While the company is obviously taking a poke at companies such as Excel Dryer and Dyson B2B, Inc., those hand dryer companies make a very strong case for reducing a hotel's environmental impact through the use of their products. According to Excel Dryer, their XLERATOR hand dryer reduces the carbon footprint of hand drying (when compared to paper towels) by 50 percent to 75 percent. For the same cost as one paper towel, Dyson's Airblade hand dryer will dry 22 pairs of hands.

Back to the hygiene argument. Dyson says its Airblade hand dryer uses a HEPA filter to filter the air before it is blown on a person's hands. Excel Dryer, on its website, cites studies that prove that how one dries one's hands matters little when it comes to bacteria on the hands.

What do I think? I have to side with the hand dryer folks. I just can't believe that cutting down trees, making paper and then transporting it is a more environmentally preferable option than hand dryers. What do you think?