Green: Do Guests Get It?

By Cihan Cobanoglu | May 05, 2008

The buzz word in the hospitality industry during late 1990s was customer relationship management (CRM). In the early 2000s, it was e-commerce. Now, wherever you look (including the pages of HT), you see references to going green.

For hotels, going green means creating environmentally-friendly buildings and procedures that save water, save energy and reduce solid waste. It is a known fact that operating a green hotel not only helps save the environment but also saves money. In fact, there is a critical mass of investors ready and willing to invest based on environmental performance.

But what about hotel consumers? Do they want green products in hotels? Are they willing to pay for them? And, if so, who are these consumers and what are their characteristics? These are the questions Andrew Moreo, a graduate student at the University of Delaware, and Professor A. Beldona wanted to find the answers to in Moreo's thesis, "Green Consumption in the Hotel Industry: An Examination of Consumer Attitudes."

Many shades of green
To facilitate the thesis, Moreo and Beldona conducted a study asking consumers about their beliefs and preferences with regard to environmentalism in the lodging industry. More than half of respondents agreed that hotels should have a team with the authority and resources to take responsibility for environmental management. In addition, the majority of respondents agreed that hotels should make their green efforts visible to the guests.

The top five green activities that respondents prefer hotels do are: efficient lighting, having an active system to detect leaks, recycling, giving preference to environmental products, and utilizing environmentally responsible cleaners throughout the property.

Interestingly, the towel/sheet reuse option for multiple-night stays is number eight on the list; programmable thermostats with motion detectors used to control temperature in guestrooms are number fifteenth on the list; and finally having refillable amenity dispensers rather than individual bottles for bathroom amenities is number twenty in the list.

These results clearly show that the comfort factor plays an important role in guests' selection of greening for the hotel industry. Guests appear to be in favor of greening activities that do not limit or affect their comfort level in the guest room. Having an energy management system saves up to 40 percent energy, resulting in lower gas emissions and having a positive impact on the hotel's bottom-line; yet such systems are perceived by guests to affect their comfort, when coming back to a warmer or colder room than what they'd left. The towel/sheet reuse option similarly saves large amounts of water and cleaning supplies. 

Following the money
When it comes to respondents' booking preference for green hotels, the results were in line with what the researchers expected. The minority of respondents chose the environmentally-friendly hotel, regardless of price, while the majority chose an environmentally-friendly hotel if it was in the price range they were looking for. Similarly, only a minority of respondents indicate that they try to discover the environmental effects of a hotel prior to purchase.

This study shows that there is a clear need for green hotels and this effort is supported by guests. However, more communication is needed to explain the benefits and impacts of green procedures and technologies so that guests will support these initiatives with their dollars and encourage the industry to adopt green policies. Although they support green efforts, the general U.S. population does little to find out about the greening efforts of the hotels they chose to stay at. Green hotels are here to stay. Education continues for us all.


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