Conspicuous Conservation for Hotels

If you’ve ever taken a course in economics, you’ve likely heard the term ‘conspicuous consumption’ tossed around to describe the purchasing of goods or services as a means of publicly showing off one’s power and increasing one’s social status. Yellow Humvees, gaudy jewelry and bottle service at nightclubs are first to mind as is every other drug dealer cliché you can conjure.

Now, however, this term has been retrofitted to account for the 21st century trend of people wanting to publicly signal their alleged altruism through the purchase of green or sustainable products. Although it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, conspicuous conservation is definitely one that you should embrace. While there are some lucrative marketing angles, the bottom line is that engaging in activities that are environmentally friendly will ultimately help our planet and potentially save you quite a bit of cash in the process.

Even though your back-of-house upgrades are where the true impacts will likely be realized – sometimes well into the seven-digit range in cost savings – your guests won’t see these efforts nor will they want to read a descriptive pamphlet to that effect. Going green to be seen means that, in tandem with what you do behind the scenes, you make guests feel good about their choice in hotels and about themselves. And this harks back to a fundamental tenet of hospitality – positively affecting our customers.

Three immediate examples that come to mind are placing a vegetable garden near a well-trafficked pathway for all guests to see (thus drastically reducing the food miles on certain ingredients), installing keycard-controlled lighting systems and instituting some form of housekeeping opt-out or in-room towel recycling program. Technology is also helping in the front-of-house with, for instance, several inventive temperature control systems that not only have intricate behavior tracking systems but also integrate with a smart television so guests can monitor or change their settings in a fun, dynamic interface.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that many consumers would specifically seek out the most environmentally friendly property in a chosen destination ahead of other considerations like price and location or change their travel plans to stay at only LEED-certified hotels, conspicuous conservation will definitely play a role in how guests interpret your brand.

By being seen as a company that cares about the environment, you will endure customers to your side and you will be viewed as a ‘modern’ hotel. This is done through visible onsite efforts such as those mentioned above as well as through digital means like allocating a new section on the website. It’s all part of the bigger picture to give a fresh context to your brand story, and then letting everything together act as a passive marketing tool.

Even with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from my former life nearly five decades ago, my raison d’être since then has been hospitality marketing. Although the above offers a rudimentary proof of how conspicuous conservation will work to indirectly boost sales, I’ve recruited a colleague of mine, Jim Gieselman of Emeritus Consulting, an energy efficiency consultant who I know through my involvement with Cayuga Hospitality Consultants, to offer some additional words of wisdom.

Part of what Jim does is to simplify the subject matter so that all senior managers can get on the same page and decide upon the next steps. For this, he uses baseball terms, wherein it’s best to approach conspicuous conservation and sustainability in terms of singles and doubles rather than home runs. In other words, while upgrading to new thermostats and smart TVs requires a significant and often untenable capex, there are dozens of other low hanging fruit that you can address first then reinvest those savings into large-scale environment ventures.

As an aside, because baseball is awesome, one should always express matters analogously through this sport, even in the dead of winter. With regard to singles and doubles, any team manager who has studied sabermetrics will always value RBIs over home runs.

An example that Jim gave here relates to the difference between installing new OLED bulbs throughout your meeting space as opposed to training your staff to check that the lights are turned off when a ballroom is not in use. The former is an obvious environmentally friendly grand slam with huge payoffs in subsequent years both in terms of direct monetary savings as well as subtly boosting the moods of those guests who frequent these halls. But the latter – training your team to help shave off a few burn hours every day – is a project that you can start tomorrow without any budgetary squeezing or loan procurements.

Jim also stressed that conspicuous conservation is not a task that’s solely for your engineering and marketing teams to figure out, and then relate to the customer. It is something that must be embraced by all departments, including top management. Recalling those fancy thermostats currently on your hotel’s wish list, an interim solution is to train your housekeepers to set units to a higher and less energy-draining temperature after guests have checked out, and then coordinate with front desk so that this is lowered to a comfortable level for new arrivals.

Similar efforts can be made companywide, so long as it affords the guest some degree of involvement in order for them to openly express their affinity for the environment. With the opportunity for cost savings and a boost to your property’s marketability, what are you waiting for?

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by Hotels Magazine on August 9, 2016).

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