Sustaining guests in a sustainable age

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by Giuseppe Pinna

Customers favor companies that show concern for the environment.

A 2015 report on global corporate sustainability found that 66 percent of consumers were willing to spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand. Among millennials, this measure rose to 73 percent.

A growing number of hotel guests take this movement even further, choosing to identify as “sustainable travelers.” These customers are willing to take fewer vacations to minimize their environmental impact. For the sustainable traveler, a hotel is more than a place to sleep; it’s a reflection of the story they wish to tell about themselves.

While this type of guest may vacation less frequently, they are more inclined to book a longer stay in a single location. Further, they’re willing to spend more to be a part of a responsible brand they trust and respect.

SMALL CHANGES CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE

Many hotels have cropped up in the wake of this growing trend, actively marketing themselves as “eco-lodges” or “sustainable luxury resorts.” But hotels do not have to completely rebrand to capture this new wave of conscious consumer. Savvy owners can strategically invest in healthier and more eco-friendly amenities that reinforce this message.

I was raised on a small island off the coast of Italy, far from the bustling cities and industrial pollutants of the mainland. There, I developed a deep respect for the care and protection of natural resources. While my current position as an executive makes travel a necessary part of my job, I bring that same awareness and appreciation for conservation whenever I travel. Small details – like the products and services offered by a particular hotel brand – can add up to tell a story about sustainability.

Most hotels already post signs reminding guests about their environmental impact. Yet a commitment to the health of the customer and the climate isn’t a story that can be told through a single sign reminding guests about laundering policies.

STRIKING A BALANCE BETWEEN COMFORT AND CAUSE

To market to the new wave of conscious consumers, hotels must strategically reiterate that message in products and services. The cost of amenities may quickly add up, many go unused, and it’s unclear whether many provide a return on investment. Which details actually lead to return customers?

A study by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration found that while free internet was the biggest draw for first-time visitors, complimentary bottled water offered the highest ROI among returning guests. Why? The study’s leading researcher theorized it was the taste. Guests associated the pleasurable flavor with the particular hotel brand. This “pleasure effect” increased the likelihood the guest would book a return stay.

How will this research extend to the growing market of guests who define themselves as sustainable travelers? What’s an eco-conscious customer to say of those single-use plastic water bottles stocked next to the sign about a brand’s commitment to the planet?

While pampering guests with amenities and protecting the planet may seem like a paradox, most customers aren’t totally willing to sacrifice comforts for the cause. Choosing the right amenities can help reinforce existing sustainability goals while still giving guests the gestures they’ve come to expect.

LET YOUR PRODUCTS SPEAK FOR YOU

Stock rooms with responsibly sourced and packaged amenities from brands that actively demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.

Be sure to select products that reinforce the sustainability message you are trying to convey. Many of these options not only speak to the sustainable guest, but they cut costs in the long run. If your brand doesn’t already, consider offering:

  • paperless billing services
  • vegetarian and local dishes at onsite restaurants
  • replacing small toiletries with larger refillable pumps

Hotel brands also should consider seeking out a co-branding relationship with a sustainable company. Labeling your name directly alongside a business known for healthy or eco-friendly practices creates a symbiotic effect for both brands.

DIG INTO THE DETAILS

Be as critical as your guests when reading the label: Look to a company’s sustainability goals and practices to make sure they are in line with your hotel’s mission statement. Is the amenity packaged in wasteful non-recyclable plastic or does it use compostable materials? Are they committed to fair trade or have they recently been on the hot seat for questionable labor practices? Customers take notice of small details, which can tell a story, not just about the brand that produced the product but also your hotel’s choice to partner with it.

Don’t forget the real power of an amenity: customer enjoyment. Remember that studies have proven customer loyalty is tied to the power of the “pleasure effect.” In order to maximize your investment and secure repeat visits, the product needs to be enjoyable as well as eco-friendly. For example, does the paraben-free lotion smell great, too?

Investing in healthier and more sustainable amenities can help a hotel reinforce the brand’s commitment to global and guest health. By winning over the sustainable traveler, you gain a customer who is more willing to spend more, book a longer stay, and return to a place that prioritizes sustainability.

Giuseppe Pinna is vice president with Acqua Smeraldina, a family-owned artesian mineral water company that bottles from a single source on the island of Sardinia, Italy. Born in Sardinia, Giuseppe resides in the U.S., bringing more than 15 years in the food and beverage industry working with hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores. Acqua Smeraldina was recently named the “Best Tasting Water in the World” at the Berkeley Springs International Water Competition.

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