Ever been to a hotel that was a little too eco-friendly?
Perhaps the stuff growing in your bathroom was less about making the hotel more environmentally friendly and more indicative of a hotel that was about to be shut down by the health inspector.
Sustainable tourism isn’t just about hugging trees and whistling whimsically with a bluebird perched upon your shoulder. The modern tourist wants to experience new surroundings in a way that is friendly to both the environment and the local culture, and they strongly desire to get involved on a personal level.
A survey by charitable organization Tourism Cares found that 55% of respondents volunteered or contributed financially to a destination they visited in the last two years.
The survey also found that 73% of the younger generations said they are willing to pay a premium for sustainability, compared to 51% of Baby Boomers. Ecotourism is not a niche — it’s the future of travel.
If you’re a hotel manager and you haven’t gotten into the sustainable tourism game, now’s the time to start. These tech innovations are the four most basic things you can do right now to give your hotel a big boost in the eyes of the ecotourism crowd.
1. Solar energy
Energy is expensive, so why not generate your own? It’s definitely possible if you’re willing to pay up front, and the costs of solar have been on a rapid decline. Not only will it attract ecotourists, but it could also save you money in the long run.
Your hotel undoubtedly has a ton of space on your roof that is just getting baked by the sun, and you’re not getting the benefits of any of that energy. It’s the perfect spot to install solar panels, and no one will be able to see them (although feel free to trumpet their existence to your green-conscious guests).
Or you could build a carport with solar panels on top instead of placing them on your roof. That’s what one solar company — Rec Solar — did in a recent project involving the installation of 102 kilowatts worth of solar panels at a Hampton Inn in Bakersfield, Calif.:
This solar array will offset 35-45% of the hotel’s energy costs (mostly generated by HVAC and 24/7 lighting usage) and provide shade to 30 visitor parking spaces. This project allows the Bakersfield North Airport Hampton Inn to realize significant energy cost reductions while promoting sustainability as a part of their corporate marketing and environmental initiatives.
Pretty cool, huh? It definitely was for the guests climbing into those cars nestled underneath the carport, and for the hotel manager who got his energy bill at the end of the month.
Interested but want to learn more before you dial up a local solar company to start installing panels? Try these additional guides and case studies:
2. Hybrid and electric vehicles
Hybrid or electric vehicles are another good way to signal to your customers that you’re willing to do your part for the environment, even if it costs you some money up front. For example, the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, N.C. offers complimentary local transportation on weekday mornings with a hybrid vehicle, as well as a Level I and Level II-capable electrical vehicle charging station that hotel guests can use.
A hybrid shuttle bus is a good way both to send the message to guests that you take being green seriously, and to offer some cool ecotourist-y activities like complimentary outings to local parks and festivals.
Hybrid buses also result in savings over the life of the vehicle, since they require less maintenance as their electric drive has fewer parts, and they get better fuel efficiency. Hybrids improve on fuel economy by 37% compared to standard diesel buses.
Here are some key resources if you choose to go the hybrid/electric vehicle route:
3. Virtual tours
Not all tech innovations for sustainable tourism are about going green. For example, the city of Berlin has introduced a handheld multimedia device known as the “WallGuide” that can be checked out at kiosks, allowing tourists to bring the demolished Berlin Wall back to life in virtual reality, complete with recorded interviews with living witnesses and lots of historical information.
You could adapt this concept to your own hotel. For visitors who are curious about places of cultural significance in your area or who want to understand the ecology a bit better, you could create a virtual tour that could take them on an informative journey, describing local wildlife and beautiful nearby oases they may not know about. This is perfect for sustainable tourists worried about disturbing natural habitats.
You could record audio and video stories from local community leaders, guides and residents to create a story for your guests that will allow them to become fully immersed in your local culture and history.
Here are a few resources if you want to play around with virtual reality:
- Virtual tour software (if you need software)
- Best VR Apps for Travel (if you need some ideas)
- Virtual Reality 101 (if you want to understand virtual reality in greater detail)
4. Reducing food waste
We waste a staggering 30 to 40% of our food supply in the United States. That comes out to 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s the opposite of sustainable, and it’s also costing your hotel restaurant money.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s actually quite a bit of software available that is dedicated to helping restaurants limit their food waste. The software options out there do everything from collecting real-time waste data so you can spot potential cost savings to finding places for your leftover food to go where it will do the most good.
Imagine how impressed an eco-conscious guest would be if you printed on your menu the steps you take to reduce food waste in your hotel’s restaurant? You don’t see many other places doing that.
Follow these guidelines to limit waste at your restaurant:
- Buy exactly what you need, and no more, based on typical nightly diner buying patterns — even if that means telling the occasional diner that a menu item is sold out for the night.
- Buy oddly shaped produce from your local farmer’s market at a discount, which will save you money and prevent the food from simply being thrown out.
- Monitor what you throw away, which will help you prevent over-buying in the future.
- Inspect your refrigerators to ensure they are operating at maximum efficiency so food lasts longer.
- Donate food rather than throwing it away.
The world is your sustainably farmed oyster
The great thing about sustainable tourism is the virtually unlimited number of innovations at your disposal. In the course of reading this piece, you’ve probably had your own ideas of how you could adapt the latest technology to make your hotel a more eco-friendly place. Why not share those ideas below? And if there’s any software or other technology that would be super helpful for hotel managers trying to get into ecotourism, we’d love to hear about that, too.
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