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Hotel Industry Embraces Green Revolution Hotels are taking advantage of consumers' desire for eco-friendly vacation options.

By Bill Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The green economic revolution is impacting the $90 billion U.S. hotel industry. Hoteliers and their vendors have the unique opportunity to increase revenue and market share by aligning themselves with their customers' emerging green focus.

One innovative leader is Habitat Suites in Austin, Texas. The hotel's motto is "Environmental consciousness in action." The hotel environment is free of toxic chemicals, has the largest hotel solar system in the continental U.S., and the property's organic fruit and vegetable garden is used for hotel food services and contributes to local food banks.

The customer reaction resulting from this environmental consciousness is profound. 'Every morning at our front desk you will hear our guests remark in wonder over how well they slept last night," general manager Natalie Marquis says. "I believe one reason we get this strong positive feedback is because we stopped using chemical pesticides 20 years ago. Our rooms are ecologically fresh, which allows the human body to relax, enabling our guests to experience a better sleep than in other hotels that use pesticides and toxic cleaning chemicals, or even in the guest's own homes."

Hotel chains are also getting in on the green revolution. For example, Ashley Carroll directs the Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Hawaii. Initially the program was designed to provide fun and learning for the kids visiting the resort with their parents.

"The kids came back at the end of the day telling such wonderful stories that the parents began asking to attend. This has expanded the Ambassadors of the Environment into a guest engagement experience," Carroll says.

This guest engagement has grown from just learning about the local marine life to educational nature walks through Maui's native forests, a garden growing native foods and community engagement with Maui volunteers dedicated to the preservation of their island's culture and environment. This program could potentially increase repeat business and attract frequent travelers who make last-minute decisions based on a search for unique experiences.

Food grown in the hotel's native garden provides hotel guests with a healthy dining experience. In fact, the hotel's adoption of native gardening also gives guests a compelling reason to eat at the hotel and accounts for 15 percent of hotel guests' revenue stream.

According to a recent report published by the Green Hotels Association, "Companies with proactive environmental strategies have a 4 percent higher return on investment, 9 percent higher sales growth and 17 percent higher operating income growth than companies with poor environmental track records."

"While tourism is down due to the recession and higher airfares, Hawaii's eco-tourism is still strong.' says Annette Kaohelaulii, president of the Hawaii Ecotourism Association. "The eco-tourist understands that you can go to Disneyland or Las Vegas where things are done for you; but when an eco-tourist comes to a place like Hawaii he gets to do activities that benefit the environment, native culture and the human spirit." The value in experiential learning is a major marketing theme and competitive advantage green hotels are using to maintain and expand their revenues.

Finally, non-hotel-industry entrepreneurs are realizing business opportunities in the green vacation industry. Take Patricia Griffin, president of the Green Hotel Association. She started the association 15 years ago after visiting Europe and learning how hotel quests respond positively to requests for non-daily sheet and towel cycling as a way to save energy and water, and reduce the use of cleaning products. Today you will find her association's desk cards in hotel rooms across America, suggesting to guests that they help the environment by not requesting daily towel and bed-linen cleaning.

Three lessons from the green revolution's impact on the hotel industry:

  1. Cost-competitive advantage . Saving green by going green is where most of today's business focus is directed. In these recessionary times, going green can make the difference in being able to compete on price.
  2. Green revenue growth . This is where the green economic revolution is heading, growing revenue by going green. This is a multi-trillion-dollar global opportunity for building or cementing customer loyalty as consumers focus increasingly upon sustainability and wellness.
  3. Green entrepreneurship . In every economic revolution, there is opportunity for the entrepreneur as the traditional big players struggle to adopt their legacy systems and business practices. Customers are looking for businesses that offer fresh solutions that support their quest for "going green."

Bill is President of NCCT , a consulting firm that helps companies grow green revenue. His newest book, The Secret Green Sauce , profiles best practices being used by successful green businesses. He has previously held roles as senior vice president of PG&E Energy Services, president of Cleantech America (a solar power plant development company) and COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions (which launched the first hydrogen-fueled Prius).

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