When Patricia Griffin first formed the Green Hotels Association in 1993, many of those she initially contacted made the mistake of inferring that “green” referred to a family name. She says “green” just wasn’t common terminology then.
Today it’s doubtful anyone would make that mistake.
“It’s been a massive change,” Griffin says of the
past few years.
Take a quick look around the local market and it’s not
hard to see that environmentally friendly choices and behaviors
once considered fads or trends now are bona fide lifestyle choices.
The next time you’re shopping, note all the eco-friendly
products on the shelves, many of which only entered the mass market
in the past few years.
“The issue is clearly out there,” says Kirby Payne, president of Newport, R.I.-based HVS Hotel Management and past chairman of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. “At every industry conference I attend, there’s at least one panel on green practices, sometimes more.”
What does it all mean for waterpark resort operators? Put
simply, understanding the green movement and adopting eco-conscious
practices is becoming more and more essential if a property is to
remain competitive. Being green also is becoming an expectation
among travelers. And eco-friendliness can become a powerful
marketing tool. Those trends aren’t likely to change any time
soon, especially as more operators and consumers begin to equate
green products with more green in their wallets.
Since the economic crisis began, Griffin says her organization
has seen a significant increase in membership. “Last fall, we
were through the roof with new members,” she notes.
The fact is, while the altruistic reasons for going green are
obvious, when business is involved, it ultimately comes down to
money. And spending a few extra dollars to adopt energy-efficient
technologies, products and practices now can substantially reduce
operational costs in the long run.
“Hotels and indoor waterparks have no choice [but to look
toward sustainable options],” says Jeff Coy, a principal of
JLC Hospitality Consulting in Cave Creek, Ariz, who specializes in waterpark
resort consulting. “The economics of running a small business
will demand it.”
Several leading operators agree. Since launching its Project Green
Wolf earlier this year, Madison, Wis.-based Great Wolf Resorts
already has begun seeing the green payoff.
“We experienced a return on investment with things such as
high-efficiency light bulbs and low-flow bathroom fixtures in a
mere matter of months,” says Steve Shattuck, corporate
director of communications at Great Wolf Resorts.
The story is similar at Wisconsin Dells, Wis.-based Kalahari
Resorts, which also has a substantial green program. “Our
goal is to save anywhere between 25- and 30 percent of our energy
expenses by the end of 2009,” says COO Josef Hass of the
company’s electricity, gas, water and sewer costs.
The road to green
Great Wolf Resorts, Kalahari Resorts and others fully embrace the
environmental movement now, but collectively convincing hoteliers
to go green has not happened overnight.
Griffin helped pioneer the movement starting in the early 1990s.
One of the earliest efforts was the in-room linen wash request
cards, and Griffin says smaller boutique hotels were the first to
embrace the idea. “[From there,] it followed a natural
progression,” she notes. “It’s easier for
[smaller operations] to ‘change on a dime.’”
In 2005, the University of Maryland University College Inn &
Conference Center opened another door. By achieving the
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification
from the U.S. Green Building Council, it became the first hotel to be formally
recognized for its eco-friendly operation.
Since then, more large-scale operations — such as Hyatt
and Radisson — have come on board, and today a number of
properties are built on a business model of sustainability. One
example is the Kw’o:kw’e:hala eco-vacation retreat in
Othello, British Columbia, Canada.
Businesses such as Kw’o:kw’e:hala would not exist without
customers, and hotel guests themselves have become another major
factor in the growth of hospitality’s green movement.
It appears the same consumers whose homes include energy-saving
light bulbs and pantries full of organic foods, are seeking equal
commitment to Mother Earth when they’re away.
While it’s clear that green options must be convenient if
they are to be widely adopted, many Americans already have embraced
sustainability in a big way. In a 2007 survey by the Swiss
multinational business services cooperative KPMG, 60 percent of the
consumers polled said they’d be willing pay more for
environmentally friendly products, and 56 percent said they make
special efforts to patronize retailers with “green”
“In the past few years, interest in eco-friendly travel
has definitely grown,” says Elizabeth Sanberg, co-founder
GoGreenTravelGreen.com, a Website for eco-conscious travelers. “I think this is a reflection of consumers as a whole being more aware of their environmental impact … and of
how the environment affects their health, and this inspires them to take action.”
Shatttuck agrees. “Within the past two years, demand for
‘green’ products and services has changed from novelty
to necessity,” he says. “Through [guest satisfaction]
surveys, we discovered that guests overwhelmingly were in support
of green initiatives.”
The waterpark resort market may be particularly receptive to
green travel. According to Sanberg, the movement has gained
significant support among younger generations and families.
“Families are particularly interested in green travel, and
not just because of the environmental impact, she notes.
“Parents are extremely conscious of how the environment
affects their children’s health.”
But families aren’t the only ones. The management at
Kalahari reports that visiting groups are expressing more interest
in green practices. Hass says several organizations inquiring about
conference business have asked about eco-friendly programs such as
All told, growing consumer interest and the economic climate and
have made environmental responsibility a driving force in all
segments of hospitality, and the movement is something worth
considering. If you “practice what you preach,” you can
have a positive impact on the planet, gain the appreciation of your
guests and even save some money.