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Green Travel Roundtable Transcript

Green Travel Roundtable Transcript 

Moderator

Michael Browne
Managing Editor
Travel Agent magazine

Participants

Sarah Dayboll
Coordinator, Environmental Affairs
Fairmont Raffles Hotels International

Brian McGuinness
Senior Vice President
Starwood/Element Hotels

Brigitta Witt
Vice President of Environmental Affairs
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts

Faith Taylor
Corporate Vice President Sustainability & Innovation
Wyndham Worldwide

Richard Peterson
California Academy of Sciences

Travel Agent Participants:

Liz Wessel
Owner
Green Concierge Travel LLC

Jena Hanes
Green Travel Consultant
Your Choice Travel

Stephanie Lee
Travel Quest

Michael Browne:
Welcome everybody and thanks for participating. What I'd like to do is have each of you give a brief introduction of yourself and what's going on with your individual companies regarding the whole environmental issue right now.  So I'm going to start with Brigitta.

Brigitta Witt:  Hi, everybody. I'm Brigitta Witt, Vice President of Environmental Affairs for Global Hyatt Corporation, and as a company, environmental concerns and the impact that our hotels have on the environment is a top priority. It's something that we've been focusing on from a resource perspective for probably two, two and a half years.

I have been with the company for just over a year and a half, and as a company we've really divided our areas of focus into five pillars. The first is employee awareness and education. The second is focused on reducing our waste. The third area of focus is reducing our energy consumption and our carbon emissions. The fourth is working with our suppliers to make sure that we introduce and use products in our hotels that have a minimal impact on our environment, and the fifth is focused on the design and construction of our hotels. 

We've made, I think, significant strides in each of these areas over the last year and a half, but I think what I'm most excited about is some of the initiatives that we're going to be releasing in the next weeks and coming months. There's really three or four major things that you're going to see coming out of Hyatt very shortly. The first is a global employee training program that we're releasing in April. It's going to consist of a minimum of eight hours of training for all of our employees and it's going to focus on the key areas that I outlined. The second initiative that we're launching that we're really excited about is a program to track and benchmark and manage all of our global carbon emissions on a per-hotel basis. We as a company have been tracking our energy and our water consumption globally for well over six years. We have a centralized database that enables us to do that. So then factoring in our carbon emissions is a significant addition to that, and it's going to help us to really understand where else we can make improvements from a renewable energy perspective as well as a further reduction perspective.

We also just launched sustainable design criteria for our properties, which means that we now have our own set of design standards that are based on what we think are the leading sustainable design and construction programs from all over the world and we're folding that into our existing design standards. So the goal is really for all of the hotels that we build to have significantly more sustainable elements throughout all aspects of both the design and construction of our properties.

And I think the fourth thing that we're really excited about is we're going to be launching a line of amenities that's made from 100 percent recycled plastic, so while we're not getting rid of amenities in our properties—because it's something that I think our research shows that our guests really value—we're really looking to minimize the impact that we have by using materials that are 100 percent recycled. We're doing a number of other things, but I think that probably gives you a pretty quick and good overview of some of our upcoming initiatives.

Sarah Dayboll: Hi, everyone, I'm Sarah Dayboll from Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, and currently I'm assisting both Raffles and Swiss along with Fairmont Hotels in green environmental programs. My priority focus right now is on Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and as many of you know, we have our Green Partnership program, which has been in place since 1990, so being green is really part of our DNA and it's something that our colleagues across the world have really embraced. The Green Partnership is our core brand program that provides comprehensive direction on essentially how to green your operations and it's pretty much adapted and executed locally at the properties driven by corporate strategy. And to assist with driving our essential green plans, we've put together a comprehensive guide book called “The Green Partnership Guide” that provides how-to's and tips for companies looking to introduce and expand their green policies along with our own when new hotels come into our portfolio.

The Green Partnership Program focuses on four core areas, essentially energy and water conservation, waste management, sustainability and community partnerships and now we're happy to say that we will also be addressing climate change as well. 

So for updates from us on our end, essentially right now the biggest thing that we're focusing on is our energy and carbon management program that we rolled out in January of this year to all of our properties. Essentially this program will help us monitor each of our properties’ CO2 emissions, which will be rolled up into our corporate GHD reduction target for CO2 emissions. And this energy and carbon management program has been adopted and rolled out through World Wildlife Fund and our partnership with them and we're currently right now happy to say we've benchmarked all of our emissions and we're ready to announce our reduction target at www.climatesaver this week actually on Friday in D.C. And so we're very proud of that and it will include just Fairmont's global reduction target at the moment and we hope to have both the other two brands coming on board within the next year or so as well with this great program here.

So aside from that, we've also expanded our eco-meet program, which is our green meeting and conference planning option. Essentially it focuses on four areas: eco-accommodation, eco-cuisine, eco-service and eco-programming.  And we're right now putting together select property sheets for all meeting planners, essentially both for our global reservation team and external parties as well.  And we're going to post essentially property-specific sales sheets on Fairmontmeetings.com and we're hoping to provide everyone with information on a property basis of green initiatives. If you're planning to book a green wedding or a green meeting or essentially anything you'd like facts on individual properties, it will all be posted live for everyone to view on a property-by-property basis.

And then also we're just trying to work through everything bringing on new hotel acquisitions and green teams as well and it's really focusing right now, like I said, on our climate and energy management strategies.

Brian McGuinness: Good morning, everyone.  I’m Brian McGuinness, Senior Vice President of Special Select Brands for Starwood, so that includes Aloft, Four Points by Sheraton and Element. Our good friends over at Hyatt and Fairmont were certainly very interested in sort of being eco-friendly and being good to Mother Nature and while we're doing all that they are doing as well, we had the unique opportunity here at Starwood to sort of build green from the ground up with the launch of Element Hotels.

So as we had the opportunity to roll out this brand, we made the decision to go LEED Certified so following the guidelines of the USGBC to actually start with the envelope or the building, if you will, and build it green from the ground up. Our first hotel opened in Lexington, Mass., that achieved Gold Certification, which means that we met all the criteria of both from a site-razing perspective as well as the using reused materials, etc., in constructing, building and laying the foundation for the ongoing operation that would impact water, waste and energy management. And so we have an integrated comprehensive program specifically for building and executing the construction of the hotel and then from an ongoing operation standpoint we're using the Element brand to look at using dispensers as opposed to having all those plastic shampoo bottles in the rooms, using low-energy lighting and air handling systems, using Energy Star Appliances, using dispensers in the bathrooms, using low-flow shower heads and fixtures throughout the property, right down to what we use for low-VOC paints down to the recycled nature of our carpets and our fabrics and our furniture and then finally what the overall guess experience is from an ongoing education on what it means to be green and in this marketplace.

So really, you know, [we are] taking it holistically to sort of say, "Okay, we want to build it green from the ground up, we want to give a great guest experience, but all at the same time we're actually doing the right thing by being both eco-chic and eco-friendly." And so that's our holistic strategy on it. We do 99 percent of our testing in the Element brand and then we lateralize that and bring it enterprise wide for all of Starwood as we move forward.

Faith Taylor:
I'm a Vice President of Sustainability and Innovation for Wyndham Worldwide. Our program actually encompasses across three business units so we have 7,000 hotels, we have 140,000-plus time-share units and we have approximately 60,000 vacation exchange [units].

The way that we've developed the program is that we have green councils worldwide that I work with and each green council by business unit has a strat plan. Our overall policy is to continue to develop our energy management and greenhouse gas emissions. This year we will be by the end of the year finishing that program to actually start to collect what our footprint will be and what our reduction targets will be. But more importantly we do what I call a "good, better, best" model where we have the basic program—everything from energy reduction, which includes things like installing CSL light bulbs, all the way up to more innovative types of programs like ozone laundry systems. We do have components of our portfolio that have some incredible best practices because they've been green for a long time, particularly our sites in Europe that have been green for over 10 years. And so we're able to share those types of best practices across the portfolio as well as within certain of our brands like our Wyndham Hotel and Resorts brand, which this year will receive the Green Chain award from Lodging Magazine. And one of the things that the focus there has been that they've had a EarthSmart re-linen program there for over 10 years in that brand. We bought that about three years ago.

But also doing innovative things like the Clear Air program, which is green as well as doing a new green uniform program within that brand. So the good news is that we have a large economy segment within our portfolio; we have some brands, Ramada, Days Inn, Super 8, Travelodge, Howard Johnson. What's interesting is that we have Super 8s, an economy brand, one in Wisconsin that received the Wisconsin Certification and this property, which is under 80 rooms, installed solar panels, did heat pumps on their P-tech units, energy-efficient lights, does the re-linen program, energy misers on their vending machines. And so they're doing a series of things that, you know, we're proud to say that the economy segment can also participate in going green.

So we're working on developing what I call a very basic program within that segment to make sure that people are doing the energy-efficient light bulbs all the way to the re-linen program. And then a spin for us, we've actually moved into a new facility here in Parsippany (NJ), that will be Silver LEED Interior Certified. We've gone down the path, we're in this building and we're looking at about a 30, almost 37 percent reduction in energy as well as reducing our carbon footprint for this building by about 30 percent. So we're trying to "walk the talk," develop the program globally and participate with quite a few organizations as I'm sure a lot of the people on this phone I've talked to before are. But that's just a top-line recap of what we're doing.

Michael Browne:
Great, thanks. We also have a few travel agents on the line who are kind of specializing in this initiative, so let's hear from them.

Liz Wessel:
Hi, I'm Liz and I started Green Concierge Travel back in September 2006 and it was partially, I come from the environmental community as an activist, but I'm a traveler and I really recognized the growth in the industry area and have been wanting to start a green business. So from the ground up my company was started using double-sided paper and all the different things that you can do within your business and then the idea was to try and connect travelers with the green options that were beginning to come up. And I try and serve both business and leisure travelers.

I really believe that there's a huge number of business travelers that would love to be traveling green more and I'm hopeful that we'll get a train system that can accommodate them with some of the stimulus money that's coming out. But that's the basic concept and then I have been certified with the International Eco-Tourism Society, with Green America and I also participate in my local community, because I think a big part of buying green is looking at where you're putting your money and supporting the local economy and several other people have mentioned some great things that they're doing and I know that some of the other agencies are also supporting the local economy but I think that is a big part of it.

And the other element that I bring into my business, I give every traveler a carbon footprint and they can decide whether or not they want to offset that if they choose to. And the other element is when people are going to destinations where it seems like a good fit, I will suggest a local group or conservation group that's working actively on the ground to help preserve the area. So it could be if you were going into Montana, for example, there's a local, I think it's a local Trout Unlimited Group that helps protect the fly fishing areas around some of the best places to stay. So I try and give people a lot of options and help them connect with the local community and the local places that they're going. I'm also using, for example, Think Host, a solar-powered website provider, my phone system is with Earth Tones, which again is a green company, and I bank with a local bank that's the local green banking provider. So that's how I've kind of green-ed my operations but also brought it over to my customers and the people that I work with.

Jena Hanes: I'm Jena Hanes and I'm a Green Travel Consultant. I’m also a travel agent. I have my own business, Your Choice Travel, and I have been in the business a little bit less than Liz. I've been in the business for about a year and a half and I work a lot like she does, I try to green my own operations as much as I can as well as raise awareness with my customers. And pretty much what I try to focus on is education so a lot of the people that come to me are not necessarily thinking green right away and then they learn more about it and they get real excited. So that's one of the things that I try to do.

I don't have a lot of certifications like she does but I have done the Travel Foundations Make Travel Greener training and I do a lot of research and I have a scientific background so it helps me interpret the scientific stuff for the general public. So pretty much what I do is just help people see that even little choices can really make a big difference and we go from working with specific suppliers all the way down to the individual choices they make on their trip.

Stephanie Lee: This is Stephanie Lee, and I am from Travel Quest and we're actually kind of in a unique position because we're a travel agency as well as a host agency and my background actually comes in environmental studies and education, so before I entered the travel industry I was teaching kids about the environment. And so when I decided to come over to the travel industry, I was looking for something I could integrate both of those, which at first seemed at odds but it was refreshing to find, challenging to find ways to find those to meet together. But our host agency works with about 160 different agents right now that we have that are Independent Contractors and while we do sell some green travel in our office, it's not our main forte, but I mean what I do a lot of is education both for our clients like Liz had mentioned earlier with concerned scientists and making sure to get the word out to people as well as educating our agents.

I found that a lot of travel agents don't know much about green travel and so making sure that they have the resources and putting on webinars that can help them and things like that. Also in our office, we try to green our operations as much as possible by doing double-sided paper, making sure that our lighting is efficient, using energy-efficient computers and joining the computer initiatives that do that. So that's pretty much what we do, but we focus more on the education. We don't have a strong group of clients in our area that are interested in green travel, but we're still working on educating them more and letting them know the benefits and being able to provide it at the same price and its not going to be something extravagant.

Liz Wessel:  Stephanie, you should talk about your local programs that you do, the local support programs.

Stephanie Lee:
Oh, yes, so we focus a lot on overall corporate social responsibility as well as just green travel and educating people on green. But like for our travel agency side of the business we've implemented a few programs on tentative carbon footprints, but not so much through a third party, it's something we do on our own.

We like to keep the business local like Jena and Liz had talked about, so for every booking that we make in our office we do $5 towards the Wright County Parks Program to put towards programs, sequestering programs, basically whatever they need the money for as long as it's going to be something that, it's pretty open but as long as it's something that's going to be sequestering carbon or helping the environment, something like that. We buy green power for our office and we like to donate money back to our community. We have funds set aside for that and we did have a project called the Banana Project where our local travelers were able to bring down, we set something up with Lomas Travel in Mexico where the travelers were able to bring down in their extra luggage supplies for the local schools—except when the airlines started charging baggage fees, the interest in that program dropped off quite dramatically.

Richard Peterson:
Good morning, everybody, Richard Peterson calling in from San Francisco. I'm with the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and most recently joined the Academy a little over a year ago having been at the Los Angeles Convention of Leaders Bureau as their Director of National Tourism for the City of Los Angeles. I head up the international and domestic initiatives for the Academy. And for those of you that are not familiar with the Academy of Sciences, we are a world-class scientific and research and cultural institute based in Golden Gate Park, have been actually in San Francisco for 155 years but just recently reopened just six months ago in September of 2008 after a quite extensive renovation of half a billion dollars in construction to really unveil a 400,000-square-foot facility housing an aquarium, a planetarium and natural history museum and a four-story rainforest all under one living roof.

On October 7th just 10 days after opening our doors to the public, we were honored to receive the Platinum LEED Certification, which actually just culminated in the ceremony last Tuesday with officially the world's greenest museum as well as the U.S.'s largest green public building. There's 119 Platinum buildings in the world and we have actually achieved the highest rating of all those Platinum buildings based on points, operation, construction and sustainability. Now it's been quite a feat but the mission of the California Academy of Sciences is to explore, explain and protect the natural world. That's our corporate mission statement. So with our values and our ethics at the core of everything that we do as a research facility and as a scientific institute with nearly 150 curators, researchers and scientists on our staff, it's something that's really imbedded into our everyday business process. But we really started down this journey about eight years ago as the old museum, and really it had taken on a lot of damage during the earthquakes that had occurred here in San Francisco in the late 80's, early 90's, and the building just was coming down and not safe to be in and there was talk of just closing the Academy but then the Board of Trustees had a vision and it really was about sustainability. And the Board of Trustees of the Academy along with the City of San Francisco through a bond measure of $180 million as seed money for the project for our Stein Heart Aquarium, which is the base level of the project, were able to really say to the community, to the staff as well as the architectural team that we must build green and we must be sustainable. We started that years ago and $480 million later it was constructed.

Building green is not cost-effective at times. If the building was to be built today, of course it would be much more than that and that's one of the things that's being used as a benchmark for a lot of other cultural institutions, buildings and facilities that are now coming to the Academy to see how we've done that, how we've delivered the project but also what we're doing to maintain the project on a day to day basis.  As I said, we've just been open six months.

So with that, our Green Team Sustainability Director, our local programs, our civic and community leaders, our neighborhood councils, everyone that's involved in the project, from the museum and the cultural facility standpoint really is coming to the table with ideas as to what the Academy will be doing for the next hundred years in maintaining the facility, but also giving back to the community. A big part of that will now be our putting together our carbon offsetting program. As I said, we've just been open a few months, we actually have to see where our bills and our electric bills and our waste bills and all of our usage is going in the building as well as being on and off the grid. So we're working very closely with our teams within the building to ensure that we're now moving into that next phase so that within one year of operation that we've already established our carbon offsetting program.

So it's an exciting time for the cultural community and as a cultural facility in the museum as well as a body of science, we really are living it every day in everything that we do. And then from the tourism aspect of which I head up for the Academy, it permeates everything that we do within the sales and marketing side and everyone has talked about it here, about what you do in the office with your individual office setups to the materials that you use to the type of printing and paper that you utilize, right down to the lighting in your office. But we also look at it from the standpoint of the partners that we partner with who are the travel agents and tour operators that we're working with who are the wholesalers, who are the hotels, the transportation providers, the motor coach firms that are driving in the people every day to Golden Gate Park to actually visit the Academy, looking at alternative options for transportation through a municipal bus service call Culture Bus that we helped push forward with the City of San Francisco and the Municipal Transit Authority. There's just a lot of interesting things that have brought a different dynamic to the project that now are touching many parts of San Francisco but also creating a launch pad for future facilities and projects like this across the country.

Michael Browne:  Great.  I'd like to actually start off with some interesting data I received from vacation.com yesterday and some of the highlights were the majority of U.S. travelers are skeptical of what companies tell them about their green practices and they came up with a figure of 56 percent. Just under a third of travelers indicate a willingness to pay some sort of premium for green travel, and only 8 percent of green travelers believe it is easy to find green travel options.  Based on those stats, you guys have your work cut out for you getting that message out.  Any thoughts on that? When you chime in just give your name first so we know who is talking.

Liz Wessel: This is Liz. So speaking from a person who is selling travel and trying to work with travelers who are finding the green options, the one thing I can say, and the hotel people who spoke, I mean it just makes me so excited and what Richard just said, just to know that all these options are coming up, but the best thing to do and I know a lot of you are doing it, is make it transparent, make it really obvious on your websites. I mean when I have been looking for hotels in Boston and some of the hotels are just great because they have a link to their policy if you really want to go deep. But at least they've got that stuff triggered up on the front or somewhere near the home page so you can see and then go deeper if you want. But transparency and keeping it really out in front, that's your best marketing I think.

Jena Hanes:
This is Jena with Your Choice Travel and I want to agree with Liz about transparency. It is often very hard to find information on websites or even by calling a travel supplier. But I also want to emphasize that without any sense of consistency about what is really green, I think travelers have a hard time feeling like this is really genuine for them and worth the extra investment. And so I think that's why it's, right now it's very important for travel agents to be educated themselves so that they can go back to the public and say, "Well, here's what, here's what Starwood is doing and it's really, really great compared to here's what another hotel supplier is doing. And they say they're really green but let's look at this and compare it and this is what this all means."  So I think travelers really need that extra help right now because there's no consistency.

Michael Browne:
Okay. What about the question, and this is I guess more for the hotel operators, we've gotten some feedback and the question basically is should a hotel sacrifice amenities for environmental responsibility? Or are travelers even willing to pay more for a green experience in a hotel? What's been your experience with that?

Faith Taylor:
This is Faith from Wyndham. I think that consumers aren't really willing to sacrifice the experience for going green, but I don't think they necessarily have to be juxtaposed. And so I truly believe it's education for both our operators and how to deliver green without making the experience any less as well, and improving the experience by allowing, giving consumers the flexibility to go green, whether it's allowing them to recycle in the room or how you do the re-linen program so it really to me is, it's both sides learning and educating. The other component is that we've seen that consumers will pay if there's truly added value for the program. So, for example, when we've done our clear-air rooms— they're allergy-free rooms, but they're green because of how we clean the filters for the HVAC systems and things—we found that consumers will pay for that enhanced experience because the room does, the overall quality, air quality of a room is so significantly higher and they will pay an 8 percent to 10 percent premium. We found that to be consistent when we've tested it and rolled it out.

So, I think that as we're looking at a variety of programs, for example even on the re-linen program, we're starting to test, “go green with us” and we'll give you 500 rewards points for not having you change the sheets and towels and that's helping us to go green and we're also rewarding you for doing that because it's a partnership. So I think that there's tremendous opportunity here and that is there is education on both sides.

Brigitta Witt
: And this is Brigitta with Hyatt. We're finding that guests aren't necessarily willing to pay more for the experience. What we're finding is that they're just expecting their hotel partners to be doing the right thing, which is why we are making such an effort to consistently, across all of our global properties to the extent possible and I say to the extent possible because, you know, what a hotel in San Francisco can do is very different from what a hotel in Kansas can do or New York or Shanghai. So to the extent possible, we're applying what we think are the core elements of our sustainability program to all of our properties and we're getting all of our properties to move in the same direction. Now in many cases what we're doing is also very transparent to the guests because many of the improvements that we can make and where we have the most impact are kind of back-of-the house operational improvements. So if we can provide in all of our properties’ lighting fixtures that use less energy, showers that use less water, low-flow fixtures, and the guest doesn't even notice that, they're not noticing a decrease in their quality of stay, then, we're really meeting our goals. And so I would say that it's less that they're willing to pay for it, they're just coming to expect that we're doing the right thing.

Stephanie Lee:
This is Stephanie from Travel Quest and while I'm not on the hotel side, it’s great to see what the hotels are doing and I think it's right that the clients are expecting that the stuff be done because what's really nice about a lot of the green initiatives is is it makes sense for both parties. I mean it's good for the environment and [for the hotels]. If you're installing LED lights and low-flow showerheads, those are going to be cost saving and the payback time is relatively short, so it's a win/win situation. Green has become a lot more mainstream in the past few years and a little bit more hip and trendy instead of having a stigma attached to it in a sense that you're going to be sacrificing things. But I think there's a fine line to be drawn that some people are still kind of cautious about it and I think that if it's going to be a green experience they don’t want to sacrifice anything. But I love hearing that—I'm sorry, I can't remember which hotel chain it was—that they're going to be working on finding the shampoos and conditioners that are going to be biodegradable and recyclable and things like that, so finding ways to meet the needs of both parties.

Brian McGuinness: I just want to echo everything that our counterparts have said on the phone and certainly honesty and transparency and education are core to what we need to do to educate the traveler on what it means to be green and how to travel green. I do think, though, really the trilogy in all of this is about environmental benefits, economic benefits and then helping community benefits.  And so really educating the customer as well that it's a holistic approach, it's not necessarily just the shampoo bottle, but it is actually protecting the ecosystem and biodiversity. It is improved air and water quality. It is about reducing solid waste and conserving natural resources and that doesn't always have to be an apology to a guest because we're doing that. I mean we have rain showerheads in every Element hotel and each of our hotels will save 942,000 gallons of potable water each year simply by our low-flow fixtures. Using CFL light bulbs and energy-rated appliances within our facilities allows us to save enough energy to power 236 U.S homes annually and neither of these are impacting the guests' stay in any way, shape or form because at the end of the day we have a tricky business and our customers expect amenities and they expect to have quite frankly an equal or better stay than they would normally have in their homes. 

Our research shows that 28 percent of the people leave the television on when they leave their guest room when they're in a hotel but they would never do that when they're at home. And so it's those types of things that we have to look at that really are the big bang buck and will really make an impact on our environment versus those small moments of the amenities that would, you know, negatively impact a guest’s stay.

Michael Browne: I think you bring up a good point about, the anecdotal thing about the television. People do behave differently on vacation and I think that their behavior tends to be more indulgent. So it sort of goes against the grain of, you know, I need to make this a green sacrifice and all that but I guess the point is to make it so that the guests don’t feel like it's a sacrifice, that they're just doing the right thing and they can still have a pleasant experience.

Brian McGuinness: You know, you're exactly right and transparency is a really wonderful word here because transparency in that you share with your customer and your traveler and your guest exactly what you're doing and absolutely do not “green wash,” but actually do the right thing and the other piece to that is to really show them what we're doing for them so that their stay does qualify as sort of eco-friendly but doesn't take a lot of engagement on their part because we are actually putting the systems and the processes in place behind the scenes to actually help them achieve that.

Sarah Dayboll:
This is Sarah from Fairmont and I completely agree with everyone's comments so far. It’s the same thing here on our side. It’s basically showing the guest what we do and because we're faced with challenges such as operation efficiencies back of house that they don't necessarily see, they're more or less requesting that information from us, whether it be in-room videos or collateral or updates at the concierge desk or through our Fairmont Presidents Club Members, online newsletters as well, they're demanding more of that information, they want to know and see our transparency and what we're really doing just because of all the questions in the industry in terms of greenwashing.  So a lot of our guests especially now are not necessarily objecting, but they're starting to question and say that we do appreciate hospitality sectors and hotels that are going green and we want to know what you're doing. They're also saying that that if we're able to keep that luxury brand and feel and not inhibit their guest experience, then they're more or less willing to participate in programs.  The biggest selling point for us was our green cuisine program that we implemented last year and communicating to guests that we purchase all of our foods locally, it's organic, and communicating this just on the menu within our properties is huge. And they started to question where our seafood came from, was it sustainably sourced. So providing communication tools to our service staff along with our chefs to source out all of the seafood is really important. So we're dealing with all of the challenges on a day-to-day basis and for us, I mean we just announced taking Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna from our menus and mandating that all our properties--.

Richard Peterson:
Yeah, that's exciting.

Sarah Dayboll:
So all of our properties now are mandated to partner with the local sustainable seafood organizations to kind of customize our menus according to sustainable choices. So on the West Coast it’s Sea Choice and organizations and NGOs like that. So it's really addressing guests' needs on a day-to day basis and sharing our best practices as well so that we as an industry can learn from each other and make our guests happy.

Richard Peterson:
The one thing I think that comes from my perspective having, I worked for Hilton Hotel Corporation on a global sales level for many years and, representing their eight brands around the globe and the challenges of consistency in finding the right parameters that's good for all owners, stakeholders, franchisees, as well as the corporate structure of any hotel company. I certainly applaud the incredible effort that's being done with the U.S. partners and also sometimes what a lot of people forget is that Europe has been doing it for a long, long time and we're just becoming green.  And our goal I think at the Academy as well as many other institutions is that, we've achieved our goal when you don't have to ask the question, "Are you green?" That it will just be assumed as others have been saying here today, that you have to display, advertise, explain and defend your position on low wattage, low flow, the compost thing and refuse and recycling to me is just deplorable. We shouldn’t have to do that, it should be expected.  But I think that unfortunately we're dealing with a client today, a consumer today, that still is very mixed because of the greenwashing and because of not really understanding themselves what it really means to be sustainable or a responsible tourist. And from the perspective of what we're now doing here, not only at the California Academy of Sciences, but also with other cultural institutions throughout the city as well as providers and other suppliers, it's interesting to see the number of calls I'm receiving from hoteliers and travel providers and transportation providers and airline partners and motor coach operators who all are launching green programs and they all want to work with the California Academy of Sciences.  And it's exciting to see that.  But when you really dig deep and ask them what they're doing, it's really greenwashing in some respects. 

So from the other side of the coin, while it all sounds rosy that we're doing these things, I think that there's many organizations, colleagues of ousr in the industry, that are still experiencing this unfortunate world, the unfortunate marketing ploy of greenwashing that don't even know they're doing it. They're only being given the directive from their corporate headquarters or from their boss to get out there and get the business and to make it happen. And we don't do business with those individuals. So we're making conscious decisions to really ensure that the partners that we're working with really are making a concerted effort and they're taking the right steps. Because at the end of the day, our mission is on the line for sustaining, exploring and protecting the natural world and if we can't do it, who can? So it's just very exciting to see the incredible momentum that's out there. I can't wait six months from now when we've been open a year and I start attending some of these conferences that you've all been attending on ecotourism and sustainability and we're able to sit there with our other industry partners, whether it be the Sea Worlds of the world or the museums of the world or other counterparts in the hospitality and tourism world because everyone focuses on the hotels and the car rental companies and the airlines. But there is, everything else a tourist does once they get to your cities, steps out of your hotels, and those are the key partners that you can also be working with every single day to really move your message forward, become catalysts for change as well as ambassadors for responsible tourism.

Michael Browne:
That's good stuff, Richard. Thank you.

Richard Peterson:
Thank you.

Michael Browne:
Thanks for joining in this morning. Actually he brings up a good point. It's the pressure on the hotel industry that other parts of the travel industry really aren't experiencing. I mean people are getting on planes and flying without really much concern about that carbon footprint, but when they get to the hotel they kind of expect the sort of green initiatives. Is there sort of a double standard applied there within the travel industry?

Faith Taylor:
You know, I work on the World Travel and Tourism Council and the group there includes not only hotels, there's trains, there's airlines and recently the group put together a charter and put down some goals. But we talk about the travel industry, which encompasses all of that and that the goals have to be, you have to develop programs that go across the boundaries, right?  Travel is the whole experience.  So that's something that I'm glad to say that people are starting to focus in on, not just the hotel but working with Continental and there are cruise lines that are also part of that group. It's about 75 people from various organizations. So I think that there is a ton of awareness about that and it's going across industry and people realize that. And so what I see is there are certain organizations, that's an organization that's in Europe that's starting to, and they also do some things here in the United States but they've been really strong in the UK area and in other countries. So I think there's opportunity there but I do know that there's people working on that.

Liz Wessel:
That holistic approach, basically I decided that from when you step our your door to when you get to your destination and then do all the different things, the activities there as Richard described them, I mean that's kind of the approach that I've taken with my business and that's why I included the word "concierge" in the name of the business because I believe that it's the process of getting there, where you're staying but also what you're doing and how you're interacting with the community that you're visiting. And it's that whole appreciation of what is there and the culture and the businesses, all the different things that you can enjoy and the nature beauty. So I think that's very much a part of what this green or eco-travel movement segment of the industry is all about and I think we will see a growing interest in that. And I think just the experience that you had with the cuisine, was it Sarah, with the cuisine program that you're doing, I think that is very important. I know that people in our area are very interested in food and where it comes from and I think when they travel to a place, that's what I want them to do it take their values with them.  Don't leave your values at home; bring them with you and explore the cuisine in another area or explore the local parks or, you know, the museums as Richard said. And I must admit I can't wait to get out to see the new Academy of Sciences Museum.

Jena Hanes:
This is Jena with Your Choice and I just want to go back to the point about air travel.  And I think that what I see with my clients a lot is that at first they think it's just hopeless. I mean they know there's carbon emission offsetting but they, I think they don't realize how much an airline can do to right off the bat reduce their carbon emissions and fuel consumption. There are also things that they can do during the flight and in operations to reduce their impact on the environment. So I hate to go back to the awareness issue, but I think that a lot of people start out just thinking it’s totally hopeless and I think that once they become more aware of all the things the airlines can do, there may be more pressure on airlines.

Brian McGuinness:
I would just like to commiserate with my counterparts at the other hotel brands because I can tell you that I think it is a unique challenge for hotel companies to go down this path, albeit the right path to do down. We have at least three sets of customers that we have to address the needs for. One is our owner in our development community and we have the responsibility to reduce operating costs as well as enhance asset value and profits for that group. Our second group is certainly our customers and we need to deliver a wonderful guest experience, however deliver on the eco-chic and eco-friendly initiatives that we're all trying to launch. And I think at a minimum the third is our associates and our challenges to improve associate productivity as well as satisfaction. And so when you have an ownership, an operator group, when you have your core customer and your end user and then certainly your talent in your associates and you're balancing everyone's expectations with being eco-friendly, it is certainly a challenge that is not insurmountable but a challenge nonetheless. So I give a thumbs up to my counterparts who are blazing the trail with us to really get this right and to be good to our guests and to the earth.

Michael Browne:
Is there, and I guess maybe this goes back to the education issue and awareness, but is there such a thing as a green traveler, somebody who comes in looking for that or is that still somewhat of a challenge for the agency to sort of market that and for the hotel?

Stephanie Lee:
This is Stephanie from Travel Quest and you know I think there's a stereotypical green traveler, someone who has a little bit more money that can spend for, because typically people would think that green things cost a little bit more. But I think the most important part is kind of qualifying the customer and its all how you lay it out to the customer. I mean if you're talking to someone at least on the travel agency side and you say you can stay at this hotel for $60 a night or whatnot or otherwise you can pay $10 more and if you're telling them what they're getting for their $10 and the value behind it, they can say yeah, that $10 is worth it if the food's all going to be locally grown and everything is going to be organic and I know my impact on the environment is a lot less. I think it's all in the terms you put it in and that's part of the huge challenge for people that are selling travel, how you lay it out to them is extremely important. You can really sell it, but you have to put it into perspective and tell them what they're getting for their money. So I think there is a stereotypical green traveler, but I think it could be anybody and they just, some people just need to be again educated on it.

Brigitta Witt:
I think there's certainly people out there that are aware beyond what the majority of the population is with respect to issues that are confronting the environment, things that they personally can do, and they make very distinct choices based on that knowledge. But what I am seeing is that the general level of awareness of the consumer has increased substantially over the past even year much less, you know, two or three years ago. So, we're just finding that people generally are a lot more knowledgeable and again it goes back to what their base level of expectation is. They're not seeking out green options as much as they're just expecting their hotel partners to be doing the right thing.

Liz Wessel:
I agree that I'm not sure there is a typical green traveler but I think, I know that when I set up my business I was looking at what's called the low-cost market, which is a huge segment of the market.  It's the lifestyles of health and sustainability and there have been studies on them but in 2005 it was 23 percent of the U.S. adult population was identified as low cost and these are people that spend their money with this profound sense of environmental and social responsibility. And they, I think what we're all kind of saying; they in turn have different degrees of how they participate in that spending. In other words, some of them are very interactive and some of them are just more trusting that, okay, you're going to be spending your money and they're not going to be digging as deeply. And what I liken it to is if you took a paint strip, you know, of green, when you go into a Home Depot or something and you've got people in different shades of green and some of the people I work with are extremely, intensely interested and attentive to the types of things that, the services that they're getting and how green are they and some of them are just more trusting that I am going to find them some green options and they don't question it as much. But I think that people are all on this learning curve and there are many, many different types of travelers and experiences that they're looking for from high end to economic. And in fact I'm just releasing some information on value family vacations that are green that you can get for under $1,000 or something.  So I think they are all over the spectrum in terms of the intensity of what they're looking for.

Jena Hanes:
Liz, thanks for the visual imagery of spectrums of green. I really have to agree with that. There are a lot of shades of green out there and I think that even the general public has some shade of green in them.

Michael Browne:
Does anyone feel like the current economy is going to have an effect on some green initiatives? I mean we talked about how it’s not always cost effective for building green, and travel wise, the travel cost could be higher to go green. Do you think that the economy is going to impact that kind of tourism or travel?

Brigitta Witt:
I was certainly expecting, not from our internal perspective because again I think we have seen and have proof positive that doing the right thing for the environment is also doing the right thing for the bottom line.  But I think what I was expecting was certainly a lot more focus from our customer, especially our large corporate customers' perspective. We were expecting them to really trend a lot more toward looking at only cost when they're making their travel decisions and what I'm finding is actually the opposite. A lot of our big customers are still very much focused on what is Hyatt doing from a green perspective and not only that, we're finding that they're actually increasing their requirements and looking even more stringently at what their hotel partners are doing vs. focusing solely on cost.

Michael Browne:
That's good to hear.

Sarah Dayboll:
I don't really anticipate that the interest in sustainability issues will abate over the next few years. In fact I think it will grow—and I mean from us here on our side, I mean working with hotel developers and basically stating and demonstrating the return on investment that going green and building green will have, it's really selling and driving the savings that they will achieve. I mean we're using our first LEED property, Fairmont Pittsburgh, as a primary example of yes, we understand the upfront cost but if you look down the road, the payback period is fairly short and you're going to continually save and have that return on investment year over year.  So for us it doesn't look like it’s going to deter any way at all from a corporate standpoint.

Faith Taylor:
For us it's been interesting because our economy brands are already doing a lot of these things because it's saving them money. You know, the increase in energy cost in this last year, where oil has gone, gas prices have gone up to $4 and down again and now it’s going back up again. I'm seeing they're looking for ways to reduce their energy cost naturally, save money. So we say go green and save. There are proven things that you can just do in operations and maintenance that we share, that you can save by spending low to little, no money, and you can save up to 30 percent in terms of actual expenses so we share that with our franchisees all the time. And then the other component is I agree with LEED certified buildings as well as Energy Star buildings if you actually really follow all the components and really track and measure. If you do do investments, we're seeing resell values and rental values, there are actually proven facts and figures of how much your occupancy and ADR can go up realizing it through the expense reduction line.  So, you know, and then of course the resell value in terms of your return on investment. The operating cost for a building is so much lower that when you resell, you realize that the resell value is significantly higher. So to me it seems like that green does not necessarily have to, I mean there are enough financial metrics to support it.

Michael Browne: Okay, great. I'm going to actually start kind of wrapping up now. I'd like to just go around and if any of you have any thoughts that you didn't get to share and you'd like to at this point or if you had any comments on any of the other participants' messages, this would be a great time for that.

Brigitta Witt: 
I think I'd just like to wrap up by really concurring with what Brian McGuinness said which is that I think this is really a long journey. I think we're all probably still at the beginning of the road but I think we as an industry have made tremendous strides in, I think the last five years from an awareness perspective, from an actual strategy implementation perspective and I think all of us are probably moving in very much the same direction. We all have a slightly different approach which I think is a natural evolution because we all have different brands and different companies but I think we as an industry could really, can really step back and look at our accomplishments over the last few years and say we're on the right path. We're not there yet but we're really working hard to do the right thing. And I think we're slowly getting there and I think we all should step back and I think have some level of pride in our accomplishments while at the same time not losing sight of the goal.

Liz Wessel:
I just want to say that just to reemphasize that one of the first things that Michael brought up was the 58 percent who are skeptical and I think the best way to combat that skepticism is to keep it transparent, to wear your actions on your sleeve and on your websites and, because that's where people are looking, and to keep at it, you guys are all doing just tremendous stuff and I think it's really exciting. The future of the industry is going in the right direction and I think that's really exciting. And the other thing is to really reemphasize what Richard had said about a holistic approach; don't forget about your transportation, your accessibilityhow can people get to you without renting a car per se.  Maybe they can get there on mass transit and make that [information] available on your websites as well. I think a lot of people are beginning to do that and I think it's wonderful because a lot of people are beginning to look for other options than just getting to a destination and renting a car. And again the other options of your food choices, the places that they can go, so again, the holistic approach and connecting all the dots of what is the travel industry as a whole.  I think it's really an exciting time.

Jena Hanes:
I just wanted to say thank you for having me participate in the roundtable; it's really exciting and thank you to everyone for sharing what you're doing. It's really, really terribly exciting to have all of this happening and we really appreciate that the hotel industry is working so hard to serve as examples for the rest of the industry because I think that's what it's all about is just serving as an example and the holistic approach is so important but continuing to be good examples for the rest of the industry is going to help us a lot. So thanks.


Michael Browne:
I just wanted to thank all of you once again. Have a great day.


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