Friday, November 22, 2013

Redefining Eco-Friendly to Accurately Measure

Report finds eco-friendliness not a factor in filling hotel rooms:  By Danny King

There are two factors that I find significant in Danny King’s story on the report from Cornell University School of Hotel Administration issued publicly in October 2013

(1) The data metrics that were used: Sabre's, Travelocity Green Program and the International Carbon Measurement Initiative

(2) What is "Eco-friendliness?" How does the customer perceive that concept and the value?

Let’s explore the first data metric that was used, Sabre's, Travelocity Green Program.  Sabre's Program unlike Trip Advisor's (TA's) program, was never clearly rolled out. Let's think consumer for a minute. To find a Green Hotel rated by their program on Travelocity’s public site, you would think that you would go to their main site page.   But, there is no listing and no drop down for "green" on the main page.  If you care or know or have looked up, Googled, "Travelocity green hotels," you get guided to an interior page not even listed in the site navigation for "Green Hotels."

The Travelocity Green page  is a confusing site page loaded with PR jargon and the actual listings of hotels nearly impossible to find. There is no simple procedure for booking. If this is the tool that was used; number of hits, bookings from this source etc., I am surprised they got anything to measure based on the customer interface of the tool.

The article goes on to describe how many hoteliers went on to embrace measuring carbon footprints as the second metric used. Well if you look at the portfolio of Inter-Continental Hotels Group (IHG), the lead company in the article that is mentioned, you realize that this particular hotel group is heavily invested in countries that are embarking on carbon legislation that will and does impact hotel operations. For many reporting is a legislated necessity. IHG’s site provides insight into their carbon initiatives. The US is also an active participant in the carbon reporting dialogue. Carbon measuring for the international hotelier is a standard practice for conducting international business.

Reviewing this concept from the consumer perspective, this is currently a pretty confusing concept. Ask anybody if they are trading or calculating their carbons and you will see a blank stare much like the deer on the side of the road. To most consumers, it does not mean a thing. Carbon trading goes far beyond and is in left field when describing to the consumer "Eco -Friendly" and potentially a reason for booking a hotel room.

So the metrics for measuring eco-friendly consumer spending behavior missed the mark. The metric failed as a measurement for consumer habits. So does that mean that the customer doesn't care or value green? I think Danny King's article would like us to believe that. "Eco-friendly is not a factor in filling hotel rooms" I question the definition, measurement and context of his statement.

It is interesting that the article completely leaves out the TA program. Understandably, the TA program was not in existence when the study was done. The author chose to use only the data from the Cornell study. The TA program is the game changer for the industry. TA reported in 9/13 that it had doubled its participation and had become in less than 9 months the largest certification program.  The first report on the Cornell Study was publicly issued one month after TA’s progress report.  And this article is published  a mere two months after the TA data. Certifications and green programs are without a doubt rattled by TA's game changer.

What is intriguing, and I believe significant about this article and gleaned from the report, is what was used to measure eco-friendly customer value engagement.  Dr Chong and Dr. Verma, authors of the study, in their executive summary succinctly state, “While this study doesn't address the situation of any individual hotel, we can conclude that going green is compatible with existing quality standards of hotel service…”

Therefore I pose the question, is eco-friendly as it was defined for the last 10 years as, the initial steps that a hotel took to “Go Green,” now viewed by the customer  as standard, norms? Are these standards of service which we initially thought of as green standards now “existing quality standards of hotel service?” A norm then becomes hard to measure as a factor to measure purchasing habits since it is assumed. I would argue that it is this metric and the definition that has changed and consequently changing the consumer’s attitude towards the value of eco-friendly.    

Energy Conservation, water savers, sheet and towel programs and recycling are all now just considered a part of normal quality standards of hotel service. I draw the analogy of the customer who asks the front desk for a toothbrush that he/she forgot to pack. Would the front desk employee even think to say, “Oh we don't have a toothbrush, we don't do that?”  Well, that's where we are with Eco-Friendly.  

Consequently how the customer views eco-green/eco-friendliness has changed.  How the customer rates the hotel for green has changed.  If you take a moment to study how TA has listed Green Practices, Energy etc. under its Green Certification lexicon, you will see how those attitudes have changed. To enter into the program as a Green Partner (Base 1 Level), it's not enough to have energy efficient bulbs, that's a given. What you need to do in order to enter as a Green Partner is track energy use for a minimum of one year. The language for the consumer in TA's public green face is much more evolved than the standard of 5 years ago. The customer is smarter, knows more, expects more and gets it. If they choose to engage, they can respond based on the customer experience and a metric which rates a hotel on basic green standards and their practices that are above and beyond the norm. And hopefully an employee, having been required to take Green Team Training can engage in dialogue with the curious customer about the hotel's practices. 

So as a customer, we no longer look at or reward a hotel for doing the basics, the givens. On the other hand, do we really decide if we are going to stay at your hotel if you measure your carbons?  The question remains. Will hoteliers read this article, go about business as usual and not really look below the title as to the true significance of the article? The executive summary of the research paper states, “…advertising green status doesn’t hurt a hotel’s revenues. Earning a green certification does not automatically result in a large revenue bump nor a revenue fall. In short, green is not a “silver bullet” strategy. “

The game changer is to actively engage the consumer in the process.  And without a doubt in marketing we know that when you engage people in authentic stories and link their actions to responsible tourism, the consumer finds it more appealing and fulfilling, the sweet spot of added value.

Linking authenticity and responsibility are powerful marketing tools. Linking your green practices to your regional stewardship of the environment brings a whole other dimension to the green / eco-friendly commitment both for the consumer and the hotelier. Our drums need to march in the same parade. It's not about just a towel or a bulb, it's also about how our actions and spending habits impact where we live and play. Our job is to create those linkages. Our definitions and understanding of eco-friendly are changing and in a sustainable direction for all.  It just requires defining and measuring accurately in order to tell the story with authenticity.

1 comment:

Adrianne Picciano said...

Nice response to a pretty vague headline. As with any study, digging deeper reveals the real truth of a situation. Thanks for taking the time to research this claim.