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Atlanta Hotels Addressing Georgia's Ongoing Drought with Water-reduction Measures
By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 20, 2007 --If you have relatives planning a stay at a metro Atlanta hotel soon, tell them to hold onto their towels. They're going to need them.

The city's hospitality community is addressing the state's ongoing drought with a number of water-reduction measures, including asking hotel guests to reuse towels instead of asking for new ones. Other measures include serving water in restaurants only upon request and turning off decorative fountains.

Local industry officials say such moves could save the region millions of gallons of water. The metro area has about 92,000 hotel rooms, along with hundreds of restaurants and several convention facilities.

"Did you know that it takes eight glasses of water to clean just one glass?" said Ron Wolf, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association. "Water on request only will have a huge impact."

Hospitality leaders are sensitive to outside perceptions of the drought and how it affects the region's attractiveness. Atlanta's $11 billion hospitality industry, as in most cities, hinges on selling the area as an exciting place where visitors face little stress.

National news coverage of Georgia's worsening water woes has led some meeting planners to quietly ask whether Atlanta can serve their organization's needs.

"We have had several customers inquire about the situation, and we are working with them closely," said Mark Vaughan, executive vice president, chief sales and marketing officer for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

No conventions have canceled because of the crisis, he and others in the community said.

Industry leaders say conservation measures are voluntary, both for businesses and visitors and patrons. Residents who want their sheets changed daily, for instance, will get their wish. And there will be examples of hotels and restaurants that may have different ideas on how to save water.

How many hotels and restaurants were participating is unknown, industry leaders said.

Customer reaction has been mixed, they said.

"Some guests are open to it, some are not," said Erica Qualls, general manager of the Marriott Marquis, the city's largest hotel. She said she is getting about 50 percent participation.

"What's amazing is people have a huge capacity to take care of the community," she said.

Other water-saving measures include asking hotel guests to turn off the water in the bathroom when brushing their teeth or shaving, working with conventioneers who agree to reduce the amount of water set out on the dais during meetings, and even offering discounts on bottled water for patrons of Buckhead Life Group restaurants.

Attractions also have gotten into the act. The Georgia Aquarium has drained its nonexhibit areas, and the World of Coca-Cola has removed the water from its fountains and stopped all water-pressure cleaning.

The restaurant association has on its Web site a table card for restaurants to educate diners about the changes, while the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association is putting the finishing touches on an advisory letter it will send to hotels across the state.

At the Georgian Terrace, engineers are installing aerators in bathrooms to reduce water usage in showers and in bathroom sinks, said Phil Anderson, the hotel's general manager.

He said the challenge is to convince guests that the steps being taken will have little effect on their stay.

"You can save a ton of water and still have a clean hotel, and guests will not know the difference," he said.

Katy Pando, a spokeswoman for the Georgia World Congress Center, agreed.

"We have had a lot of shows that have wanted to help us conserve water," she said.

The industry's latest water-saving steps are in addition to changes in water consumption they have made over the years in an effort to reduce operating costs. While most residential homes are just beginning to use low-flow commodes or aerators on shower heads, some hotels and restaurants switched to the cost-saving devices years ago.

The GWCC, for instance, in 2004 retrofitted 2,300 urinals and toilets to stem the flow of water, Pando said.

The state-run facility, which is trying to further reduce its water usage by 10 percent, also reduced the flow of water in sinks.

Hotels operators expect the new changes also will help their bottom lines.

"This program will save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, save energy, save tons of detergent, reduce wear and tear on laundry equipment, and save wear and tear in our linens," said Stephen Boggs, a spokesman for InterContinental Hotels Group, owner of the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites brands.

"This best practice will save up to 5 percent on utilities alone by using linen cards."

WAYS TO SAVE

A Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association committee says the state's 1,755 hotels can conserve water through measures including:

--Switch to drought-tolerant landscaping.

--Discontinue pre-setting water for banquet functions.

--Serve water in restaurants and via room service only when requested.

--Encourage reuse of towels.

--Investigate options for recycling laundry water.

--Evaluate wash formula and water cycles for water-use efficiency.

--Install flow reducers and faucet aerators in plumbing.

--Reduce water use on toilet flushing.

--Replace appliances and fixtures as they wear out with water-saving models.

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To see more of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ajc.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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