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Arizona Resorts Quickly Recognizing the Economic Necessity of Green Initiatives

By Donna Hogan, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 19, 2007 - Just the statistics

  • Tourism is arguably the world's largest industry. It generates about 10 percent of total world GDP and employs more than 10 percent of the global work force, and it's on the verge of tremendous growth. In 2006, there were 842 million international tourism arrivals, reflecting a 4.5 percent growth rate and a new record year for the travel and tourism industry. The World Tourism Organization expects this figure to reach one billion by 2010.
  • Thirty-eight percent of travelers have stayed at an environmentally-friendly hotel, and 9 percent specifically seek out environmentally friendly hotels. (Trip Advisor, 2007.)
  • Nearly 36 percent of adult American travelers, or 55.1 million people, can be classified as sustainable or geotourists. These travelers have ceaseless expectations for unique and culturally authentic travel experiences that protect and preserve the ecological and cultural environment. Source: The Geotourism Study -- Phase I Executive Summary, Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), National Geographic Traveler 2002.
  • The number of Americans who say they worry about the environment "a great deal" or "a fair amount" increased from 62 percent to 77 percent between 2004 and 2006 (Source: The Gallup Organization).
  • 58.5 million Americans say they would pay more to use a travel company that strives to protect and preserve the environment. The majority (61 percent) of those who would pay more to use such companies would, in fact, pay 5 -10 percent more. Source: Geotourism: New Trend in Travel study, TIA, National Geographic Traveler October 2003
  • Almost 90 percent of the U.S. population states that it is important for companies to not just be profitable, but to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society (Corporate Social Responsibility: Consumer Understanding and Influence, Natural Marketing Institute, 2005).

Sustainable Travel International

Since the Hotel Valley Ho in downtown Scottsdale reopened in November 2006, it has recycled more than 48,000 pounds of paper, installed water-saving guest room features and dimmed the lights.

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort established an employee volunteer "green team" to figure out ways to make the hotel more environmentally conscious, started a recycling program, established a nature trail, and spent $57,000 on new energy-efficient controls for its boilers.

"The green initiative is rolling out across the Valley and across the country," said Bruce Lange, general manager of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in northeast Phoenix and chairman of the Valley Hotel and Resort Association. "Guests are becoming eco-friendly and eco-fixated, and there are bottom-line incentives to do the right thing."

Those incentives can include attracting the growing ranks of environmentally conscious travelers, saving money on energy bills, and government regulations that will penalize hotels for not reducing their carbon footprints.

Jim Butler, who heads the Global Hospitality Group of Los Angeles-based Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, said 15 states now have regulations that force businesses to reduce greenhouse gases, and more and stricter laws are coming.

"This is the No. 1 factor in the hotel industry," Butler said. "It's gone beyond a trend."

"The traveling public is becoming aware, but is not yet demanding (eco-friendliness), and that has lulled U.S. hotels," he said. "But the (United States) is way behind Europe and Asia."

Hotels that don't jump on the bandwagon soon may find themselves shunned by travelers and fined by government, he said.

"It will be a combination of carrots and sticks," Butler said. "And it will be deadly effective."

Butler said the government is first cracking down on the biggest energy users such as power plants and oil refineries, but as the utilities comply and pass on the cost of environmental fix-ups to customers, it will hurt hotels that are big energy consumers.

"When energy becomes four times, five times, 10 times as expensive as it is today, it will have a tremendous impact on a hotel's bottom line," he said.

And while it can cost 1 percent to 3 percent more to build a new hotel using LEED principles, the ongoing operation can save 40 percent to 50 percent in energy and water costs, he said.

LEED is short for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Two local planned projects -- the Ritz Carlton Paradise Valley and the "1" Hotel and Residences in Scottsdale -- are registered to build with LEED certification. There are only five LEED-certified hotels in the country, none in Arizona, said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the nonprofit, ecofocused group. But 60 more, including six in Arizona, are registered to become LEED certified, she said.


But for existing hotels, the conversion from wasteful to eco-mindful can be more difficult and costly.

At least that is the standard thinking. The experts say it's not necessarily so.

Even the linen reuse programs that most hotels do practice -- the little card that says they won't change your sheets and towels every day unless you ask -- can be big water and money savers, said Brian Mullis, spokesman for Sutstainable Travel International, a not-for-profit aimed at promoting green awareness in the tourism industry.

And many big-bucks items can have big payoffs, too.

The Fairmont Scottsdale recouped the $57,000 it spent for new boiler controls within six months, and the resort's internal recycling program regularly turns a profit, said spokeswoman Jennifer Franklin.

"In the hotel business there's a lot that goes into the Dumpster every year," Franklin said. "How much of that can be recycled? And they pay us for recyclables."

All departments of the Fairmont recycle now, and soon guests will be invited to join the effort. The Fairmont plans to add recycle bins in guest rooms within months, Franklin said.

The hotel has also has installed low-flow shower heads and toilets in some rooms and plans to add more. A planned expansion will be as green as possible, Franklin said.


The Valley Ho already had a major makeover.

And saved 200 tons of landfill waste by using the original 50-year-old structure instead of tearing it down and starting from scratch, said Jesse Thompson, sales and marketing director.

It's not the boutique inn's only money- and environmentsaving feature.

A paper recycling effort extends from employee to guest uses -- "We don't make our guests do it, but we do it for them," by separating large pieces of trash before emptying wastebaskets, Thompson said.

The hotel also switched to more efficient fluorescent light bulbs for 60 percent of the property, installed low-flow water facilities, and established internal policies to shut down computers, copiers and other office equipment at the end of the day, he said.

Energy Star, a program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to foster awareness of ecologically sound operating principles, estimates that reducing energy use by 10 percent throughout the hospitality industry would save $285 million.

Fairmont, Marriott International and Scottsdale resort FireSky's parent Kimpton Hotels are leaders in brandwide dedication to green initiatives, Mullis said.

"It's becoming part of corporate culture in America," he said. "Companies are aligning purchasing decisions with their values. It expands their market reach and saves on the bottom line."

Still, Mullis said only a fraction of a percentage of U.S. hotels are "fully engaged" in going green beyond the cards in the bathrooms.

"But more and more are moving in that direction," he said.

And for those that won't budge on their own, increasing expenses and rising consumer awareness will force them to change.

"It's such a critical mass that it's reached the tipping point," Butler said. "It is inevitable."

The Watchers

There are hundreds of organizations that "certify" the green level of hotels and other businesses, They base evaluations on different factors, such as the structures, construction or the ongoing operation. Here are the most recognized U.S. raters:

Energy Star: A program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There are 150 Energy Star certified hotels, 11 in Arizona, including Marriott Courtyard hotels in Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Scottsdale and Phoenix.

LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System of the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit composed of leaders from every sector of the building industry. There are 650 LEED-certified buildings but only five hotels. Sixty U.S. hotels have filed registration, the first step in getting LEED certification. They include two planned East Valley projects, the "1" in Scottsdale and the Ritz Carlton Paradise Valley.


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