|By Christopher Boyd, The Orlando
Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 9, 2007 - Ecologically minded travelers looking for guilt-free getaways are finding more options as hotels and other tourist-related businesses go green.
It's a win-win for hotels that began becoming more environmentally friendly a decade ago to cut costs -- but now realize they can market to a growing cadre of green consumers.
"Ecotourism is really starting to catch on," said Karen Moore, an environmental specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. "It makes financial sense for hotels. The environmental movement in this country is growing, and it is already big around the world."
Although hotels designed from the ground up as green buildings are a rarity -- just five in the nation are now certified as meeting the U.S. Green Building Council's standards -- lodging chains including Marriott, Hilton and Wyndham are now encouraging their construction.
"This is the No. 1 trend in the hotel industry," said Lisa Cole, a spokeswoman for Hilton Hotels in Miami. "It's an issue that has moved to the top of everyone's list across all our brands. Everyone is trying to put proper programs in place before the marketing effort begins."
The Hilton at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, for example, is a leader in the company's campaign to enhance its environmental credentials. Last month, it became the 24th hotel statewide -- and the only Hilton in the Orlando area -- certified under the Florida Green Lodging Program.
Administered by state government, the program recognizes hotels that attain conservation goals, which include improved energy efficiency, reductions in solid waste and improvements in water conservation.
Customers are beginning to notice and embrace the trend.
"It's very important to me that a hotel practices conservation," said Priscilla Murtha of St. Petersburg. "Green hotels seem to be cleaner, and they pay attention to things like air quality."
Murtha said she recently stayed at a hotel in DeLand that posted signs informing guests that their towels wouldn't be replaced from day to day unless a guest requested it.
"Green hotels are striving for excellence," Murtha said. "Educated and informed people will tend to choose these places."
A growing number of tourist destinations, including Walt Disney World, are actively promoting such conservation.
Disney owns nearly a quarter of the Florida hotels that already have Green Lodging certifications. Two Disney hotels were the first to gain state certification in 2004.
"Our company has a heritage of commitment to the environment," said Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty. "Being part of the lodging initiative helps us stay true to that heritage."
Disney hotels have low-flow showerheads and toilets, energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and composting sites for waste. In addition, basic employee training includes segments on recycling and resource conservation.
"We get very positive feedback from our guests when they see our efforts," Prunty said, explaining that, as concern about the environment grows, so do customer queries about Disney's environmental practices.
One of the company's boldest initiatives was implemented in 2005. Called Strive for Five, it seeks to reduce energy consumption throughout the resort by 5 percent. Prunty said efforts to reach that goal are ongoing.
The Orange County Convention Center, a huge engine for the regional travel industry, is also embracing conservation measures. It has received recognition for recycling 40 percent of its waste -- about 9,000 tons annually.
Jerry Daigle, the center's deputy general manager, said the program saves more than $100,000 a year. The center also uses reclaimed water for all of its landscape irrigation, has energy-efficient motors to power fountain pumps and has a control system to regulate air-conditioning and lighting levels.
Daigle said the center is now exploring a state grant to install photovoltaic equipment on the center's sprawling roof, which covers nearly 70 acres. If the program moves ahead, Daigle said, the center will generate much of its own electricity, saving several hundred thousand dollars a year.
The center, which hosts 300 events, shows and meetings a year, is also reaping an indirect benefit from the conservation efforts.
"Clients are more interested in doing business with an environmentally sound center," Daigle said.
Rapidly rising energy bills are driving this conservation with much the same force as consumer demand.
"There is most definitely a strong bottom-line aspect to this trend," said Glenn Hasek, editor of Greenlodgingnews.com. "Hotels can save lots of money changing light bulbs and installing temperature controls. But hotels are investing more as they realize the marketing aspects of their investments."
Florida's tourism bureaus also are beginning to respond to the green-travel movement.
Visit Florida, the state-sponsored agency, recently issued a list of green-friendly, tourist-oriented businesses. The list includes Jungle Adventures, an Orange County boat-tour company, and Hertz, which recently introduced a fleet of fuel-efficient cars.
"People are taking measure of green practices," said Paul Kayemba, a Visit Florida spokesman. "Change is coming on a property-by-property basis, and it is becoming more and more an issue in the forefront of people's minds."
Christopher Boyd can be reached at 407-420-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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