Photo: Hotel Xixim
From the archives (1997)
by Kimberly Moffitt and David Engeldrum
As the new millennium fast approaches, a shift in consumer attitudes is forcing the hotel industry to re-evaluate the way it affects the environment. Recent studies indicate that more and more travelers are demanding that businesses practice environmental responsibility. In fact, the Conde Nast Traveler’s September 1996 Reader’s Poll revealed that 95% of travelers are concerned about the environmental conditions of their intended destinations. In order to remain competitive, hotels and other lodging facilities are going to have to prove that they are functioning in an environmentally sensitive manner. It will be up to you, the traveler, to determine whether or not these hotels are truly honoring this pledge.
What is an Environmentally Sensitive Hotel?
An environmentally sensitive hotel is not a hotel that has destroyed mangroves and coral reefs to provide its guests with a pristine white sand beach, nor is it an establishment that has commercialized local culture or bulldozed tracts of rainforest to accommodate hiking trails. Instead, an environmentally sensitive hotel is one that has made a commitment to conservation and preservation by operating in an environmentally sensitive manner. Installing energy and water efficient equipment, streamlining purchasing guidelines to reduce the amount of waste produced (and then reusing or recycling the waste that is produced), preserving cultural influences, integrating conservation techniques into every employees job description, providing educational opportunities for employees and the local community – these are the measures that distinguish environmentally responsible hotels and resorts from conventional lodging operations.
How to Be Sure that the Hotel you are visiting is Environmentally Sensitive
There are several ways in which to ensure that the hotels you select are truly preserving and protecting the environment. One is to ask informed questions about the hotel before you book your reservation. For example, ask if the hotel has an environmental mission statement or a recycling program. Find out how the property handles waste water treatment (is it pumped into the ocean or do they have a treatment facility to recycle the water for landscaping purposes?). Also, because a property’s social conscience is often a good indication of its environmental concern, find out if the hotel is involved with any donation, education, or other community improvement programs. If, however, you do not feel that you are prepared to ask the appropriate questions or to accurately judge the answers, you may opt to rely on third-party credibility ratings.
One such rating, the ECOTEL Certification, is a 5-Globe rating system that evaluates a hotel’s level of environmental responsibility in five areas: Solid Waste Management, Water Conservation, Energy Management, Environmental Education & Community Involvement, and Legislative Compliance & Native Land Preservation.
The following ECOTEL Certified hotels, have not only fulfilled their environmental obligations, they have also gone “above and beyond the call of duty” in making an environmental and cultural difference.
LAPA RIOS: Located on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, Lapa Rios offers numerous educational tours designed to teach guests about the rainforest’s unique flora and fauna. The resort also provides an opportunity for guests to give back to nature by participating in a reforestation program.
FONDA VELA HOTEL: Fonda Vela sponsors a three-month-long music festival that highlights musicians from all parts of the country. This festival not only supports regional artists, it also enables guests and the local community to experience the unique sounds and culture of Costa Rica.
DRAKE BAY WILDERNESS CAMP: Guests of the remote Drake Bay Wilderness Camp on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula can swim in a chemical-free pool that is cleansed each day by the sea’s rising tide.
CHAA CREEK COTTAGES: Situated in the Cayo District of Belize, Chaa Creek has spearheaded the successful re-introduction of the unique Howler monkey, a species which vanished from the region in the late sixties due to an outbreak of yellow fever. By encouraging the reforestation of the local river banks (planting Fig, Mahogany, and soil-retaining bamboo), Chaa Creek was able to secure a habitat for the monkeys, allowing a corridor for movements up and down the Macal River.
RANCHO LEONA: Many of Rancho Leona’s guests return home from La Virgen de Sarapiqu°, Costa Rica with tropical souvenirs from the hotel’s stained glass studio which specializes in tropical windows and Tiffany-style lamps. Proceeds from the sale of the hand-crafted glass are used to purchase and maintain tracts of virgin rainforest on the border of Braulio Carillo National Park.
COSTA DE COCOS: Guests at this remote hotel in coastal Quintana Roo, Mexico can relax by reading a book under a lamp powered by a wind-turbine system or rinse off after a day of scuba diving by taking a solar-heated shower.
The Guests’ Role
Environmentalism is a shared responsibility. While you are making sure that the hotels are doing their part, it is imperative that you do yours as well. The following tips will help minimize your affect on the environment during your stay.
Don’t leave water running unnecessarily.
Take a five minute shower instead of a bath (13 gallons of water saved). Bathe in a tub less than half filled with water (10-15 gallons saved).
Fill sink basin with water when shaving instead of letting water run continuously (about 3 gallons saved).
Do not leave water running when brushing teeth.
Make sure water faucets are completely turned off.
Use hair dryers on “low heat” setting; it saves and energy and is better for your hair.
Turn off all lights when leaving room.
Close curtains when leaving room to alleviate energy use needed to keep room cool.
The hospitality industry has the resources and the responsibility to be at the forefront of the environmental protection and conservation movement. After all, a significant portion of its revenue – especially in the most eco-sensitive regions of the world – is derived from guests’ attraction to the natural environments in which these hotels operate. As the driving force behind the boom in travel and tourism, it will be your role to make sure these hotels are doing their part to preserve the environment.
Kimberly Moffitt is Director of Marketing for HVS Eco Services. A graduate of the Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and the Public Relations Co-Chairperson for the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association, she is recognized as an expert in the field of hospitality environmentalism. She has been a keynote speaker at a variety of conferences such as the 1996 World Congress for Tourism and the Professional Meeting Professionals International Association in Washington, DC, January, 1997. Her article “The Greening of the Hotel Industry” was included in the highly touted Business Coalition for Sustainable Cities Report on the UN Conference on Human Settlement (Habitat II). She is a part-time graduate instructor at New York University and a guest lecturer at various universities throughout the U.S.
David Engeldrum is Managing Editor for HVS Eco Services. A graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, he has written about a variety of topics as a newspaper reporter for The Beacon and as a sportswriter for United Press International. A former chef, he has written numerous recipes for Long Island Chefs Magazine.