Ahead of the trend

While many hotels are just beginning to adopt green practices, those with a longstanding history in the space are emphasizing that experience and developing new programs to engage guests.

While many hotels are just beginning to adopt green practices, those with a longstanding history in the space are emphasizing that experience and developing new programs to engage guests.

Imagine shopping with a hotel chef as he or she buys organic food for that night's dinner. Or watching a beehive produce honey on the rooftop garden of a downtown Toronto hotel. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts offers its guests these environmental-themed activities and more as part of an effort to remain one of the top green hotel chains in the hospitality sector.

"Over the last 20 years, our strategy didn't change as much as it evolved," says Lori Holland, executive director of PR for Fairmont. "It is a constant evolution, and part of that has to do with the technology that's available and the new products." The company explains its green practices in the Green Partnership Guide, which was first published in 1990. It is currently in its third edition.

Laura Davidson PR, Fairmont's AOR since the fall of 2007, uses this guide as part of its PR strategy for the company, says Lisa Caruso, VP at LDPR. Using the guide as an example, LDPR is able to promote the message that Fairmont is a pioneer in this space, even as more hotels and companies have become part of the trend.

"In terms of the overarching message, it's really about [its] environmental movement and how... [it has] led the charge in this space," Caruso says. "We've approached all types of media with messaging that makes sense, whether it's a business story about greening your business; a quick, front-of-book item about a new program; or more about the back-of-the-house operations, like from a culinary standpoint."

"Congruent with the mainstream media interest on the consumer level in these issues, we also were trying to look for ways to bring that experience to guests in a... more front-of-house way," Holland adds, pointing out its "Green Cuisine" program and using the honey from its beehives in the hotel. "We're a luxury hotel company, but that doesn't mean you need to sacrifice responsible tourism or operations."

Green practices
Another resort with a history of green practices is Callaway Gardens and Resort in Pine Mountain, GA. Opening as a garden in 1952, the 13,000-acre Callaway Gardens, owned by the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation, added guest accommodations and villas, culminating with a LEED-certified Lodge and Spa Conference Center that opened in 2002. Initiatives like refillable shampoo containers in the showers provide the company with ways to explain its sustainable practices.

"We try to take those little advantages to lend education and inspiration because we don't want to be hard core about it," says Rachel Crumbley, director of PR for Callaway Gardens. "We want them to have an enjoyable visit, successful meeting, but we also want them to go away with the subtle message of where they've been."

Callaway Gardens, which works with The Zimmerman Agency on PR initiatives, also reaches out to visitors through the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center and educational sessions, including a Birds of Prey show featuring a bald eagle that is unable to survive in the wild. The resort uses these activities to reach consumers, but in reaching out to media, Zimmerman focuses on the company's long, environmentally friendly history and motto of "connecting man and nature."

"From a buzz perspective, we're doing everything from going into schools and doing recycled art contests, to putting... benches in parks in... our key feeder markets that talk about Callaway Gardens," says Carrie Zimmerman, president of Zimmerman. "We're really taking more the enthusiasm of our environment to be our guide in the initiatives that we take, opposed to lecturing people about the dim reality of where the world will be [in] 10 years."

Hands-on involvement
Fairmont also offers guests ways to get involved in the hotel's environmental initiatives, including the "Shop with Chef" program, where guests can learn more about organic and locally grown food, or the Lexus Hybrid Living Suites.

Starting in San Francisco and Washington, DC, the Lexus suites are built with organic and sustainable materials and furniture, and include packages where guests can participate in activities like guided hikes or trips to the zoo. The next phase will include Lexus owner benefits for guests, but details are still being finalized, Caruso says.

"A lot of what we do then is look for like-minded partners," Holland says, citing the partnership with Lexus as a good marriage of two luxury brands that are committed to green. "We have developed a package which gets people out into the destination in a sustainable way. They drive the Lexus and we put together a guide of green attractions. That allows us to promote these experiences, part of a more comprehensive collection... that we call the Travel Green packages."

To promote this partnership, Fairmont implemented a direct-mail campaign, featured it on the Web site's homepage, and an article in the in-room magazine. In the hotel, visitors have plenty of chances to learn more about Fairmont's green practices, including signage around golf courses on Fairmont properties, explaining how they save water while still keeping the course green; and the company's work with third-party agencies, including carbon emissions auditing with the World Wildlife Federation.

"You can always, I think, do more to communicate with people," Holland says. "And certainly, in the time right now, people are eager to hear about these things. There's a lot of confusion out there, but people are more receptive and want to know about these things."

Hotels go green
88% of hotels offer a linen reuse program for guests who stay multiple nights

83.5% offer a similar towel reuse program

82.3% train maintenance staff on conservation and energy procedures

43.4% have programmable on/off timers or sensors for lighting in low traffic and low occupancy areas

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