According to Maher, a real game changer is going to be TripAdvisor’s Green Leaders certification program. TripAdvisor, the immensely popular user-empowered destination and lodging review website with 200 million worldwide hits a month, launched the program last April. Within six months, 2,100 hotels had joined the program by filling out a survey and meeting the first seven green guidelines. Hotels can achieve stepped-up ratings of bronze, silver, gold, and platinum based on their survey score and by improving their efforts. With a Green Leader designation, hotels get a green leaf icon beside their listings, and users can click on it to see everything eco-friendly at each hotel. This gives travelers a playbook to use in making their travel choices. “A significantly high percentage of people [86 percent] were interested in greener travel choices, but not many did it because they didn’t know how to identify which hotels were doing what,” explains Jenny Rushmore, TripAdvisor’s director of responsible travel. Travelers expressed a lack of enthusiasm for choosing green if they were left to figure it all out for themselves. Now they have that information at their fingertips, and TripAdvisor is able to track everything. Since April, more than 11,000 reviews of green leader hotels have been written, and over 150,000 users have used the green hotel search button. “We’ve found that green leader hotels have a 20 percent higher user rating than others,” she says.
With the program mushrooming on the consumer side, the marketing implications are obvious for hotels. A recent Cornell University hospitality report indicated that just a one-point improvement on TripAdvisor’s five-point review scale was worth over an 11 percent increase in room rate value and that 87 percent of travelers felt that TripAdvisor’s reviews increased their confidence in selecting a place to stay. TripAdvisor’s research shows that 69 percent of travelers consider green, eco-friendly hotels when making their travel arrangements and that an even larger percentage of people do not equate green and eco-friendly with luxury. In other words, they don’t want to pay extra for it.
Larry Magor, managing director of the Omni Dallas, a silver LEED-certified facility, put the hotel’s efforts in perspective. “Everything that we do is revolved around how we can improve our footprint and set an example,” he says. Magor cites three issues the hotel considered when looking at green initiatives: how they affect the guests’ experience, how they affect the bottom line, and how they fit into its broader sustainability and social responsibility programs. These are critical questions for any business.
Staying visible online and on-location is paramount in promoting awareness. “In Dallas, we’re a beacon. We are trying to set an example of sustainability,” says Magor of their sustainability efforts. “The smallest little initiative can make such a difference. We find that just keeping people informed and communicating with people is the key ingredient to moving forward.” There’s a lot of value in having a third party validating sustainability. “Green certification is the price of entry in our business today.”
Public awareness toward good corporate stewardship can only improve business. Hersha has employed an EarthView page on Facebook and does road shows and speaking events at its properties to promote awareness. On Twitter, EarthView tweets are sent out to share sustainability stories in the news or at the company. “Consumers are making more and more decisions based on what’s right for society and what’s right for the world,” says Thomas.
SEE ALSO: Green Spotlight on Xanterra