The price of hotel sustainability: willing-to-stay and willing-to-pay?
— 20 experts shared their view
A recently published large-scale survey points out that the vast majority of travelers are keen on staying at hotel properties that engage in sustainability (1). Willingness-to-stay (WTS) is important to the extent in which hotels can capitalize on their sustainability endeavors through transparent communication. However, the same travelers seem to have difficulty in finding hotels committed to sustainability or simply are not aware that those hotels even exist (2); a topic discussed by the World Panel on Sustainability in Hospitality earlier this year (3). Beyond WTS, hoteliers are particularly interested in the willingness-to-pay (WTP). Findings from academic research are mixed, but recent studies point out that the willingness to pay a price premium to stay in hotels that have implemented sustainability practices is linked to the level of environmental concerns showed by individuals (4). Because ultimately, the price guests pay to stay at the property remains a major driver or barrier for travel decisions.
How should the industry communicate the added value of sustainability (rather than added cost) that resonates with guests that espouse similar values? How should the industry communicate to other segments which do not share the same values? How do we transform the perception that sustainability measures are simply a cost-reduction strategy rather than valuable and essential practices in this day and age?
As has been shown in data and surveys over the years people value sustainability in their daily lives and with regards to businesses they interact with. Hotel guests are no different and look for properties and travel experiences that prioritize sustainability—but they also expect uncompromising service quality and experiences. Sustainability measures that attract travelers have a few core elements in common: they're thoughtful, communicated well, and don't negatively impact guest expectations.
It's one of the reasons eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of travel, and fueling sustainability practices in hospitality. Guests are looking for opportunities to align their values with a stay that also prioritizes their comfort and relaxation. Properties that strike a balance and deliver both sustainable practices and VIP service will find guests are more than willing to pay for it.
Traditionally, sustainability practices in hospitality have been associated with cutting costs, but that doesn't have to be the case. With design, construction and operations practices, and, of course, hospitality technology continuously innovating, properties have nearly unlimited opportunities to take a meaningful approach to sustainability that preserves and even enhances the guest experience. For example, urban hotels that provide guests with local transit on bicycles, low-emission vehicles, or group transportation make sustainability part of the guest experience. Bonus opportunities of not changing the linens every day to conserve resources, utilizing mobile key instead of plastic key cards, practicing on-premises recycling programs, and installing solar energy cells are incremental and tangible ways hotels can enhance the guest experience through sustainability.
Look no further than the new sustainability standards that Forbes Travel Guide released on Earth Day earlier this year. They call sustainability “the triple bottom line—making a profit while taking care of the environment and taking care of the communities around you.” According to the new standards, there's an emphasis on paperless arrival and departure processes, offering guests digital menus and compendiums, and making efforts to reduce single-use items and food waste—all of which are good for the guest in addition to being good for the environment.
Consider sustainability standards through the lens of the guest experience and don't be afraid to get creative. Like anything else, sustainability takes effort. If you put in the work, you'll land on an approach that's uniquely right for your property and your guests.