Greenview’s Eric Ricaurte talks sustainable tourism and creating FOMO among hotels (part 1)

Eric Ricaurte Travindy
Eric Ricaurte from Greenview speaking at PATA conference

We’ve recently interviewed Eric Ricaurte, Founder and CEO of Greenview, about mainstreaming sustainability in the hospitality sector.

Our conversation with Eric was so exciting (and long) that it doesn’t fit in one post. Today we’re publishing the first part. Grab your favourite drink and enjoy reading!

Anula: What are you up to now?

Eric: My primary project right now is The Greenview Portal, a data platform. It’s a software system for hotels and venues to track, measure, report and benchmark best practices related to environmental and social issues.

Anula: Who are your customers?

Eric: We’re mostly targeting owners of hotel portfolios of small and medium size hotels. Our primary market is Asia. This is where we live, where the platform is, and where so many emerging hotels and hotel chains are.

Eventually, every company has some kind of sustainability program and strategy. Therefore, our key service is corporate sustainability consulting, which includes strategy, advisory and program development, and also data management and analysis. Our platform is compatible with existing internal sustainability management systems.

Anula: So you work with hotel chains only?

Eric: Yes, we mostly work with chains because we need a certain scale. If you have 20, 50 100 hotels, you won’t build your own system – you will look for existing solutions. Hotel chains like Hilton and IHG have great internal programs but other hotels won’t use them. The experience we have with large hotels is that such a data management platform is what everyone eventually needs. So there we come in.

Anula: And how is the business going so far?

Eric: We launched the platform two years ago, and so far so good. Until now we’ve worked with numerous corporate clients and also large events. For example if ITB was seriously interested in minimizing their environmental impact, they would need a consultant like us to deliver a holistic program. I saw ITB’s social activities but there was not so much action related to reducing the carbon footprint of the entire event. This would require putting a plan together, which includes waste reduction, engaging attendees, and so on.

If you’re an event organiser, you want to work with a venue and hotels that have in place all the major sustainability practices. We have tools to support that.

There was a point in time when we were doing such evaluations for a hundred hotels per year. For example, I would go to one hotel in San Francisco and evaluate it four times. Then I thought, why don’t we build a solution that could be used multiple times by the whole industry. This is how the idea of a data platform was born.

Anula: And now you’re about to publish Green Lodging Trends Report 2017. Can companies still take part?

Eric: Yes! Our survey will be open until the 15th of June. If you haven’t done it yet, the first step is to register your property on GreenView Portal. All participants will get access to a free compare report—an opportunity to learn how their property is aligned with best practices, and where it is behind among peers locally and worldwide.

Green Lodging Trends Report 2017

Anula: If you can summarize Green Lodging Trends Report 2016, what are the practices that are going well and which areas need improvement?

Eric: These are exactly the questions we were trying to answer. But my feeling is that people are trying to oversimplify the topic. Let’s look at nutrition for example. When we started the discussion about nutrition, we had three main criteria: carbohydrates, calories, proteins. And then we started adding new elements and labels. Now we have much deeper understanding of the topic.

Sustainability is exactly the same but people are still trying to simplify it. There are a few hundred thousand hotels in the world. We don’t even know how many exactly there are. It’s very tough to generalize. At Greenview, we’re aiming for better analysis, data management and judgement. We are able to see what practices are emerging over time and how to accelerate them.

Of course, some practices are more common than others. For the hotels now it’s important to be aligned with various international agreements. Energy management and monitoring gets a lot of attention, and so about two thirds of hotels are doing it. But one thing I find really surprising, is that many hotels are still lacking digital thermostats. That’s such a waste of energy!

Hotels more and more get asked where did they get seafood from, wood, paper, construction materials, so procurement is another thing they need to get on board with. In terms of waste management some destinations are great and some don’t have a proper infrastructure.

It’s really tough to generalize. There are hotels that are doing fantastic things, and others that don’t do anything. Overall, however, hotels need help with everything, little by little.

Anula: So how is your platform helping hotels?

Eric: When a customer is taking a decision what hotel to book, he or she is looking at different attributes, including location, price, wifi, breakfast, fitness, etc. Hotels are doing the same and benchmarking the results all the time – rates, occupancy, amenities etc. This is what hotel management is all about. The same mentality has to be applied to sustainability. We want hotels to get into metrics and forecasts. By going deeper with data, we will understand what is already being done, and where and how to improve.

One of the emerging practices we’ve spotted is soap donation – when a hotel packs a soap and donates it to organisations like Clean the World, which then gives soap back to the communities. This practice didn’t exist 10 years ago but now is trending.

Another huge trend is urban beekeeping. Bees are the world’s biggest ecological problem that has been under the radar. Hotels have realized that roofs that haven’t been used for anything before, and can be now used for such a great cause. They can make local partnerships and become part of the community. We see that major corporations are getting involved and adding beekeeping across their portfolios, and that’s really fantastic.

Our focus is to find the innovative things and detect trends, based on data, and push them forward. By benchmarking, people will see what their competition is doing, and they will start too.

One of the emerging practices we’ve spotted is soap donation. Another huge trend is urban beekeeping.

Anula: What are hotels’ motivations to be sustainable? Is it solely for money? Soap donations don’t generate income.

Eric: Of course they do it for money. Hotels want to reduce the cost on one hand, and on the other, they want to increase guest satisfaction and brand value. One of the costs is labour cost. That’s why you want to make your employees happy and make them feel engaged. The soap donation is a really fascinating case because in many markets, housekeeping staff comes from the countries where soap is expensive or access to it is limited. So for the first time, housekeepers see that their job has a value and meaning. Engaging housekeeping staff actually reduces costs, so also, indirectly, saves money for the hotel.

Money, of course, is one of the key motivations. But there will be things that hotels do to save money, some to increase their employee satisfaction and some because they were required to do based on regulations. And sometimes hotels just want to keep up. Similarly, we could ask why a hotel is doing anything, like why would a hotel change TVs to flatscreens.

Anula: This is a demand coming from customers. But with sustainability practices, very often customers don’t care or even don’t know what to ask for. The initiative needs to come from a hotel.

Eric: Customers don’t demand a good Property Management System in a hotel. But a hotel knows that a PMS will improve their operations and will indirectly have a positive impact on the customer experience. There’re a lot of things that customers don’t see but hotels want to do because it makes good business sense.

What customers demand and what they don’t is a whole different story. Customers care about their health. Locally-grown, vegetarian meals and all that kind of stuff – that’s 100% aligned with sustainability and there is demand for it.

Pretty much all the innovative things hotels are doing are related to sustainability. But they didn’t make a connection that all the cool stuff they’re doing actually benefit sustainability. Our job now is to make this connection.

Anula: Indeed. But hotels don’t make this link and often get really boring when talking about sustainability.

Eric: The word sustainability is really difficult to sell, people don’t understand what it means. But now we have organic food, clean energy, clean tech and the terminology keeps expanding. We did a survey and asked, what are the most innovative things you see, and a separate question about being green. Then we realised that pretty much all the innovative things hotels are doing are related to sustainability. But they didn’t make a connection that all the cool stuff they’re doing actually benefit sustainability. Our job now is to make this connection.

Anula: And how can sustainability data be used for marketing?

Eric: First we need to figure out what customers care about. Definitely they care about health andsafety. I wouldn’t be surprised to see in the future more information about food items, like vegan, toxin-free, organic, etc. in search filters. But we have to learn what else people find important and how to translate it to features they search for.

But I think that now there’s a fetish on metrics. Will the customer choose a hotel just because its carbon footprint is a bit lower than the other? No. But if their carbon footprint is zero, then there’s a good story to tell, a definite winner. Someone who cares about sustainability would be impressed. More importantly than showing specific data to consumers, we need to learn how to talk about sustainability differently. Hotels need to learn how to tell a good sustainability story, and put it on the travel sites.

Eric Ricaurte Anula Galewska Travindy
Eric Ricaurte and Anula Galewska in one of Singapore’s cafes taking selfie straight after the interview.

 

Anula: Is there any difference in demand for sustainability between leisure and corporate markets?

Eric: One of the problems of looking at sustainability in traveler preference is that they mix leisure groups and business travelers and don’t understand the differences between these two. Business travelers often don’t choose and don’t pay for the hotels when it’s the corporate buyer, organiser or agency who does it. And they are the ones who actually demand more from hotels and ask for information related to sustainability.

Large companies were getting requests from their big corporate clients, so we started working with them, and helping them. So definitely demand for sustainability is higher among corporate travelers. And MICE is another thing. In my opinion, events are the single biggest missed opportunity right now.

Anula: Another sector you mention quite often is urban hospitality. How is this one evolving?

Eric: Urbanism attracts younger generation that is looking for more vitality and vibrancy in their world. People now want to live, work and play in the same place, and so the cities have to create mixed-use areas. That general trend also influences hospitality sector.

The biggest decision is where the hotel should be built in the first place. In the past, hotels were built in the suburbs but nobody likes that anymore. Look at the headquarters. Hilton for example moved their HQ away from Beverly Hills. Marriott announced that are they’re moving to an urban area in DC.

Why? Because their staff want to interact in an urban environment. For hotels it means that they can’t separate being eco from being urban any longer. No matter where we are in the world, we need to look at our water, energy and waste management. Taking care of the environment is not a sole responsibility of eco-resorts. Now every hotel in any area has take it into account.

Anula: How how about luxury hotels, what should be their market approach?

Eric: We used to think that luxury travelers don’t care about sustainability but that’s started changing. We should ask ourselves who is a luxury traveler right now, what they do in their free time, what they talk about. Now when you’re a wealthy person, you have to be aware of global issues, and be engaged to some extent.

This is where luxury matches with the sustainability trends but high-end hotels have to to talk about sustainability in a smart way. Forget saying “save the planet”, “reuse towels”. Luxury customers are looking for interesting stories. Maybe they can help save the orphans and are ready to build orphanages in Africa. Hotels have to tell what they’re doing for these big issues. There are actually many great initiatives run by luxury hotels that support communities. These include volunteering work, a lot of youth programs, a lot of donations. They can do all this because they have money to spend.

Some luxury travelers feel guilty because they’re not doing everything they could, for the environment and society. But they are willing to pay to be exonerated from guilt. This is a great opportunity for hotels.

Another thing is travelers’ expectations. Some luxury travelers feel guilty because they’re not doing everything they could, for the environment and society. But they are willing to pay to be exonerated from guilt. This is a great opportunity for hotels, that now can say “stay with us, guilt-free”. All the seafood is sustainable, wood is FSC certified, all the energy is renewable, all the water is recycled, all the cotton is certified, not toxic – we took care of everything. You can feel good about yourself just by staying at our hotel.

But luxury has always been luxury. You can’t expect luxury travelers to get rid of quality, fluffy pillows and all the amenities. And some people will always hate this market just because it’s luxury.

Anula: Why some hotels are thriving with sustainability and some not?

Eric: There are many companies that are “eco” in the core of their business and brand, like Six Senses for example. But if sustainability is not in your blood from the start, and you need to drive an organisational change, that’s where the leadership comes in. You need a GM, who loves this stuff and will push things forward. Also if the same person owns a hotel and manages it, pushing changes is much easier. But if you have two different people, it doesn’t matter how sustainability-driven the manager is, if the owner is not supportive. One of the problems is that for many hotels sustainability is a one-off thing.

Anula: You mean that sustainability is not included in a hotel’s strategy?

Eric: It’s not so much about the strategy but the system how the hotels are built. There are so many parties involved in the process: someone with a piece of land, someone in the real estate, and someone with a lot of money, who decides to invest. And then you need a hotel management company, suppliers, distribution, franchise and all different kind of players. At some point all these people meet and talk but these discussions happen way too late.

There are many opportunities of greening a building, like introducing power packs or dance floor with foot-generated energy. But such decisions have to take place at the very beginning, with all the players involved. For me, lack of communication and plan before a hotel is built is one of the biggest challenges.

Another problem is lack of communication between hotels in the same destination. You might have hotels on the same street, each doing something really cool but they don’t talk to each other. If they potentially came together and said, why don’t we build a big wind farm that we distribute for ourselves? But such collectivism has never existed among all these different players.

We need to be more innovative when it comes to renewable energies to go forward. The question is how to get energy from a hotel’s own utility. That’s a big innovation we’re waiting for. But nothing will happen without proper communication and collaboration.

Hotels are huge energy generators! We need to look at ways how they produce their own energy and be their own suppliers. At the moment they use LEDs, efficient cooling, solar panels, etc. That’s all good but we need to be more innovative when it comes to renewable energies to go forward. The question is how to get energy from a hotel’s own utility, how to build your own generator. That’s a big innovation we’re waiting for. And again, nothing will happen without proper communication and collaboration.

Read the second part of the interview.

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