First the bad news. A study published last year shows “green” is the least important attribute for selecting a hotel, when compared to attributes such as price, brand, location, technology/internet, star level, and transportation options. The study also showed that consumers who identify as concerned for the environment do not rate “green” any higher on the list.
For those dedicated to sustainability, these aren’t exactly the findings we hope will sway the industry to devote more effort to environmental causes. And unfortunately, this is not the first article in recent months I’ve written on this type of study result.
But let’s consider the good news: What draws a guest in is not necessarily what leads to retention.
Another study showed that guest satisfaction with the hotel’s product is a strong indicator the guest will be a repeat customer, even more so than the level of satisfaction with the service. In fact, it may be shocking to hear that in this particular study, guests’ satisfaction with the physical product was a significantly stronger indicator of a return visit than satisfaction with the service component.
Hoteliers should consider sustainability as a strategy to improve and differentiate the product and improve retention. Some get this; it’s why we have entire categories such as ecotourism. But for the thousands of properties that might be dabbling in sustainability, this is the good news that will help them take it further.
Here are just a few strategies, that if executed well, could be cost neutral!
- Green cleaning: No doubt, room cleanliness is a non-negotiable. If you have any doubts, just read the reviews of an average property on your favorite booking site. Chances are, some of the worst reviews stem from dirty rooms. The justifications for green cleaning are well-documented. Green cleaning products aren’t magic wands; housekeeping still has to do the job, but consider that improved indoor air quality for employees has been shown to improve productivity.
- Maintain, maintain, maintain: Another top complaint on travel sites is malfunctioning equipment and fixtures. Every green certification scheme emphasizes the importance of preventive maintenance so why not serve customers and the environment with regular checkups and commissioning on major, or even minor, equipment?
- Unique features: Leverage the hot trend of buying local to captivate customers with special features they cannot easily find elsewhere. If guests get a special sense of place in the property, rather than a generic experience, they are more likely to recall the memory. The bonus of offering local specialty products is it gives the guest something to take home. Imagine months later, they see, smell, or taste something they brought home from your property. These are powerful triggers – better than any targeted banner ad!
- Refill it: Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the plastic problem. There have be many articles recently, in non-industry publications, highlighting the trend of reducing or eliminating single-use plastic. This “beginner’s guide” to environmentally friendly travel mentions using refillable water bottles and skipping the little bathroom amenities.
- The role of product in customer retention underscores the importance of property level communication about sustainability initiatives. General managers are apprehensive about signage-overload, and that’s a legitimate concern, so study online reviews and speak to customers to pick up on the top themes. Engage staff to develop creative and innovative strategies to match messaging with customers’ product preferences.
Also, realise that in the study the physical product had a positive effect on retention, but not value. In other words, you may not be able to charge more for the room with green features (which would also align with the first study showing that sustainability is not a priority in property selection). Marketing and finance practitioners understand the concept of the lifetime value of a customer. We’ve all heard the adage, it costs more to get a new customer than to keep an old one. And with recent headlines about booking sites versus brand wars, the findings and suggestions presented here should be of interest to hoteliers.
As always, I enjoy hearing your reactions and comments so email me at [email protected].