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Can rewarding guests encourage sustainable practise adoption?

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Hotels reward guests for going green and forgoing housekeeping services, which, in turn, rewards a hotel’s bottom line. But can eco rewards also help hotel chains meet ambitious sustainability goals?

Hotel sustainability initiatives have found favour with guests and grown in importance over time, working their way into the daily fabric of how hotels work. As a result, it is now the norm to see hotels encouraging guests to do their part by reusing towels, while hotels replace tiny plastic shampoo bottles with bulk liquid soap containers and offer up refillable, ceramic water bottles

Many of the largest hotel chains, including Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG, have announced ambitious plans to significantly reduce single-use plastics in the coming years. Payal Pande, Vice President of Global Loyalty Programmes at IHG, points to the increased role of guest rewards as part of these sustainability efforts. “We are continuously looking at ways to further reduce the impact our hotels have on the environment, and a key area of focus has been tackling waste reduction. We also know that sustainability is becoming increasingly important to our IHG Rewards Club members – and that with IHG’s global scale, we have an opportunity to make a real difference.”

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s most recent survey, sustainability programmes are very popular among its members, with between 94-99% of chains reporting that they implement a linen and towel reuse programme. Independent hotels were not far behind at 83%. It’s easy to see why: according to the survey data, a typical 300-room hotel implementing a towel and linen reuse programme can reduce its water usage per year by 51,840 gallons and detergent usage by 346 gallons. When looked at from a cost perspective, incentivising participation in eco rewards programmes by guests can make a bottom-line difference. 

Communicating to guests: give to yourself or others?

One reward for guests who forego housekeeping service is free points. Other hotels offer credits at their on-site restaurant: IHG offers 500 points per day for guests who opt out of housekeeping while Best Western, offers 500 points - or an equivalent in food and beverage credit. Some hotels lean into charitable giving and make donations to preferred non-profits and charities. “We count the number of towels our guests choose to reuse and link a donation to international water charity Just A Drop for each towel,” says Inge Huijbrechts, Global Senior Vice President Responsible Business and Safety & Security at Radisson Hotel Group. “To date, those donations have helped to provide safe drinking water for life to 25,000 people.” Tying eco rewards to charitable organisations offers guests who may value giving over receiving the opportunity to make a truly altruistic choice. 

Independent and boutique hoteliers, who naturally work at a smaller scale, may be able to offer unique eco rewards.  “Being environmentally conscious is a huge priority for me,” says Michael Zislis, Owner of luxury boutique Shade Hotels in the Los Angeles area. “One of my favourite programmes that Shade Hotels has been a part of for the past three years is Plant With Purpose, where we plant a tree in your honour for each night you forgo housekeeping.” This type of reward can also work outside of a loyalty programme, making it easy for any guest to join in - or even non-guests. Shade will also donate a tree in the name of anyone who orders a ‘Give Shade’ cocktail at the hotel’s bar. By making it easy to participate, the hotel reports that it plants about 2,000 trees per year. 

One way hotel chains can differentiate their programmes is to let guests choose which option they prefer: points for themselves or donations for charity. Or, failing that, they can always call attention to how guests can conceivably choose both options if the hotel’s loyalty programme also provides for charitable giving. “Members can opt to earn points in lieu of housekeeping services each day through our A Greener Stay initiative, conserving water and energy and reducing waste. Further, members can donate their IHG Rewards Club points to causes and non-profits, such as Goodwill Industries International and American Red Cross,” says IHG’s Pande. 

Every unwashed towel helps tell the story, but of course, not all guests will respond to an eco reward offer. Some guests may check out without thinking twice about their sustainability footprint. As Huijbrechts notes, “It is still a challenge to strike the right balance between providing too much and not enough information about sustainability to customers. This is precisely why integrating sustainability as a core element of loyalty or Radisson Meetings is our preferred pathway.”


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Photo: credit to Noah Buscher, Unsplash
  • Large hotel chains have announced sustainability goals that might be achieved, in part, by encouraging guests to reduce waste and preserve resources during their stay - while being rewarded for doing so
  • Some guests respond better to reward points, while others prefer to act on altruistic impulses. Independent hotels - with or without loyalty programmes - may be able to aim their eco offers as broadly as possible 
  • Measuring the perception of eco rewards offers from non-loyalty programme members can be challenging, which may help explain why they often remain in the domain of loyalty programmes