Green tourism: Green into gold
As green tourism goes mainstream and increasing numbers of hospitality businesses recognise the potential for showcasing their green credentials, environmental public relations expert Claire Lalaguna finds out what works best
Located in the beautiful Sussex countryside, with fantastic views of the surrounding downs and minutes from the historical city of Chichester sits Old Chapel Forge, a veritable shrine to the environment it inhabits.
The property is described by owner-manager Sandra Barnes-Keywood as a "luxurious, green B&B", and the first thing you notice about its website, www.oldchapelforge.co.uk, is the strap line, "Green tourism - a philosophy not a product".
Barnes-Keywood explains: "To us, green tourism is not a product to be tagged on to a holiday; it is integral to the way we run the Old Chapel Forge. Our aspiration and aim is to offer our guests a ‘green tourism' experience. Through every aspect of their stay we strive to use environmentally friendly alternatives, whether it is our use of solar panels for water heating or the fact that we try to use only organic and locally produced food. Providing sustainable, green tourism to West Sussex is paramount to us."
The house and chapel date back to 1611 and were built by the owner of the farm at the time. The chapel is a beautiful flint and stone building located within the garden, although it was last used as a place of worship in the 19th century. Barnes-Keywood and her husband purchased Old Chapel Forge in 2001 and carried out a total eco-rebuild, which was Highly Commended in West Sussex County Council's Design and Build Awards last year.
The publicity generated through these and other awards has provided a platform for the B&B to communicate its environmental ethos to guests and the wider community, which is fundamental to the business's success. It attracts not only domestic tourists but also business guests whose green-minded companies insist that their employees stay in environmentally friendly venues.
Barnes-Keywood works tirelessly with her local authority, the Green Tourism Business Scheme and Tourism South East in getting the message across. Each guest room contains a detailed explanation of the environmental policy, including the systems and eco-products in use. Guests are also given a "nature diary", encouraging them to appreciate the flora and fauna in the Old Chapel Forge grounds.
And the policy has paid off. Old Chapel Forge has been rewarded for its commitment to the environment by being named joint winner of the first-ever Green Tourism Award in the prestigious Tourism ExSEllence Awards 2006, which recognises good environmental practice in tourism in the South-east, including introducing green initiatives within the business and encouraging other organisations in the local community to become environmentally aware and adopt sustainable approaches. Barnes-Keywood attributes the B&B's excellent occupancy rates, above 89%, to its green reputation.
Another example of marketing success is Strattons Hotel and Restaurant in Swaffham, Norfolk - a regular winner in the environmental stakes with countless green awards and column inches to its name. Editorial coverage in periodicals and national newspapers identifying Strattons as a green business increased phenomenally after it scooped last year's Considerate Hoteliers Award.
Its average occupancy level for 2006 is currently running at 92%, which is attributable in part to its national and international reputation as a green hotel. It has been following an environmental policy since its doors opened in 1990, as marketing manager Hannah Scott points out. "This is not a marketing fad, but something we believe in wholeheartedly," she says. "Quality and the environment go hand in hand - so, yes, our concern for quality and our care for the environment have given us a market edge."
Ross and Janet Anderson at the East Lochhead Country House and Cottages in Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire, are long-standing champions of Hospitable Climates, the energy-saving programme managed by the HCIMA.
There is no doubt that the decision to go green back in 1994 gave the Andersons a marketing edge over their competitors. While they agree that no one should go green for marketing purposes, it did lead them on to entering, and winning, a number of award schemes, which proved to be an excellent marketing tool. At the same time, going through the processes required for gaining an award has brought real economic benefits.
Ross Anderson comments: "Potential visitors trawling websites take note of award-winning venues, and our feedback suggests that 60% of our visitors were influenced by our environmental policies and linked quality with environmental concerns. We believe that being aware, recording what we do in environmental terms on our website, shouting about what we do in the local press, educating our guests, etc, will keep our green image to the fore and retain for us our green USP."
East Lochhead has reached the finals of the Scottish Thistle Awards for a third time this year, this time in the Sustainable Tourism category. The Thistle Awards are the top tourism awards in Scotland, sponsored by VisitScotland and billed as "the Oscars of the tourism industry".
It's not just rural B&Bs and small hotels that are interested in winning new customers through green marketing. Major chains such as Travelodge have noted that leisure travellers and corporate travel buyers are increasingly demanding that hoteliers provide evidence of green credentials. Travelodge believes its transformation to a sustainable hotel business can open up new opportunities in the war for leisure and corporate customers.
Ian Pennell, Travelodge's operations director, says the evidence of a consumer shift towards ethical buying and green accommodation is compelling and driving the brand's ongoing development in establishing environmental policies.
"For a consumer-driven brand like ours, two trends in particular underline why going green is critical to growing our business," he says. "Research we conducted recently revealed 87% of consumers said they would choose a green accommodation provider over one that wasn't, and a third would be willing to holiday more in the UK to cut down on air travel and reduce carbon emissions. If concern over climate change keeps tourists at home, this will be a massive boost for domestic tourism and brands like ours, as well as the environment.
"This goes much deeper than marketing, though. We want to make significant progress at an environmental, economic and educational level - both externally with customers and internally with staff. We have a tremendous opportunity to change how people use and work in our hotels, and we're working with the Carbon Trust and other experts to capitalise on that opportunity."
Clearly, there are opportunities for green hospitality businesses in terms of increased bookings and media profile, and yet experts are quick to issue words of warning to those thinking of jumping on the green bandwagon.
John Firrell, of the Considerate Hoteliers Association, says: "Our advice is that paying lip service to the green market is not an option. Embrace the principles of green tourism properly - join a proactive eco-network, find out as much relevant information and advice as you can from your industry associations, and get cracking."
Considerate Hoteliers Association
Runs the Considerate Hotel of the Year Awards (closing date for entries 24 November 2006).
- John Firrell 01308 482313
Excellence in England
The Excellence in England Awards recognise those English tourism businesses that excel in their field.
Green Dragon environmental standard
The Green Dragon standard has been developed in Wales to recognise effective environmental management in commercial organisations and is attracting more and more tourism businesses.
Green Globe certification programme
Green Globe is a worldwide certification programme that assures commitment to improved environmental and social outcomes for a more sustainable travel and tourism industry.
Green Tourism Business Scheme
With more than 500 members, the GTBS is the largest environmental accreditation scheme in the UK and includes accommodation providers, visitor attractions, tour operators and conference facilities.
Managed by the HCIMA with support from the Carbon Trust, Hospitable Climates is the only hospitality sector-specific energy-saving programme.
Olivia Otero 020 8661 4932 2. [www.hospitableclimates.org.uk](http://www.hospitableclimates.org.uk)
Specialises in marketing and public relations for the hospitality sector with a particular emphasis on environmental issues.
Claire Lalaguna 01903 885414 2. [www.satellitempr.com](http://www.satellitempr.com)
Scottish Thistle Awards
The Scottish Tourist Board launched the Scottish Thistle Awards nine years ago to reward excellence and to promote best practice.
Tourism & Conservation Partnership
A not-for-profit organisation that promotes positive change within the tourism industry. It encourages businesses to become more environmentally conscious both by fundraising for conservation and by the development of environmentally sustainable practices.
01539 434630 2. [www.ourstolookafter.co.uk
The Co-operative Bank's annual Ethical Consumerism Report noted that sales of ethical products and services increased by more than 15% to a total of £25.8b in 2005. It was growth for the sixth consecutive year.
This type of purchasing is also moving into leisure markets, and spend with green tour operators increased in 2004 by 22% to £112m.
Research by Responsibletravel .com in 2004 found that 67% of Britons didn't like the way mass tourism damages the culture and environment in resorts.
The English Tourism Council's research in 2002 revealed that 84% of consumers would choose an attraction or accommodation provider that was green over one that was not. In the same research, 81% stated their belief that it was important that their holiday should not damage the local environment.
A study by specialist research agency TNS Travel and Tourism revealed that 3% of 2,000 adults questioned were "very willing" to pay a green premium, while a further 25% were "quite willing" to pay more. When asked which factors influenced the choice of holiday destination, 38% said ethical tourism was important.
For more information contact Tom Costley on 0131-656 4022 or visit www.tns-global.com.
One leading manufacturer that has taken energy efficiency and the environment to its very core is Foster Refrigerator. The company has a history of being an environmental pioneer in the refrigeration industry and has been marketing itself as a green business for many years.
Foster was the first to manufacture fully CFC-free commercial refrigeration products, the first to introduce hydrocarbon technology and also the first refrigeration company to be listed on the Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme, in January 2004.
At the start of the year Foster relaunched its Green Paper series to offer authoritative industry guides for caterers on a variety of environmental topics. Additionally, the company has just introduced the Foster Green Procurement icon to inform customers that the product it accompanies conforms to ECA scheme criteria, meets ISO 14001 environmental standards and is available with hydrocarbon refrigerant at no extra cost.
Foster is the first and only UK refrigeration manufacturer to obtain ISO 14001, the recognised international standard that proves that the company is environmentally responsible throughout its operations. From manufacturing, product design, administration and customer sites right through to the end of a product's life, Foster has to meet the highest environmental standards and is audited every six months to prove that it continues to meet these benchmarks.
John Savage, food service director, explains: "Foster views environmental management as an integral component of its overall business decision making and strives to achieve environmental best practice in all of its manufacturing and supply operations. This focus on the environment has been at the heart of our marketing campaigns in recent years.
"By demonstrating our green credentials and history we have struck a chord with large companies and independent catering operations alike, who now feel equally strongly about minimising energy usage due to spiralling costs. Our proven commitment to being a totally green manufacturer - in actions, not just in words - has been a winning factor."
But Savage does offer some words of warning: "Marketing your company as green can set it apart from the competition, but you have to make sure that this is not just a hollow promise or it could backfire. If you back up your commitment with actions, you can protect both the environment and your reputation at the same time."