Guest experience design is essential to sustainable hospitality

The greenest hospitality businesses in the world won’t do anyone much good for long if they’re not making money. Talk of sustainability usually (and understandably) revolves around the environment, about waste and conservation. I have written about those topics and will do so again – but not here. This post is about economic sustainability, and how designing delightful guest experiences helps make it possible.

Before COVID-19, the United Nations’ sustainability reports clearly showed guests want more sustainable holiday experiences. The pandemic has only increased the public’s desire for greater protection of nature. We are moving towards a post-COVID world, a world where we need to design guest experiences that demonstrate eco-friendly actions and offer guests ways to participate. This drives a competitive advantage, leading to greater demand and higher revenues.

I will be expanding on the subject of my recent keynote talk at the June 2021 Eco Hotel Summit virtual conference. To keep things focused, we’ll be discussing in-house elements rather than excursions or supply chains. The quality of guest experience is what drives satisfaction. It is essential to your business. Let’s look at what hospitality businesses can do to provide that.

Guests and sustainability can’t be in different lanes

No hospitality business can ignore guests if it wants to meet its low emission goals. Guests account for over 50% of energy and water use in the average hotel. This number rises to 90% of resource use and waste in self-contained accommodation. Anyone serious about sustainability cannot afford to ignore this.

At the same time, we of course want our guests to be happy. I put it to you that it is not one or the other. Resource conservation and delightful guest experience design are not only compatible, they reinforce each other. That is, if you go about it the right way.

Don’t ring fence your guests

Before getting into the possibilities of good guest experience design, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what the bad stuff looks like.

When hospitality businesses try to up their green ambitions without involving guests, the results can be underwhelming. Take, for example, windows that can’t be opened, or automation of window screens. Sure it makes regulating the temperature easier for ACs – but harder for guests to adjust the environment to suit their individual needs. Automation detaches guests from making their own positive eco-contribution. It excludes them. We know guests want to make a difference but often do not feel it is worthwhile because of ‘clues’ they see as contradictory. Take for example our choice of ‘eco-friendly’ minifridges, it is not convincing if it contains nothing more than a tiny UHT milk container. Plus they can overheat the room and add unwanted noise.

These kinds of initiatives create a ‘ring fence’ effect, limiting the guest experience through their inability to personalise their comfort, reduce their participation and reduce their perception of our integrity which leads them to less like support our sustainability initiatives and find our claims of being eco-friend ‘greenwashing’ or just plain frustrating. This won’t do. It leads to sterile, deflating stays and poor (or no) guest reviews. This in turn lead to less demand and puts your revenue under pressure.

Designing delightful experiences

To delight guests, we must give them the tools they need to customise their experience. At my own business, Crystal Creek Meadows, we’ve done this in a number of ways. We provide natural fabrics on the beds, because synthetic materials are hotter and uncomfortable. Dimmer lights reduce energy consumption and let guests set a mood. And using wicker furniture and rugs means rooms can be adjusted for the season’s climate.

These are just a handful of examples, but they speak to a wider ethos of trust and collaboration. This same ethos is what fuels My Green Butler, our AI assistant which helps both guests and staff to conserve through behavioural change. Its success at Crystal Creek Meadows and beyond shows green-mindedness can enrich the guest experience.

Let guests control their space and collaborate with staff. Show your initiatives. Offer advice, be confident, inspire confidence. Give details and encourage curiosity. Show your environmental/social sustainability progress. Show how people’s behaviour makes a difference.

With My Green Butler we do this through eco-feedback, reporting back how much energy has been saved and how much money raised for our worthy cause. By gamifying this process, it becomes an enriching, educational, and joyful part of the guest experience.

Trust adaptive behaviour

I have experienced the benefits of this first hand. Guests with their own Green Butler use less water and energy. Not everyone wants to participate of course, which is absolutely fine. If you can get 80% participation – which is what we do – then significant savings follow.

Our own trials saw the following savings:

  • Bioenergy: 38%
  • Electricity: 33%
  • Water: 21%
  • Gas: 20%

What’s more, these savings have not come at the expense of guest experience – they have improved it. People are more than happy to play the game.

Of guests who participated in My Green Butler trials:

  • 70% wanted feedback
  • 80% said it added to the experience

The holistic approach is a win-win. Guests benefit and businesses benefit. A guest experience design that enables them to conserve resources actually improves satisfaction. This leads to glowing guest reviews, which in turn lead to a 22.27% price premium (identified in an independent scientific study of social media reviews and accommodation pricing).

We cannot ignore guests if we want to meet our low emission goals. The same is true if we want to be financially sustainable. Hospitality businesses live and die by the quality of their guests’ experiences. Do not surround them with ring fences. Collaborate, be transparent about your goals and how you can work together to reach them. As Eco Hotel Summit organiser Stephanie Curtis-Raleigh summarised beautifully after my talk, make guests feel like active participants in their own stay.


By Dr. Christopher Warren | @ChrisWarrenRT

Christopher has been a hospitality professional for over 20 years as proprietor of multi award-winning accommodation in Australia and France and is now founder of My Green Butler

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