TripAdvisor’s Green Leaders scheme has stirred its fair share of controversy over the last weeks, fuelled by its nomination for a WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow award. In this guest post, hotel sustainability consultant Benjamin Lephilibert reflects on the use and usefulness of online peer reviews as indicators for environmental best practice.
In the hospitality industry, online peer-reviews have emerged over the past 5 years as a key indicator of hotels’ (perceived) level of service quality and guest satisfaction. Some hate them, some love them, but no Hotel General Manager would ever ignore them.
Hotel online brand reputation monitoring is a growing concern, and some companies (i.e. Revinate, Trustyou, Reviewpro) are even specialized in taking the pulse of guest satisfaction across all social media platforms.
With Millennials on the rise, hotel online brand reputation monitoring has become a growing concern.
Millennials or “Gen-Y” (people born after 1980), ultra-connected travelers with a social-environmental consciousness and expectations which are much higher than the ones of previous generations, are flooding the travel industry’s market and are determined to share every bit of their experience online, both for what they liked and disliked about their stay. Those online comments and reviews have a direct and substantial impact on a hotel’s reputation and future revenues.
TripAdvisor “Green Leaders” Program – How Helpful?
TripAdvisor is spearheading the peer-review trend, and by taking the responsibility of pushing the sustainability agenda amongst travellers and hotel guests (through the Green Leaders program), is both helping and undermining the hospitality industry’s efforts in its sustainability journey.
On the one hand, TripAdvisor is doing a fantastic job in empowering consumers and encouraging them to select hotels with (visible) “green” credentials and to look for tangible/visible signs of “green” practices. This certainly helps to raise awareness amongst less eco-sensitive travellers, and brings the sustainability agenda at the heart of guests’ expectations and consumption patterns. It does as well encourage more hotels to adopt responsible practices, and to communicate those with their guests.
TripAdvisor Green Leaders Program: great for empowering consumers and encouraging them to take “green” hotel practices in mind when choosing a hotel.
Green Leaders – Hotel Industry Reality Check
However, experience on hotel sustainability tells a different story. I have been involved in implementing certification schemes for a very large hotel group (Accor) in all Novotel in Asia (45 properties), was an EarthCheck preferred trainer (Master Trainer) and a strategic consultant for the Ministry of Tourism Vietnam-Hotel Department on the national Green Lotus standard for hotels.
In the great battle for a more responsible hospitality industry, certification is certainly a great weapon. Nonetheless, even in certified hotels you can’t imagine how few front office employees have ANY clue about what their hotel is currently doing in terms of sustainability commitment.
Green certifications are powerful tools, so long as hotel staff know and care about initiatives.
One reason is the lack of buy-in (“why are we doing this?”) and no inclusion of staff from the very beginning of the sustainability program implementation. The traditional top-down managerial approach is still the norm in hospitality at a time when truly successful hotels are actually opting for cross-hierarchy and cross-departmental approaches.
Front office hotel employees (= in direct contact with guests) will indeed be the ones who can share the hotel (genuine) values to customers, and invite them to adopt a more responsible behavior during their stay, so long as the hotel’s claims are perceived as truly beneficial to both people and the environment.
The Perfect Green Leaders Program…
One of Green Leaders’ key criteria could be that hotels have to have front office employees able to tell guests what the establishment is doing in terms of sustainability. Several surveys have shown that involvement of staff in genuine hotel sustainability efforts leads to a higher level of loyalty, staff productivity, with a direct effect on service quality and guest satisfaction, which ultimately generated higher revenue. In a word, sustainability initiatives are good for business.
A key shortcoming of the Green Leaders program is that travelers are usually no experts in eco-friendly features (can you distinguish a conventional shower from one equipped with low-flow fitters?), are by definition not allowed to access the back-of-house where most green efforts are actually taking place, and will certainly not discuss with the Human Resources director what type of environmental training the staff is receiving.
This is without mentioning that hardly any hotel today is keeping accurate records of the number of participants at such trainings, not to mention the amount of resources saved, or whether Front office and Housekeeping staff follow procedures, incentivize guests and actually thank them for participating.
Towel and bed linen reuse programs, chosen in the Green Leader program as indicators of “green” commitment, are only the tip of the iceberg, but genuine sustainability engagement is not visible to common guests.
Asking guests to assess hotel “green” commitment is actually pushing hotels towards “green-bullsh*tting”, inviting them to communicate extensively on few actions, instead of focusing on internal (and ongoing) efforts, with the obvious incentive to gain a distinction on the company’s website.
TripAdvisor is likely to be driven by noble intentions, but hotel sustainability is mostly a matter of knowledge, expertise and access and review of internal data and processes. And third-party auditing is a must for transparency and credibility, not something triggered occasionally, influenced by moods, feelings and guests’ personal experiences during their stay.
TripAdvisor should either change its approach and give its green stamp to hotels that have been reviewed by trained 3rdparty auditors, or simply stick to its business model and leave it to professionals to guarantee that hotels’ green claims are backed-up by verifiable actions.
About Benjamin Lephilibert
Benjamin Lephilibert is the founder and managing director of LightBlue Environmental Consulting, a firm dedicated to optimizing sustainability, staff performance and profitability in daily hotel operations. He has 7 years of experience as an international consultant in hotel sustainability performance, including auditing, consulting and training of hotel managers throughout Asia, for certification achievement (GreenGlobe, EarthCheck) or based on needs and resources (tailor-made solutions).