(Reuters.com) - A hotel stay might have once been thought of as an opportunity to overindulge on rich buffet food, multiple luxuriant baths and mini-bar nightcaps, but is the modern business traveller more likely to demand gluten-free breakfasts, in-room yoga mats and a green-energy policy?
Properties have been responding to consumer demand as they adapt to becoming the venues in which environmentally aware, health conscious people want to stay, eat, play, exercise and relax.
Gary Diedrichs of Green Traveler Guides argues that though many urban hotels today are doing a brilliant job of reducing their carbon footprints, much of this is behind the scenes and not obvious to guests.
"But is it enough? No. And that's because too many business travellers and other guests do not demand it loudly enough -- yet."
Surveys show that the intention is there among this market. According to a 2008 poll of 1,000 business travellers in the U.S. by Deloitte, 95 percent of respondents believe the hotel industry should be taking green initiatives and 38 percent had taken steps to determine whether a hotel was green.
Almost a third of travellers had requested that a hotel not change the sheets or towels, but had returned to find the items changed. One in five said they had stayed at a hotel that didn't allow them to be as green as they wanted to be. More than a quarter said they would be willing to pay 10 percent more to stay at a green lodging facility.
More recently, the 2012 Canadian Travel Intentions Survey found 42 percent of business travellers surveyed saying that practices like recycling and energy efficiency matter to them when choosing where to stay, up five percent from last year. The same percentage of all travellers said they would pay $1 or more to offset their carbon footprint during a stay at a property.
But for Diedrichs, hotels have huge untapped opportunity to promote healthy lodging in a broader sense. He lists some examples: Gas toxins from carpeting or wall coverings; cleaning chemicals that leave toxic residue; and local, sustainable and organic food in the kitchen.
Similar sentiments were heard at this year's World Travel Market (WTM) when John Firrell, managing director of London-based Considerate Hoteliers, a green hotel association, told a panel there's no excuse for hotels not to be sustainably designed.
"It's absolute common sense that if you're going to build or retrofit a hotel, you're going to want to put in measures that are going to save money, save energy, save waste. Those applications can equally be applied to five-star hotels or... a bed and breakfast."
HOTELS WHICH GET IT
Some brands are way ahead of the green curve. Diedrichs highlights Langham Hotels in the UK, Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces in India, Six Senses Resorts & Spas (mainly in Asian destinations), and Kimpton Hotels in the U.S. as regional leaders.
Among all global chains, Marriott is highlighted by a Euromonitor report for its pledge to reduce energy and water consumption by 20 percent by 2020; empowering its hotel development partners to build green hotels and educating its guests to become energy-efficient during their stay.
Marriott also tops the latest annual ranking of the most eco-friendly hotel chains on ClimateCounts.org, which scores the brands on their efforts to shrink their carbon footprint. Based on a point scale of 0 to 100, Marriott scored 73, beating Wyndham at 57 points and Starwood at 48.
But, commenting on the results, ClimateCounts wrote that the hotel chains "may be seeking practical ways to address a range of broad environmental impacts in their operations... However, few appear to be aligning such actions as part of a larger and more comprehensive carbon management strategy."
But the industry is at least moving in the right direction. Another WTM panellist, Corinthia Hotels COO Liam Lambert, argued that there has been a paradigm shift in hotels' thinking, saying the push towards sustainable design "comes from the heart and soul of hoteliers; we want to do the right thing, we want to treat nature properly and enhance the environment... We are much more sensitive now."
One of the most hopeful travel trends in recent years for Diedrichs of Green Traveler Guides is the insistence by a growing percentage of corporate meeting planners and travel agents that hotels meet basic eco-friendly standards and offer "green meetings."
"As a result, hoteliers are seeing that going green can give them a marketing edge among business travellers, especially for retreats, meetings, conventions and the like."
Diedrichs also points to the growing female business and leisure traveller market who he believes are especially seeking a healthier, greener lifestyle. "You'll be seeing more chains creating hotel concepts targeted to this group. Starwood's eco-chic Element brand is the leading example."
GREEN, HEALTHY AND HAPPY
That travellers expect hotels to be as green as possible is intuitive to Anne Biging, founder of Healing Hotels of the World, which accepts hotels which fulfil a set of ethical and health-focused criteria.
"Health consciousness and sustainability are two sides of one coin: To take responsibility for yourself and the world around you."
In a 2012 report, research firm Euromonitor lists the hotel chains which are best applying the sustainability trend to their food and beverage offerings. Marriott International, it says, encouraged 780 full-service hotels to get nearly half of their seafood from certified sustainable fisheries and farms in 2011, while in April of that year Hilton began offering low-calorie and low-fat breakfast options.
Starwood's Westin brand has a SuperFoodsRx menu, developed by health professionals who paired foods together to boost their nutritional value, while Hyatt Hotels in May announced a global food and beverage philosophy based upon sustainable and healthy options.
Healing Hotels have started to include city properties to their largely off-the-beaten-track portfolio, says Biging, "so that business travellers find a healthy location when they are travelling."
After all, she adds, "in our normal lives, nobody takes care of us."
(Editing by Mark Kolmar)