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Marketing Your Green B&B

March 31, 2005

by Kit Cassingham

Make your environmentally friendly bed and breakfast a distinct market niche to attract loyal guests. And in the process save money and create goodwill with the community. Environmental issues vary around the country, so picking the issues that affect you most is important. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of options for being "green", pick one or two to implement now and add others later. Good maintenance is one easy step toward being "green".

The most successful inns establish a specific market niche and work tirelessly to ensure all aspects of running it reflect that niche.

Your market niche definition should guide not only how you establish and run your bed and breakfast but also how your promote it. If part of what you have established is around being a "green inn" or "green hotel" then you owe it to yourself and your guests to share your actions. You need to promote your environmental actions so people know what you have done and decide if that's what they want. And guests are indeed starting to pay attention to how businesses treat the environment, and are now trying to seek out those who are more green.

I have heard for years that innkeepers are afraid they will lose guests because of their green actions. I have a few reactions to that, starting with, "Respectfully, I don't believe it for a minute." That reaction is quickly followed by, "Your market niche helps you sort through the masses of potential to find those who want what you are offering." If you created your B&B inn around being environmentally sensitive and active, then you shouldn't hide that fact from your guests.

If you fear turning guests off with your green actions, rather than keep them secret you need to better explain what you have created. Talk about the customer service, the guest experience, the level of quality, and the wonderful things you have done and why everyone benefits from those actions. Have confidence in your market niche definition. What constitutes being a green hotel? My definition, when I developed Best Green Hotels , was that even doing one pro-environmental action constituted making a property green. Of course I would rather see lodging properties implement many green actions into their plan. But if all they do is join a green hotel association or only offer a sheet or towel reuse program, that is a start. Pressure from your guests and other innkeepers may urge you toward more actions.

I find humor in some of the arguments against going green because the arguments usually come out of ignorance rather than knowledge. The biggest argument I hear is that being green costs money and innkeepers already feel financially pinched. Ironically, many of the green steps you can implement are money savers, not expenses. Yes, there are green steps that take an initial investment, sometimes big and sometimes small, but there are plenty of things you can do that won't cost a penny.

"Free" green steps you can take that nobody will even notice (though you will when you pay your bills) include fixing leaks -- air and water; turning lights off in rooms when guests are out of the inn; using recycled paper; and changing the thermostat one degree -- heat down and A/C up.

Other free green steps you can take that save you money and your guests will notice and appreciate include offering a towel and sheet reuse program; recycling; cleaning with environmentally sensitive products; avoiding scented products -- room fresheners, dryer sheets, cleaning products; only offering one newspaper for guests to use (or if a large enough inn, providing several papers for general consumption); offering non-smoking guestrooms, or yet a non-smoking inn.

Green steps you can take that may have a slight initial investment, but will have immediate and long-term paybacks, include educating your staff and guests about your commitment to the environment and your green action plan; installing low-flow shower heads and sink aerators; providing recycling bins in guestrooms and throughout the inn property; converting your garden to a xeric garden -- using native plants that don't require much additional water; serving organic and locally grown food; offering bulk amenities rather than individual items; and buying compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.

When replacing burned out bulbs, use compact florescent bulbs. They are much better than they were a few years ago. They start up very fast, they have a pleasing, natural color balance (not a sickly shade of green), and they are available to fit virtually all fixtures. And they not only save substantial electricity, they last much longer than incandescent bulbs, meaning reduced burnouts -- and reduced maintenance costs. CFLs cost a bit more than incandescent, but the payback is very quick.

Some green steps don't save you money but they conserve resources and contribute to the community. Such steps include using organic cotton linens; donating your linen rejects to a shelter/jail/animal shelter; composting vegetable food waste; running environmental workshops for the community; and joining a green association for hotels or businesses in general.

Other green steps are prohibited by law in some locations, like using gray water (water from tubs/showers, laundry, dishwasher) in your garden.

Some green steps are expensive, but you may justify them anyway. Those actions include things like alternative energy or environmentally sensitive transportation like a hybrid car. And some are a bit expensive but you don't have a choice -- low-flush toilets for instance, which are required in many areas in new construction or remodels, and give you great savings.

The whole point is for you to decide on your level of environmental commitment, take action, and then tell the world what you have done. Green action is one place I think stating specific, exact actions is appropriate when it comes to promotional materials. I've seen several websites that have a link on their navigation bar for their page discussing their green or environmental philosophy and actions. Guests considering your B&B love it too, and that's what it's all about; satisfying your guests needs and helping them decide if your are the inn for them.

The lodging industry is by nature a wasteful industry. You can make a difference with each green action you adopt and implement. Spreading the word is part of that action, so be sure to clearly state what green actions you are taking and why it benefits the earth and your guests. Your green actions will lead to green deposits -- in your bank account.




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