Mon, Feb

Manatee Hotels, Resorts Reach Out to Environment

Ecotourism is the buzzword in the hospitality industry, and some hotels are tapping into what amounts to a new niche-market opportunity.

MANATEE, Fla. — Ecotourism is the buzzword in the hospitality industry, and some hotels are tapping into what amounts to a new niche-market opportunity.

Backed by advertising clout of local and state government agencies, hotels like Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch and Hyatt Sarasota are undergoing certification as green lodgings.

A year-old program kicked off by the Department of Environmental Protection recognizes hotels and resorts that take rigorous measures to become more environmentally friendly.

The four-year-old Holiday Inn, which touts that it ranks third for service and overall satisfaction among 2,750 Holiday Inns in the Americas, will be the first to qualify as a green lodging in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

The DEP is targeting tourism, Florida's largest industry, for improvements in water, energy, waste management and recycling, according to Karen Moore, environmental specialist with the DEP in Tallahassee.

Benefits to being certified include smaller energy and utility bills and promotion on the DEP's Web-site.

"We try to have our conferences at one of the certified green lodgings and encourage state workers to stay there," Moore said.

Karen Phillips is spa director and green team leader at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs.

The hotel is one of six certified green lodgings in Florida.

Another 12 hotels have applied for certification.

The designation speaks directly to the bottom line, but it's not cheap to implement, Phillips said.

"Even if you're a new property and have the best technology available, you still have to make an initial investment," Phillips said. "But in long run, you save money because you recycle a lot more."

The 454-room resort has attracted business it might never have seen because of the certification.

The DEP is holding a conference there this year.

Certification makes the green lodging a target for businesses that have to be environmentally sensitive in all ways.

"There's definitely businesses out there looking that base their income on sustainable resources," Phillips said. "They want to make sure they're dealing with other businesses in tune with that. I think it's going to get bigger and bigger."

To qualify for green lodging status, Lakewood Ranch Holiday Inn asks guests to reuse linens and regulate air conditioning. The hotel stopped thawing food using water, which results in tremendous savings, said Peg McKay, director of sales and marketing.

The hotel was educated on how to retrofit faucets and shower heads, install low-flow toilets, check for leaks and cut down on laundry costs - the No. 1 water buster for hotels - through a Southwest Florida Water Management District program called Champ.

"Savings can translate to $1 to $1.50 per day per occupied room," said Melissa Roe, communications coordinator with the district. "That's our standard average and that's how we're marketing the program. Some folks do even better than that but we try to be on the conservative side."

McKay anticipates saving $100,000 to $150,000 per year by being more green.

Jay Schrock, founding director of USF's School of Hotel & Restaurant Management, sees the green lodging concept as a niche that all hotels would like to fill, but can't all afford.

"It sets them apart from other hotels," he said. "The problem is it costs so much to do all these things. To stay competitive is the issue. As a whole and individually, we all believe in (conserving), but the hotel has to make a profit."

European tourists could be particularly receptive to a hotel in the Manatee-Sarasota market designated a green lodging, according to Nina Powers, an education specialist with Sustainable Sarasota, a county organization.

Powers, who spoke at a conference in Orlando on eco-friendly building practices Wednesday, is excited that the area is getting its first green lodging.

"Europeans tend to be very conscious of conserving resources," she said. "When they come here to the U.S. they bring the conservation ethic with them. Unlike us, they don't drive millions of SUVs. Because of land and resource constraints and the astronomical price of gas, Europeans have learned it's important to conserve."

Getting certified as a green lodging is a tough, monthslong process, but one that more hotels, especially newer ones, will begin to undertake more, Schrock predicts.

"It is the wave of the future," he said.

--Find green lodging: www.floridagreenlodging.com

--Participate in the Florida green lodging certification program operated by the Department of Environmental Protection: www.floridgreenlodging.net

--Hotels and resorts can sign up for the water conservation hotel and motel program operated by the Southwest Florida Water Management District at www.watermatters.org.

Then click on the link for water conservation.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News