26 November 2009

Going green may be a bigger – and more important - challenge for the hospitality industry than winning back customers when the economy improves, a leading academic and consultant from The University of Queensland says.

UQ School of Tourism academic and director of industry and government partnerships, Dr David Solnet, said people have started supporting hotels, motels, pubs and restaurants which market their environmentally friendly practices and are seen to be reducing their carbon footprint.

It means hoteliers, publicans and restaurateurs will have to pay more attention to their carbon footprint rather than only on their more traditional costs related to labour and cost of goods, Dr Solnet said.

``There will be no escape for the hospitality industry. People are becoming more and more environmentally conscious, economic downturn or not. The hospitality industry, despite traditionally low profit margins and returns, will have to adapt,’’ he said.

People are already returning to hotels and restaurants as the economic tide turns, but they are demanding more green practices from them, Dr Solnet said.

As bigger hotel chains such as the Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton ramp up their marketing of green credentials, smaller operators will be forced to follow the trend, or be left behind.

``Hyatt hotels have gone out of their way to encourage the workforce to make the hotels more environmentally-friendly. They use it as a marketing tool,” Dr Solnet said.

``Green practices are going to influence potential customers. Like adding any new and innovative product or service, the first ones in the market often gain a distinct competitive advantage. Continued innovation in environmentally-friendly practices will be with the hospitality industry for the foreseeable future.’’

People demanded green practices in hospitality, but also appreciated value for money.

``Business had been sporadic in the hospitality industry during the recent tough times. The more budget end of the market has fared better than the top end,” Dr Solnet said.

Trade at lunchtime, in particular, has decreased significantly as businesses tighten their budgets.

``Like most economic cycles, once the economy – and optimism – improves, diners will come back. Nothing will be different. They will spend on business lunches when the outlook improves. This is happening already,” he said.

``Also, some of the areas within driving distance of the Brisbane CBD have done well due to the reduced overseas travel by Australians.

``Of note, despite the downturn, most of the smart operators in the hotel and restaurant industry have worked hard to retain their loyal and valued staff members, aware that it would not be long before the labour market tightens up again. This contrasts with previous downturns where layoffs were more rampant and the employment market not so tight.

``The biggest change and challenge for the industry will be in environmentally-friendly practices.’’

Media: Erik de Wit (0417 088 772)