Phoenix hotels letting guests go greener - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

Phoenix hotels letting guests go greener

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Posted: Monday, July 5, 2010 9:00 am

Guests checking into the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa or Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel can do more than order breakfast or request privacy by hanging a card outside their door.

They can also decline daily housekeeping service.

The hotels are among a small but growing group who have taken their in-room "green" initiatives up a notch, adding the option of no cleaning on top of existing options to reuse towels and forego fresh sheets.

Hotel giant Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which manages both hotels, first tested its "Make a Green Choice" program in Hawaii. It then expanded the test to more hotels, including the 1,000-room downtown Phoenix Sheraton last year, and now offers it in 150 Westins and Sheratons across North America. The Westin Kierland began offering it in September.

Guests who opt out of housekeeping service generally receive their pick of $5-a-day credit at the resort or points in Starwood's loyalty program.

Phoenix-based Best Western International began testing a similar program in Phoenix last year and rolled it out across the country earlier this year. A menu of housekeeping options - full service at a set time, limited service and no service — is now available at nearly 1,000 of its 2,300 hotels in North America.

There are many motivations. Starwood said being a good corporate citizen and saving water, electricity and chemicals are among the drivers. Another huge factor: vacationers and meeting planners that now shop for environmentally minded hotels.

"Our major clients are demanding it," said Leo Percopo, general manager of the Sheraton Phoenix. "If we can be out in front of that, it gives us a major competitive advantage."

Best Western says its program was born out of research conducted as part of its new initiative to become the cleanest hotel chain. It found that many guests didn't like being interrupted early in the morning for housekeeping, and some said they didn't need their room fully cleaned every day, said Ron Pohl, senior vice president of brand management.

It also is getting more requests about its green policies and has added a search feature on its website for travelers who want only green-friendly Best Westerns.

"It's becoming more and more important to customers," Pohl said.

Skeptics abound. They say the real "green" motivation is money, especially given the pounding hotels have taken during the recession, with occupancy and rates plunging.

"It's totally a budget-based initiative. It has nothing to do with the environment," said Henry Harteveldt, veteran travel-industry analyst with Forrester Research.

He said the programs do save water and electricity and usage of chemicals, a plus for the environment, but the main driver is to reduce the number of employees needed. Hotel unions in Canada have protested no-housekeeping as a maneuver to cut housekeepers' hours.

The Sheraton Phoenix and Westin Kierland say their housekeeping staffs have not changed since the programs began.

Best Western said only its housekeepers' shifts have changed, with most starting later because of guests' requested housekeeping times.

Rich Schnakenberg, owner of the Best Western Tempe by Arizona Mills mall, said the housekeepers at his hotel are still cleaning three rooms per hour, focusing on extra touches like animals made out of towels, a popular cruise-ship feature, in the time freed up from changing the sheets and other full-service options.

"It gives our maids a lot more extra time to do extra little things," he said.

Percopo and other hotel officials emphasize that no-housekeeping or limited service is an option, not mandatory.

The percentage of guests declining housekeeping varies, with business travelers generally more likely to decline than vacationers because they don't spend as much time in the room.

Just a fraction of overall guests use it.

At the Westin Kierland in northeast Phoenix, about 14 percent of its 8,000 guests have opted for no-housekeeping, said Stephanie Dowling, director of public relations. The resort estimates it saves 49.2 gallons of water per room not serviced, for a total of nearly 400,000 gallons since last fall.

"We've been hearing such positive feedback," she said.

About half of those who opt out select the $5 daily credit (up to three nights per stay), the rest want Starwood points. Guests only staying one night are not eligible.

Half of those who decline service at the Westin Kierland never redeem the perks, Dowling said.

"It's more about being green than getting the benefit," she said.

At the Sheraton Phoenix, there is a 7 percent participation rate.

Jacki Lenners, marketing and public-relations manager for the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau, opted out of housekeeping during a two-night stay for the Arizona Highways Travel Show in May.

"It was a fun way to be green," she said. "It makes you stop and think about how much do you really need your bed made and your towels changed. Those aren't things you have in your house everyday."

The incentives are cited as a plus by travelers on TripAdvisor.com.

Best Western said 38 percent of its guests staying for multiple nights are selecting reduced service or no service. The chain has been stunned by the response. It had expected a participation rate of 5 to 10 percent, Pohl said.

"Certainly as operators and owners that savings is important in times as difficult as they are," he said.

Unlike Westin and Sheraton, Best Western does not provide any perk for guests to decline housekeeping.

Harteveldt sees the reduced-service option as more fitting for a Best Western than more upscale chains like Sheraton and Westin.

"When you check into a four-star hotel you shouldn't be asked, 'Would you like housekeeping with your stay?' " Harteveldt said. "It undermines the image."

He foresees instances where competitors use it against them, portraying them as cheap or less-than-full-service hotels.

Sheraton's Percopo is not worried. He said meeting planners and vacationers will seek it out for its green practices.

"All things being equal, it certainly gives you a leg up on the competition."

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