Green is the color of money, something that hotels in Puerto Rico save a lot of each year as they continue to implement environmentally friendly strategies on their properties. They also make more of it, as these days, a growing number of travelers greatly consider environmental awareness as a factor when deciding where to stay.
“It’s extremely important to be eco-conscious because we’re a destination that bases its tourism precisely on those environmental attributes they come to enjoy,” said Ada Torres, chairwoman of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association’s Conservation Committee. “So if we promote ourselves based on the fact that we’re a tropical island with a rainforest that hosts unique flora and fauna, and crystal-clear beaches with a marine life, then we have to protect that. It’s essential.”
Torres, who has been heading the PRHTA’s “green” committee since last year, said there are about 30 local hotels following the trade group’s environmental initiatives that are based on international sustainability standards for the industry.
On average, a local hotel that follows the steps to reduce its energy consumption — by switching light bulbs and modifying daily procedures such as doing laundry — can see their bills drop by as much as 30 percent to 36 percent in six months, she said. On the other hand, a water bill could drop as much as 20 percent, by taking steps not requiring massive investments.
“It’s doing something as simple as changing the way to thaw out meats. Before, you would see a kitchen where a cut of meat was left under running water in the sink. By changing that procedure, you can save a lot. Other hotels are recycling used water,” she noted.
As an example, she mentioned the results of initiatives implemented at the Caribe Hilton hotel, which last year ranked number one among its parent company’s list of properties for its sustainability efforts. Data provided by Hilton International to the PRHTA shows that in 2010, the Caribe Hilton’s environmental efforts resulted in a 16.8 percent reduction in energy costs and a 28.9 percent reduction in waste generation through re-use and recycling programs.
The PRHTA began its environmental push in 1995, when it launched its “Green Hotels Program.” It offers training and seminars on implementing eco-friendly techniques in conjunction with partner organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Blue Flag, the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The goal is to keep member hotels updated with the latest aspects of “greening” their operations, through education, consultations, impact assessments and activities.
“We all have a responsibility with our environment and it’s where tourism is headed,” PRHTA Executive Director Clarisa Jiménez said. “There are tourists groups that are taking note of the destinations carrying out conservation programs and are responsible about their environment.”
As part of that initiative, each year, the PRHTA bestows its “Green Hotel” awards to local small and large hotels with successful eco-friendly programs in place. Last year, the winners were Wyndham Río Mar Resort & Spa in Río Grande, the Hix Island House in Vieques and the Palmas de Lucía parador in Yabucoa.
’11 eco-friendly trends
Travelanthropist, a nonprofit philanthropic website that follows green travel trends, recently predicted that eco-friendly tourists would be zeroing in on several aspects this year:
- Zero carbon hotels, described as properties focusing on reducing their emissions footprint;
- “Voluntourism,” or volunteer tourism through which travelers are able to contribute and benefit local communities while seeing the world;
- Slow travel, the idea that memorable travel is more important than getting from point A to point B; and local travel movement; and,
- Local travel movement, an initiative that seeks to connect visitors with locals, to enrich their travel experience and teach tourists to respect local traditions, culture and the natural environment.
“Concern about sustainability and the planet is top of mind for everybody,” James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Futures, a San Francisco firm that advises global Fortune 100 companies, told Travelanthropist.