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< Back to news 23 February, 2010

Sustainable travel - virtually green hotel opens its portal

When it comes to purchasing, the hotel industry is a hungry giant, with an equally voracious impact on the environment. Which is why even the smallest changes in purchasing behaviour - that is, the what, when, where and how the hospitality industry buys - can actually deliver huge benefits, collectively, to the planet.

One enterprising service provider has come up with a novel solution: a 'green hotel', anchored securely in cyberspace.

beacon purchasing is the UK's largest purchasing consortium for the independent hospitality sector with some 2000 members ranging from hotels and guest houses to restaurants, camping grounds to visitor attractions. Between them, they spend over £130m a year on everything from food and energy, bedspreads to hand soap. Since it was established 10 years ago, the company has done its bit to ensure its members have an easier ride when it comes to procuring supplies and services, offering everything from central billing purchases to paperless invoicing to its latest on-line purchasing system named, aptly, BeaconOnline.

But what about its contribution to members' social responsibility, specifically their environmentally-friendly purchasing commitments? After all, for many hotel guests and restaurant customers today, the concept of climate change, carbon footprints, food miles and all things green are hardly exotic. The challenge for beacon was to figure out a way to help members tackle what is now an everyday, mainstream preoccupation.

Diane Webster, Head of Sales & Marketing for beacon has hatched the idea of an interactive 'real hotel in a vitual world' to help beacon members by providing practical and relevant information highlighting some of the actions they can take, large or small, to make a genuine contribution to responsible purchasing.

"It's not always easy to know what practical and commercially viable steps can be taken to become 'green'. It's more complex that we think," Webster says. She wanted to help customers in their CR journey, as well as increase beacon's CR commitment, and she and her team now preside over a tool with a difference. The website, the first of it's kind in the UK, now has a lounge/bar, bedrooms, bathrooms, reception, kitchen, meeting room and even smiley staff.

Over the past 18 months, Webster has been working closely wth the Green Tourism Business Scheme (the GTBS is a national sustainable tourism certification scheme for the UK) and beacon's key suppliers, who actively source and supply sustainable products and services, to develop and launch this new service. Visitors to the hotel embark on a 3D virtual tour of its interior spaces, which use interactive hotspots to showcase a range of 'green' advice, hints and tips, the products or services they will need and the suppliers who can supply them.

Webster explains, "The idea behind the 'virtual' green hotel was always to start something that we could develop into a much larger initiative. As beacon and our supplier partners enhance their green credentials, so will the hotel develop, providing a strong foundation for the future promotion of green products and information. We do recognise that it's a journey for all of us but at least it's one that we've started."

The website has been well-received. In December 2009, Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, the UK's leading trade publication for the hospitality sector, awarded beacon a Web Award for Innovation and Interactivity and in January, Webster won the Woman in Technology Shine Award. the Shine Awards recognise women in the hospitality travel and tourism who have made a real difference to the sector.

The future for beacon's virtual world looks good. According to Webster, "We've had a great deal of interest from suppliers becoming involved in this and we have a number of new areas planned for the hotel. The great thing about developing a virtual hotel like this is that we can keep changing it, much like hotels change in the real world - a new restaurant, an extension, introduce a new heating system, layout a new area of gardens, and so on. There is no limit to the ideas so far!"

Beacon has recently joined up with Considerate Hotelier Association to sponsor the 'Considerate Green Marketing Initiative of the Year.'

Even a hungry giant has got what it takes to be green. 20th February 2010