NBTA's Hotel RFP Puts Green in Play

The National Business Travel Association rolls into 2008 with a decidedly greener cast to its standard hotel request for proposal form. The business travel association, which represents corporate and government travel and meetings managers, has updated its RFP to include questions about hotel environmental programs, which now will be weighed against all the other major factors buyers use in negotiating hotel contracts.

"This is really new for the hotel industry," said Alisa Blanco, key account director of global sales at InterContinental Hotels Group Americas, who also is a member of the NBTA committee that developed the new RFP. "Some chains are already growing by leaps and bounds in expanding green initiatives."

Typically, corporate meeting planners or corporate travel managers send NBTA's RFP to hotels or chains directly, or to third-parties like travel agencies, to determine contracts for a coming year.

Blanco noted that the additional green questions, as with most items in any RFP, are not mandated of hotels, but rather are negotiable items that can be offset by other items, such as rates, available meeting space, food and beverage, Internet connectivity, and so forth.

Nevertheless, the new ingredients have a particular prominence in the revised RFP; they came at the recommendation of the association's members, indicating that buyers are driving green hotel initiatives in much the same way they insisted on Internet connectivity, luxury bedding, and flatpanel TVs.

"I'm thrilled to see it; it's a start," said Amy Spatrisano, a principal of Meeting Strategies Worldwide, a leading green meetings planning firm in Portland, OR, of the revised RFP. "It's a process, a journey that won't happen overnight."

NBTA's new questions ask hotels to cite their top environmental programs (such as carbon-offset initiatives) "that are visible and actively communicated to guests."

In addition, specific questions ask about current environmental certification initiatives the hotel participates in, such as Energy Star or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programs, any recycling programs in place, the hotel's use of environmentally friendly cleaning solutions, and whether the facility has a water conservation program, such as a linen reuse option or water conservation fixtures.

However, Spatrisano noted a weakness with the RFP process in accurately assessing eco-friendly hotel policies: The results of that research may not help planners gauge the true differences between hotels.

"One hotel might buy its food locally, while another recycles its waste to avoid filling up landfills, which could be much more significant," she said." Most meeting planners don't know how to weigh various environmental programs."

Meeting Strategies Worldwide offers a green assessment calculator at www.meetgreen.com, with which planners can rate both hotels and meetings based on air quality, waste management, water conservation, energy efficiency, and environmentally friendly purchases.

Green initiatives are coming on strong elsewhere. The American Hotel & Lodging Association is examining environmentally friendly design and construction practices, and it is studying a possible certification program for members. In addition, Florida, California, and Illinois have green certifications awarded to hotels that meet state standards.

"The new NBTA questions will make its members more aware of what they need to do," said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of AH&LA. "There are a lot of things going on out there, whether it's changing to more efficient light bulbs or not using plastic and Styrofoam."
Importantly, he said, the new RFP questions indicate that lodging buyers appear to be ahead of the hotels and are driving the facilities to incorporate green initiatives.

"If hotels don't do it, they'll find themselves in second place, with no market share or profits," McInerney said. And planners aren't the only scrutinizers, he added: "Most of the major companies are publicly traded. Wall Street will demand this."

Originally published January 28, 2008