All Policy No Practice?

It's this day last week. I've taken time to travel to the USA to attend a professional development event (practicing what I preach and all that!) and visit family. I'm staying in a lovely hotel, part of a reputable global hotel chain. Earlier this year, I noticed a lot of publicity and social media activity around this chain’s efforts to reduce single-use plastic throughout their global chain. In my mind, the thought has developed that this hotel chain is taking a lead on implementing more sustainable business practices. I feel good about choosing to stay there.

When I check in, I am gifted two tiny plastic bottles of water by the receptionist, as was every other guest checking in at that time.  I’m told I can come back for more whenever I want. When I get to my hotel room, the lights have been left on to greet me on arrival, as has the TV with a welcome message. In the bathroom, I find a selection of single-use toiletries. Not exactly what I was expecting, I think.

I find a card beside the TV with the heading ‘Where Commitment meets Conservation’ advising that the hotel policy is to conserve resources by not changing bed linen and towels if guests so wish. I’m thinking it would also be a good idea to turn off the lights and TV when nobody is there. I’m also wondering about the single use plastics policy I heard about – there’s no mention of it on this card and, between the water and toiletries, I’ve already got 8 little bottles of plastic in my possession.

Nonetheless, I go down to the lobby and let them know I’m fine using the same sheets for 3 days and I’ll probably manage with the 6 towels that are in my room as well. In the lobby, I notice a poster that tells me if I decline room service, the chain will plant a tree. That’s good, I think. 

The receptionist makes a note of my request on the system and then says I can get 500 extra points on my hotel loyalty card because I’ve declined room service. “I thought you plant a tree for that?” I query. “Well, if you don’t want the points, then yes we can plant a tree. Are you sure you don’t want the points?” comes the reply. “I’ll go for the tree.” I say, somewhat doubtful.

Sustainable Policy Tourism & Hospitality

Back at the room, I put on the Do Not Disturb sign on my door – it’s 11am, I’m jet-lagged, have been awake all night and need to get some sleep. At 2pm, there’s a loud banging on the door. I stumble to the door, not really dressed for guests, thinking it must be an emergency. Outside is the lady who’s job it is to clean the rooms. I say that I’ve declined the room service. She says ‘Oh but you must still need towels! Do you need some shampoo or conditioner? I’ll give you some. Here, take these. You need these. Everyone needs fresh towels and fresh hair. Take them. Take them please.’  

It was like having my Irish Mammy at the door! You know, when she insists that you have more chicken and gravy and broccoli because it’s good for you. When, despite your protests that you’re already stuffed, she physically wrestles it onto your plate. I realise that resistance is futile and, out of respect for well-intentioned Mammies everywhere, I accept 2 more towels and 6 more bottles of toiletries.

Sustainable Policy Tourism & Hospitality

Since then, I’ve googled the detail of the Single Use Plastic announcements by this particular hotel chain. I now get past the headline and first paragraph and find the finer details. It seems that the announcement is that the chain hopes that all of its 7000 properties will have eliminated single use plastics by the end of 2020. 18 months away from when the announcement was made in August 2018, when it seems that just 20% of the hotels have replaced single use toiletries with larger, pumped containers! 

So it seems the publicity was around the INTENTION to introduce more sustainable practice. I wonder: since when did having an intention become newsworthy or something to congratulate?

One can argue that the media coverage was accurate, that I just hadn't read all the detail. However, the headlines and extensive hotel-initiated PR campaign were, in my view, entirely misleading. As a guest, instead of being impressed, I end up feeling misled. To me, it seems the policies and practices on the ground lack integrity and are self-serving. I feel well-and-truly greenwashed!



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