Green Hotels – What’s the Point?
More hotel chains are becoming more conscious of their carbon footprint. Hyatt now has a “Meet and Be Green” program, which gives a rebate for event planners that choose 10 “green” choices. More boutique and chain hotels offer more “sustainable” options, from local food to recycling to ethically manufactured sheets to décor boasting responsibly harvested woods. And never mind the friendly cards that admonish you to hang the towels if you will reuse them, or to just leave them on the floor—that rarely works in practice. But here are the facts when you stay in a hotel – you still are at a place where they are leaving the lights on way too much. The waste in water and food is huge. These hotels still require a massive build-out or a remodeling. And we have all experienced the disappointment of “looks great on a website, is a hole on arrival.” San Francisco is notorious for this—the rule of thumb is that all Australian or German tourists end up at a Tenderloin District halfway-house, about which the travel agents or solo bookers were clueless. So why not stay somewhere where your host actually knows the city, will not try to sell you a tacky tour or evening at a dinner theater, and knows the city and can tell you the haunts? Years ago my brother and I saw Eastern Europe through the lenses of locals. After a few nights in the Czech Republic of grotty, noisy hostels in Prague and Ceský Krumlov, (the hostel in the latter had a bar in the basement, which we didn’t realize till the band started playing at 2am), we were done with drunk revelers slamming their locker doors in the wee hours of the night. Yet we did not have the budget for a hotel. But we found a great solution. Back then, each town in which we visited had a tourist office at the train stations and bus stops, or in the center. We caught on that many locals had rooms for rent. We would look at the pictures (this was during the pre-digital photo era), choose a place, pay for the room, and then we would take the receipt so no misunderstanding over money would occur later. The rooms were rarely in the center, but they were usually just a few blocks away, and we always had our own room. Plus, breakfast was often included, and often tea & coffee and a light snack upon arrival were offered. Sometimes we were lucky, as we were in Vilnius, to have some local musicians hang out where we stayed in the evening, a show which the hostess was more than happy that we crashed. Sometimes the homeowner was a grumpy septuagenarian who growled at us to make our way out upon checkout—either way the experience gave us great memories. Well, thanks to social networking, and too many charlatans in the hospitality industry, there are more options for traveling. Couchsurfing.org, where you can create a profile and yes, crash on a couch—has been around over 10 years. When I stayed in Paris for a graduate school project in Paris three years ago, I happened to find a chap who augmented his living as a playwright by renting out a room in his Marais apartment. And in Amsterdam, which I visited two months ago, I rented a room in the canal district—it was small, but at 40 euros a night, I had coffee and tea and was two blocks from The Hermitage. Plenty of other options exist, are listed at the end of this posting. What strikes me is that renting a room at someone’s house is plenty “green.” You are not having your towels and sheets changed daily, less energy is consumed for your stay, and you don’t have the waste from all the leftovers on the breakfast buffet table that gets tossed. Chances are the host will let you wash your clothes there, which also results in less water and energy. And you are staying in a place that has already been constructed. Plus, chances are that your visit will be richer as the result of staying with a local. Finally, in this age of social networking, you can evaluate your future home away from home with genuine comments from previous guests. For business travelers, many of these places have wireless internet. Most listings are very descriptive, so you can sort out what’s important to you during your visit. Here are some sites you should check out - AirBnB.com – room rental listings in 6000 cities in 150 countries CRASHPADDER – mostly in the UK, great for London Ebab – bed and breakfast portal focused on gay travelers; most are rooms for rent IStopOver.com – focused on large global events, like the World Cup ROOMORAMA – high-end places, most in New York