Before You Book: Eco-Friendly Hotel Or Just Greenwashing?

can of green paint and brush

velo_city, Flickr

We’ve all stayed at hotels that proudly boast, via little signs on the bed and/or bathroom sink, that they’re doing their part to save the environment. Don’t want towels changed in order to save water? Just hang ‘em up, and the housekeeper will know that you’re a carbon footprint-savvy traveler.

Sure. I can count on half of one hand the number of hotels that have actually paid attention to the location of my towel. I’ve seen countless housekeepers dump the contents of in-room recycling bins into their trash bags. I don’t have any expectations at motels, but when it comes to boutique, “eco-friendly,” or high-end properties making these claims, I find it infuriating.

My focus as a writer and traveler is on sustainability issues, and I’m overjoyed that an increasing number of hotels are more aware of their environmental impact. What doesn’t thrill me: the amount of greenwashing, or false eco-claims, that take place in the hospitality industry. This problem isn’t unique to hotels, but it’s prevalent.

African man holding fish

safari_partners, Flickr


We’re living in an era of climate change. Lowering our individual and collective carbon footprint should be something we do, to the best of our abilities, on a daily basis. Hotels are hip to the fact that an increasing number of travelers have an elevated eco-awareness, and they want to capitalize on that.

In the absence of a word-of-mouth or written recommendation, it can be difficult to ascertain a hotel’s eco-integrity (although certain chains are well-known for their green policies; a 2012 Reuters report cites chains like Six Senses Resorts & Spas, Taj Resorts, Kimpton Hotels and Marriott).

Sites like Green Traveler Guides, however, (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) exist as unofficial industry watchdogs, reviewing properties and assessing their green policies. If you’re looking for a hotel or resort that’s genuinely green, sites like GTG feature properties that are both green and great, as well as provide tips on how to be a more eco-minded traveler. Other resources include sites like Green Lodging News.

hotel with exterior living wall

Rev_Stan, Flickr

For a quick study, here’s a checklist of what to look for when researching hotels:

  • If the only mentions refer to buzzwords like “organic,” “local,” “eco-friendly,” “eco-lodge,” or “environment,” caveat emptor. There’s no law that prohibits the use of green jargon; it’s up to you as a consumer to do your homework.
  • Is there a bona-fide recycling (bonus points for composting) program?
  • Does the property employ locals/incorporate and support local culture and community? How?
  • Is the property built and furnished with natural and/or reclaimed or renewable materials wherever possible?
  • Are there green options for guests, such as bike rentals and local culture-based activities?
  • Does the property have green certification from a legit international or domestic organization or program?
Laurel Miller, Gadling
  • Does the property use alternative fuel or electric carts for guest transit on-site and off?
  • Are bathroom amenities and cleaning agents chemical-free? Bonus points your in-room goodies are locally made.
  • If there’s on-site dining, is the food seasonal and sourced locally whenever possible (which reduces fossil fuel output as well as promotes local food security)? Do family farmers, ranchers and fisherman supply ingredients? Is there a chemical-free on-site rooftop or other garden from which the restaurant sources product?
  • Does the property have a “living roof” or walls?
  • Is the property using alternative resources for operations? Examples include solar or wind power, geothermal heating and reclaimed water systems.

10 Ways To Be A Terrible Airbnb Host

I recently wrote 10 Ways To Be A Terrible Airbnb Guest for Gadling. For all of the Airbnb hosts out there who found themselves nodding in agreement with the atrocities committed by some guests, well, it goes both ways. Making sure you avoid being a terrible guest is just as important as making sure you avoid being a terrible host.

And so I present to you 10 ways to be a terrible Airbnb host (avoid doing the following to be a good host).

1. Lack scheduling/time-management skills. If you want to make a profit off of your living space, you’re going to have to figure out some way to organize your brain. Don’t make guests wait for you if they need to check in, don’t double-book guests in the same window of time and don’t book guests for dates you’ll need to cancel. Use the Airbnb Calendar, Google Calendar, iCal and iPhone Calendar all together if you have to in order to get it right, but whatever you do, don’t inconvenience your guests over your inability to properly plan.2. Expect guests to pay for a dirty space. It’s amazing to read Airbnb reviews and general commentary to see where different hosts land on the cleanliness scale. Maybe working as a travel writer and spending lots of time in lots of hotels gave me an upper hand with my previous hosting, but to put it simply, you should go above and beyond. Maybe you won’t get tons of complaints, but you deserve them if food is rotting in your fridge, the sheets and towels you provide aren’t clean, the bathroom sink is covered in hair and you’ve never taken the time to mop. At the very minimum, you should sweep, mop and clean all surfaces and common areas before accepting payment for renting your space.

3. Not provide food. Providing food for guests doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as having a couple of cereal options and milk around and letting your guests know it’s there for them. To be a terrible host is to not have any food around at all. To be a great host is to have more than enough food around for all meals and to welcome your guests to it.

4. Make your guests feel unwelcome. Your guests know they’re in your personal space and most guests are going to be respectful of that. But it’s still your job to make them feel at home in your space. Don’t alienate your guests through rude or controversial conversation or potentially offensive habits (not everyone wants to see you walking around in your underwear). Take the time to warmly talk to your guests and get to know them. Let your guard down and they’ll let theirs down and everyone will have a better, more meaningful experience for it.

5. Misrepresent your space through photos. A lot of enhancements can be made to photos these days, but the biggest Airbnb photo crimes from hosts have little to do with manipulation in post and a lot more to do with the difference between what was physically photographed and what will be physically present at the time of the rental. If your floor was so clean that you’d eat off of it in your photos, it’d better be that clean when your guests arrive, too. If you feature fresh flowers and fruit in your photos, make sure you have fresh flowers and fruit around for your guests. If you rearrange or update furniture, take new photos and replace the old ones. Your photos should represent your actual rental as accurately as possible.

6. Fail to repair what’s broken. It doesn’t matter why your air conditioner broke or your wireless internet suddenly stopped working. If you’re offering these things to guests, they need to be available for guests, no matter what it takes. Your guests shouldn’t have any unfortunate surprises when they arrive at your rental. If they were planning on doing laundry with your washing machine, your washing machine needs to be working. If something suddenly breaks and you can’t fix it immediately, update your listing and send a kind note to your reserved guests explaining the situation ASAP and in the case of important malfunctions, reimburse part of the payment.

7. Disrespect the personal property of guests. Although guests are in your house, their personal property and space deserves to be respected. Don’t enter their rented room ever without knocking and only if necessary. Never go through their personal belongings. Never allow a pet or child to go through or mess with their personal belongings, either. Respecting personal belongings is always important, but it’s especially important with travelers — their personal possessions are all they have from home with them. If you need something moved, ask politely.

8. Run out of necessary items. There are some items that you should have a backup supply of around the house as an Airbnb host. Don’t ever run out of: toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, soap or shampoo. Make sure you have some of the less obvious things around, too — like salt, pepper, cooking oil and a first aid kit.

9. Fail to provide items your guest may need. Like I’ve already said, the best Airbnb hosts go way above and beyond. Terrible Airbnb hosts never go above and beyond; they never put themselves in the shoes of a guest. Having some extra things around for your guest that aren’t required but can truly enhance the experience of your guest will take you a long way. Consider adding these items to your regular inventory for guests: an umbrella, an iron and ironing board, a fan, a heater, a spare blanket, coffee and a selection of tea, alcohol of some sort, fresh flowers, snacks and bathroom items like cotton swabs, dental floss, a spare toothbrush, etc.

10. Do little to accommodate your guests. Airbnb basically states that hosts just have to have a clean space with clean sheets and towels and something around for breakfast. But if that’s as far as your ability to accommodate your guests extends, you might be a terrible host. Little things go a long way with guests. If they wanted to coldly be treated like just another customer, they probably would have gone to a hotel or a hostel. I’ve let guests in my house who lost their luggage borrow my clothes and I’d like to think that’s what anyone (of similar size) would have done. When another guest was going to the beach for the day, I packed her a beach bag with items she’d surely find useful, but hadn’t brought along for her journey (sunblock, bug spray, a sunhat, a tapestry, a towel, a bottle of water, etc.). No host wants a demanding guest on their hands, but on the flip side, no guest wants an unaccommodating host, either. Write down directions, lend out a charger, and by all means, if your guest seems lonely, consider inviting him or her out if you’re going out. Being well-mannered is not the same as being taken advantage of, so don’t confuse the two.

Airbnb Requires Passports From Users; Blocks Iranians

Would You Book A Flight To An Unknown Destination?

Destination Unknown
Flickr, Nico Hogg

Earlier this year, new booking engine GetGoing began offering deep discounts to travelers with flexibility and a sense of spontaneity. You tell the site what type of trip or region you want, and it will give you two destinations and the airfare you’ll pay, up to 40% off. The catch? You won’t know *which* place you’ll go or which airline you’ll fly until after you purchase.

Now how about booking a trip where you won’t know where you’re going until a few days before departure? FlyRoulette launched this week, taking spontaneous travel to the next level. With FlyRoulette, you’ll tell them your budget, maximum trip length, and type of trip (does “weird and exotic” sound appealing?) and it will create an itinerary for you. But you won’t know where you are going until 12-48 hours before you depart, which means you can probably rule out anywhere that requires an advance visa, but the whole world is fair game. In exchange for your flexibility, you’ll get great hotel and flight deals, but it’s not for those who want some degree of control over their travels.
Would you book a trip without knowing where you are going? While it’s an intriguing concept, there are a few issues I can see arising for even the most intrepid travelers. Without knowing what destinations are in their arsenal, a trip to go somewhere “to party” could just as easily be Daytona Beach or Berlin, two very different tastes. There could be reasons why a destination is discounted: even if you wanted a “quiet” trip, what if everything of interest is closed for the season? While you specify your maximum budget, you don’t know what portion is going to airfare or hotel, so you might prefer a destination with a more expensive flight but cheap accommodations. The site allows you to book for groups up to 25 people and was founded by recent college graduates, which may indicate their ideal demographic. It might be best for INexperienced travelers, who are more open to anything and carry less baggage (no pun intended) about how they travel and where they end up.

Southwest Airlines Now Has A ‘No-Show’ Policy

Southwest Airlines’ leniency with “no-shows” has been a popular attractor for many customers. The airline has long boasted that their customers get to keep the total value of their flight purchase, even when they simply don’t show up.

While the idea of not losing money in the case of an emergency might seem appealing to the masses, only a small minority of Southwest customers have been taking advantage of this deal and they’ve been doing it habitually. For that reason, Southwest will now be enforcing its own version of a “no-show” policy. Passengers will still receive the full value of their flight purchase if they cancel, but they have to cancel no later than 10 minutes before the flight takes off. This updated policy is still sensible and comparatively customer-oriented.[Thanks, USA Today]

Southwest Airlines Plane Landing Gear Failure Closes LaGuardia

Spirit’s Eyebrow-Raising Ads Seem To Be Working

If nothing else, Spirit Airlines is original. The company has created MILF ads, a campaign timed with the Anthony Weiner scandal called “The Weiner Sale,” ads that referenced the BP oil spill of 2010 (one of the slogans was, “Check out the oil on our beaches”), and more. Spirit Airlines has famously created ads just three hours after related news events and they don’t seem to mind that the ads usually look campy and hastily made.

And yet, no matter how offended some seem by these ads, no matter how unprofessional they might come off as being, the company’s approach must be working. Spirit Airlines was called the most profitable airline in the country last year by The Wall Street Journal.Spirit Airlines: 'Dollar Store of the Sky'