Upstart hoteliers focus on activism, sustainability

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A public space at the Good Hotel London.
A public space at the Good Hotel London.

As many of the world's largest hotel companies scramble to bake new sustainability initiatives into their business models, a wave of upstarts has come out of the gate with ecofriendly activism and social consciousness at the core of their brand propositions.

The latest newcomer to thrust an environmentally friendly approach front and center is Accor's Greet brand, unveiled in mid-September. In a statement, Accor said the new economy flag was designed first and foremost to meet "new guest expectations in relation to sustainable tourism."

Greet will be defined by what Accor calls a "nonstandardized" and ecofriendly design approach. Each hotel will be able to partner with local nonprofits, including groups like Emmaus and Valdelia, which will enable Greet hotels to source secondhand furniture, as well as new creations and designs made by reusing materials to create recycled decor. 

The first Greet outpost, which opened with 52 rooms in Beaune, France, last April, showcases unique, upcycled design elements like tin-can flowerpots, a wheelbarrow-turned-coffee table and mismatched secondhand china. Accor plans to expand Greet to 300 locations throughout Europe by 2030.

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The Eaton DC's "radical library" is stocked with books by "intellectual revolutionaries."

Accor's big bet on conscious consumerism follows the success of several small boutique hotel brands that have already built a cult following around their uncompromising commitments to sustainability and social awareness.

Among these is the relatively new Eaton Workshop flag created by Katherine Lo, the daughter of Hong Kong billionaire and Langham Hospitality chairman Lo Ka Shui. According to the brand, Eaton Workshop "sits at the intersection of culture, content, hospitality, wellness and progressive social change" and aims to prove that "a socially responsible business model is sustainable."

The inaugural Eaton Workshop property opened in Washington late last year, with a second debuting in Hong Kong shortly after. With 209 guestrooms, the flagship Eaton DC offers amenities that include a wellness center, a private coworking space, a 50-seat cinema and a "radical library" stocked with "literature from the world’s most compelling intellectual revolutionaries."

The hotel regularly hosts artists, community groups and activists, and the property also takes a serious stance on environmental progress, with the LEED Gold-certified Eaton DC also in the process of becoming a certified B Corporation in recognition of its social and environmental performance. The hotel even uses rainwater collected on its rooftop to flush toilets in the lobby.

Like Eaton Workshop, the Good Hotel Group has chosen to build its business around more socially conscious missions. Seeking to find a way to tackle poverty in popular tourist areas, Marten Dresen established Good Hotel Group in 2012, with a focus on "creating a profit for a nonprofit business with long-term goals of creating jobs, offering training to the local unemployed community, supporting [nongovernmental organizations and setting] a new standard in the local hospitality industry."

Good Hotel spokeswoman Maria O'Connor said, "Good Hotel Group is a thriving social business, which means that we donate all our profits to social good. We want to always make sure that our hotels, Good Hotels, serve the community they are in."

Good Hotel Group has two properties: One is housed within a converted mansion in Antigua, Guatemala, and the other is a "floating hotel" at the Royal Victoria Dock in East London. 

The former focuses on raising funding for Ninos de Guatemala, a nonprofit that aims to provide quality education to impoverished communities in Guatemala, while the latter has partnered with the local council to identify unemployed people and provide them with paid job training.

Good Hotel locations are scheduled to open in Guatemala City and Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands by 2021.

The interior of a Greet hotel, which makes use of upcycled decor and secondhand furniture.
The interior of a Greet hotel, which makes use of upcycled decor and secondhand furniture.

"Consumers, consciously or unconsciously, are starting to use the power of their purchases to influence positive change, and businesses are having to respond," O'Connor said, which is "great to see, but for us, this is not simply a trend we have joined. We began with a social problem that we wanted to help and built a business around that, not the other way around."

Also making social philanthropy its selling point is Kind Traveler, a recently launched online hotel booking platform. Rolled out in 2016, Kind Traveler is built around what company co-founder and CEO Jessica Blotter calls "a give and get" booking model.

"Travelers access exclusive hotel rates and perks when they give a $10 nightly donation to a local charity that impacts the destination they're traveling to or to any partner charity on the platform," Blotter said. 

She added that 100% of those donations are passed along to the nonprofit. The site, which primarily partners with boutique, lifestyle and independent hotels, currently works with some 100 properties and 60 charities across 22 countries, with plans to expand to 150 properties by the end of 2020.

Discounts available via Kind Traveler typically range from between 10% and 15% off a hotel's best available rate, with Kind Traveler taking a 10% to 15% commission on each booking. The platform has debuted a travel advisor program, enabling agents to contact Kind Traveler directly to become eligible to receive 90% of Kind Traveler's commission.

"We want to make it easy for everyone to participate in sustainable travel," Blotter said. "There's a sustainable revolution happening, and a lot of big brands have shifted their practices. Everyone is waking up to the fact that consumers are becoming smarter and want to vote with their dollars for causes that matter."

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