Can you focus on a healthy lifestyle and be a business hotel at the same time? Of course, tells us Christiane Hütte of Villa Orange in Frankfurt, Germany. In this interview, the manager of this 38 rooms boutique accommodation in the heart of Frankfurt tells us why a focus on organic food and environmentally friendly practices makes both dollars and sense.
- Why Christiane Hütte decided to make sustainability and well-being a key theme of Villa Orange;
- Which sustainability initiatives at the hotel she finds the most exciting;
- How the hotel has benefited from its focus on sustainability;
- The main challenges and hurdles the hotel manager has had to overcome;
- The current state of tourism sustainability in Frankfurt;
- Advice for hoteliers keen to improve their sustainability performance.
Christiane, why the focus on sustainable practices?
Since 2006 we try to combine organic and business. It was always important to me to eat healthy, organic and as vegetarian as possible. For the small individual organic café I would go miles. Fast food chains like Burger King and McDonalds are taboo for me.
And what was important to me personally, I also wanted to implement in my company. In 2006 I began to look for organic suppliers, and by 2008 we already reached a share of organic supplies of 95%. And when we joined the Bio Hotels association in 2009, we went to 100%. Nutella nut nougat cream was the last non-organic item on the menu to go. Also our beverages are 100% organic.
The Bio Hotels are a value-based marketing association of some 90 hotels in the German-speaking area, with head office in Austria. All participating organic hotels are owner-managed, which makes the individual properties as individual as the owners. Since most Bio Hotels are holiday cottages in rural areas, Villa Orange as a business and city hotel is rather the exception.
Which are some of the most exciting sustainable initiatives at Villa Orange?
Organic breakfast and organic food at meetings are a must for “bio” hotels. In addition, at Villa Orange we use natural cosmetics in the bathrooms, towels and linen are made from organic cotton. Our housekeeping uses only organic cleaning detergents, and in the office all paper is recycled. Wherever possible we have replaced conventional light bulbs with energy-efficient LED, and the hotel gets its electricity from renewable energy sources.
Which have been the main benefits of implementing these green initiatives?
Our employees are proud to work in such a special hotel. My team shares the commitment to sustainability and most have been working with us since the very beginning of the hotel. We have almost no fluctuation. It is also important to me that the employees come across as authentic as possible, with no fake friendliness.
Since our competition in Frankfurt is fast asleep with regards to sustainability – we are still the only organic hotel – all people and companies interested in sustainability end up with us. And on the weekend, where the prices are going down in downtown Frankfurt, we have been able to get maintain quite high weekend rates, thanks to our high-quality organic breakfast and other sustainability aspects.
Which are the challenges and hurdles you have encountered on your path towards hotel sustainability?
What our most discerning guests sometimes miss at Villa Orange as a house built in 1900 with its attachment from the 60s is “building ecology”. We do not have a house in clay or wood construction, which would be the ideal in terms of sustainable practices.
Being a business hotel, some amenities, such as TV and wireless Internet, cannot be entirely avoided, which of course causes some electro-smog. On the other hand, the average length of stay at Villa Orange is 1.5 nights, and the availability of fast Internet is a clear knockout criterion for busy travelers.
With annual costs of around 550 Euros, our eco-certification by ABCERT is financially feasible. Claims that such certifications are not affordable are a fairy tale. As part of the certification we have two checks every year: one of those is unannounced and lasts around 45 minutes, while the other is a scheduled meeting which lasts around 5 hours, which is also manageable.
To be able to keep our status as “Bio” hotel, we have to pay close attention to every delivery note and invoice, to make sure all our supplies really qualify as organic product; this includes the suppliers themselves, who also have to be certified. But after a while, this procedure works by itself.
Your thoughts on the potential of Frankfurt as a green city destination?
I can only speak for the hotels and restaurants in Frankfurt. And there it still looks very meager. As far as I know, Villa Orange is still the only eco-certified hotel. I also do not know any hotel which is specialized in aspects such as sustainable building. And in the gastronomy it does not look better. There are only three restaurants that are certified as organic. While one organic supermarket after another pops up, the gastronomy stagnates at the lowest level. Even organic caterers are rare. At least we now have two vegan restaurants in Frankfurt, which mostly use organic products.
Why do you think that there are no more hotels in Frankfurt with sustainability as a guiding theme?
In Frankfurt most hotels which are not part of a larger chain are privately run. And there the owners are not interested in these topics. After all, every hotelier can do what they deem best for their accommodation. In my opinion, lack of sustainability is due to the lack of commitment of the people in these hotels.
Your advice for hotel managers interested in sustainability?
If you want to align your hotel sustainably, you should do that with all your heart. And not just as a marketing tool to earn more money. Guests for whom sustainability is important can tell right away whether sustainability is practiced seriously within the company.
Only switch to organic products if your hotel can afford it. Organic products still cost more and this extra expenditure cannot immediately be passed on to guests in the form of higher prices. It also takes a while to find the optimal supplier who is ready to deliver premium produce at an acceptable price.
Be an active member of the sustainability scene and network well, since this will lead to recommendations.
Credibility is very important. Guests looking for sustainable, environmentally friendly hotels tend to be well informed. Not living up to your promises can easily lead to accusations of “green-washing”.
Thank you, Christiane.
More about Villa Orange here.
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