UAE: The pay-offs of going green

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Sustainability and efficiency have become key concerns when planning infrastructure and major building developments but now attention has turned to the role such considerations play in the country’s hospitality sector.

One of the oldest hotels in Abu Dhabi reflects the changing landscape. The three-star property in the capital’s business district has been replacing outdated lighting and putting in water-saving systems ever since the city’s green guidelines were implemented four years ago. Built in 1979, and renovated in 1997, Mercure Abu Dhabi Center Hotel on Hamdan Street, a 215-room hotel spread over 20 floors with nine restaurants, recycles 30 per cent of the approximately 1.9 tonnes of waste it generates per month, which amounts to 570 kilograms. Staff are incentivised to collect recyclables such as paper, plastic, cans and cooking oil by sharing proceeds from the sale of the waste.

Since it put in more resource-efficient systems, it has reduced water bills by 25 per cent and electricity bills by about 10 per cent a month, says Peter D’Veiga, the chief engineer at the hotel who has been with the property since its first day.
But guests are harder to please.“Some of them want more water pressure and brighter lights but you can’t help it, we are still providing them the best of the things,” he says. “But today, many are aware of sustainability issues.”

The Mercure, being an older property, will not be affected by new hotel rating policies due to be implemented by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) from the end of the year – but sustainability is a key plank of the system.
TCA Abu Dhabi says the sliding scale of one star to five stars will affect new projects and will take into consideration how water and energy efficient the properties are and their contribution to waste reduction.

Implementation of the policies for hotels will be checked via a one-off assessment carried out by the Urban Planning Council at the design stage.
“The new Pearl Building Rating System [PBRS] for hotel design is intended to be applied at concept and design stage of the development,” says Nasser Al Reyami, the director of standards regulations and licensing department at TCA.

“But TCA Abu Dhabi collects data on hotel water, energy and waste performance during operations for all hotels, not only those that will be designed according to Estidama PBRS design requirements,” he adds.

While the original Estidama (which means sustainability in Arabic) Pearl Rating System was launched in 2010 and encompasses all facilities, including hotels, there had not been one exclusively for the hospitality sector until now. The new classification system will take into consideration some additional parameters. Among these will be the social media reputation of a hotel, its rating provided by Olery.com, says Mr Al Reyami. “The new classification will marry the important aspects of services and customers’ feedback in addition to just the infrastructure of the hotel. “This allows TCA to have a more accurate measurement of the hotel performance as rated by TCA’s inspectors and social media ratings,” he says.

The Amsterdam-based Olery.com tracks online reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor, and social media feedback on Facebook, Twitter and Four Square among others, on issues such as cleanliness, location and service. It will track the online reputation of all TCA-licensed hotels.
“We analyse and see whether a hotel is good enough to deserve the number of stars it has got,” says Kim van den Wijngaard, the chief executive and co-founder of Olery.com. “But it is not only a punishment tool as a hotel, which has a good reputation online, can earn an extra star from the authority.”
Among new hotels, Rotana’s Saadiyat Island property will be compliant with both the old and the new system. The company has not given an opening date for the property.

“There is a marginal increase in capital costs but this should recoup over several years, due to the significant savings in operating costs,” says Greg Allan, the area vice president of Rotana for Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Salalah.
Towards the end of last year, Abu Dhabi was on target to receive 3.1 million tourists and it aims to attract 3.5 million this year. There were 157 hotels and hotel apartment properties in the emirate during the first 11 months of last year, with numerous others in the pipeline.

“For new projects there is still time to fit the development within the new regulations, however, from experience this tends to increase the total costs of the project by 8 to 10 per cent or more,” according to Filippo Sona, the director of consultancy at Colliers International. “In turn it gives the hotels better life, cycling costs and the ability to drive more profitability by saving utilities costs.”

In addition, good green credentials provide a marketing tool that can help to make a destination more attractive – especially for the growing number of travellers for whom a hotel’s carbon footprint is important, say consultants and hoteliers.
“Promoting responsible and sustainable tourism provides a competitive advantage for the emirate as sustainability is becoming one of the key decision-making factors for some holidaymakers,” says Mr Sona.
“The new generation of travellers feels that the experience is complete if the choice of hotel is environmentally friendly.”
When considering sustainability for a new hotel, it is important to integrate the features at the design phase, according to Holley Chant, the executive director for corporate sustainability at KEO International Consultants in Abu Dhabi.
But, she points out, that is not the end of the story.“It is critical, post-occupancy to have proper facilities maintenance done with a trained team on an Estidama building and also to have recommissioning of the building periodically,” she adds.

For new hotels, implementing policies outlined in the new Estidama Pearl rating system are key.
Steps can include using solar power for heating water and using energy efficient LED light fixtures.

Other ways of boosting efficiency can be more prosaic. Rotana, for example, allows guests to opt not to have their bed sheets changed on a daily basis and has installed restrictors that cut the flow of water from taps in bathrooms and restrooms.
It has also introduced technology to regulate air conditioning systems as well as motion-sensors – meaning communal lighting such as in corridors is only used when triggered by a person. Other sustainable initiatives centre on recycling. In the past two years Rotana properties in Abu Dhabi have recycled 810 tonnes of waste.
The Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi has installed a composting machine with capacity of 270kg of food and garden waste that produces about 2.7kg of compost per day for use on landscaping features. The result is a reduction of food waste, material that is thrown away, of 85 to 90 per cent, Mr Allan says.

Waste management can start with a hotel reducing the number of disposable items in each room, such as at many five-star establishments that provide printed welcome letters in envelopes bearing the guest’s name, or cutting down on the numerous bottles of shampoos, shower gels and conditioners most offer.

“For many guests throw-away excesses no longer define luxury but actually offend them,” Ms Chant says.
The global travel websites Tripadvisor and Booking.com highlight hotels that are energy efficient, while the Amsterdam-based BookDifferent.com, an affiliate of Booking.com, has been tracking the carbon footprint of hotels including those in this country since it launched in 2012. It has more than 585,000 hotels on its portal and of that 891 are in the UAE.
Back at Mercure Abu Dhabi, the hotel’s chief engineer wants to put in more energy-saving features.
“But it requires a big budget,” Mr D’Veiga says.
“Also, we have lots of used disposable batteries, bulbs and lights that we are storing because there is no supplier who can collect these.”

Source: The National

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