Ecotel tag rings the bell for hotels
The Orchid in Mumbai has pioneered the concept of eco-friendliness in the Indian hospitality industry.
How does one five-star hotel differ from another? Except for the location and some subtle variations in themes, most hotels under this category are the same. All are expected to provide luxurious and most modern facilities. In that case, what is their unique selling proposition (USP)? In this service-oriented industry, quality of service provided can hardly serve as a USP. Location could, but not for everybody. A hotel could be close to the airport for instance. Like The Leela in India. Or it could be located in a commercial area like The Oberoi or The Taj, both in Mumbai.
Generally speaking, there is very little difference between one five-star hotel and another. International consultant Stephen Rushmore who has visited around 6,000 hotels in his career vouches for it.
Overseas, five-star hoteliers try to differentiate their services by adopting various concepts like heritage, Disney world or environment friendly hotels to name a few. But, in India very few five-star hotels boast of any such difference.
One such hotel that does is The Orchid. Set up barely a couple of years ago it has created a name for itself by being a pioneer in the field of environment friendliness. The hotel that is situated in the vicinity of the Mumbai domestic airport is promoting itself as an ecotel, or an eco-friendly hotel.
This concept has helped it achieve the ECOTEL certification for demonstrating a high level of environmental sensitivity in areas of solid waste management, energy efficiency, water conservation, community involvement and employee education.
The importance of the certificate can be judged by the very fact that out of the150 hotels inspected worldwide only 33 have been awarded the ECOTEL certification and only three of them carry the five-star tag, The Orchid being one of them. The latter provides all the luxuries of a five-star while adhering to the strict eco-sensitive guidelines set by the ECOTEL certification program.
The hotel has been committed to being environmental conscious right from its inception. It has recruited HVS-Eco Services, a US based environmental consulting firm for hotels, to assist in its environmental program.
The Orchid has tried to use eco-friendly products as far as possible in construction as well as in its day to day usage. Some of the products used are worth discussing.
Fly ash, a waste generated in a thermal power plant does not find any use in normal life. The Orchid, however, uses portland pozzalana cement (PPC) containing 15-20 per cent of fly ash, which otherwise would have been used as a land fill, for construction purposes. Thus PPC is more eco-friendly than any ordinary portland cement as it reduces dumping of fly ash.
Instead of red bricks the hotel has also used quite easily done (QED) panels that are made of fertile topsoil for its internal partitions. The QED panels are made of re-cycled fertiliser materials and help the hotel save on additional plastering, curing and re-curing costs.
For its external walls and wet walling structures, the hotel has used eco-friendly materials made of 60 per cent fly ash. These materials have better thermal insulation and sound absorption properties. They help The Orchid reduce its electricity costs. Further more, the hotel has used volatile organic compound in its exteriors. Such compounds are more eco-friendly than ordinary paints available across the board.
Apart from construction purposes, the company has used eco-friendly products for making furniture and wood fittings. It has used rubber wood instead of natural wood for furnishing purposes.
After producing rubber sap, a rubber tree is cut down. Since the wood of a rubber tree is very soft, it cannot be used as such for any constructive purpose. It has to be processed and upgraded with timber preservatives and finally kiln seasoned to proper dimensional stability before it can be brought into use. But this processed wood has been used by the hotel to make furniture for its rooms which otherwise would have been built by felling good trees. The use of rubber wood has thus helped reduce deforestation.
Moreover, interiors of the hotel are made of medium density fibre wood (MDF) manufactured from cotton stalks that are otherwise considered as waste.
This is not the end of the story. The Orchid uses eco-friendly consumables as well. It uses eco-friendly R22 gas for the chiller. This type of gas reduces ozone depletion by almost 97.5 per cent. Moreover, heat generated in the chiller is used to heat water, thus reducing power consumption.
The hotel uses only re-cycled paper, re-usable cloth laundry bags and cane baskets, provides hand-crafted slippers from natural reed and cane hangers to its customers. It has also installed in its washrooms special flushes that reduce water consumption.
The hotel management does not stop at just following eco-friendly practices, it also encourages its clients to follow the same. It sells hand-crafted natural reed slippers and other eco-friendly items to them, thus creating eco-awareness among them.
In order to make its customers participate in this eco-drive, the hotel has provided an integrated temperature control system that can increase the temperature of a room by two degrees on the press of a button by the customer. This also helps in reducing consumption of power. The Orchid also awards an eco-friendliness certificate to its customers for using less power.
All these eco-friendly measures do cost a lot to the hotel. Confirms the hotel's general manager Vivek Pathiyan: "Our costs are up by more than 10 per cent due to eco-friendliness." The Orchid was built at a cost of Rs 120 crore, that is an additional Rs 12 crore spent towards being environmental friendly. The extra cost does not stop here. The hotel has to spend 8-10 per cent more than its counterparts on eco-friendly consumables.
In an era of highly competitive business environment, it is impossible to charge an extra penny from the customer for being eco-friendly.
The presence of fierce competition in the hotel industry does not allow The Orchid to pass on the extra cost incurred for being eco-friendly to the customer.
But the silver lining among the dark clouds is the high occupancy rate of 80 per cent currently enjoyed by the hotel.
By being environment friendly The Orchid is also able to attract repeat guests to its hotel. Its high occupancy rate clearly shows that the market dominated by environment conscious western population has given a favourable discounting to the hotel for being eco-friendly.
Moreover, the eco-friendly concept adopted by The Orchid and the resulting success of the hotel has caught the attention of some other hotel majors in the city. Meanwhile, the promoters of The Orchid, the Kamats, are now planning to open another eco-friendly hotel near the Mumbai international airport.
New additions in this category clearly show the success of the concept -- ECOFRIENDLINESS.