Saturday, 7 October 2006

does green mean quality or does quality mean green?

Tourism businesses in the UK are urged to improve their quality standards. For accommodation providers this means being awarded accreditation with the AA or national tourist board schemes. VisitBritain has set itself ambitious targets to increase numbers in these schemes and as of this year is only promoting quality accredited accommodation providers.

The new common standards which have been set offer consumers clear guidance on the level of quality they can expect from hotels, B&Bs, self-catering and holiday parks.

It is interesting to find out how the Green Business Tourism Scheme (GBTS) works alongside the quality scheme. The GBTS offers a similar accreditation scheme, but based on green criteria. This can include anything from waste and energy efficiency to biodiversity and social awareness. The awards are extremely tough to gain and are levelled at gold, silver and bronze.

A business, therefore, can have both a quality rating and a green rating.

So it’s never been easier for us consumers to pick out the tourism products most suited to our needs and budgets. However, it would be great to find out from the business perspective how easy it is to align themselves to these schemes. Do they choose green over quality? Or does one naturally lead into the other?

In order to qualify for a green rating, all accommodation providers must first be quality accredited.

I’ll address a comment from an eco-lodge owner who maintains that it is impossible for the lodge to be quality accredited because of limitations in what they could provide in order to be environmentally friendly. In other words, certain items deemed as necessities in the quality schemes are deemed unnecessary by those working with the environment in mind.

The criteria for self-catering properties to become quality accredited by the National Quality Assurance Standards (NQAS) is contained in the document here. Generally speaking, most of the criteria can be applied to a self-catering eco-lodge. However, the challenges occur further up the spectrum with the 4-5 stars. For example, for a 5 star accreditation, it is necessary to provide two items from the following list: tumble drier, telephone, hi – fi, video recorder and DVD player. These facilities would greatly pale a green accommodation.

In the Lincolnshire eco-lodge, there is no colour TV (one of the minimum requirements) or a “cooker with an oven, with at least two shelves, a grill and at least four boiling rings that may be used simultaneously with the oven or grill”. Instead you will find a very antiquated radio with home-made rechargeable batteries and a wood burning stove with capacity to slow cook a delicious meal and heat the entire lodge and water supply simultaneously. Why undo this work by adding a colour TV, hi-fi and tumble dryer? The wind turbine supplying the lodge with its own source of electricity already works hard enough!

One of the comments in the guest book at the lodge read “overall an environment of ‘quality’ which has provided a well valued break from busy lives”. Guests clearly love the experience and find that adapting to its green ways is not that difficult after all and certainly does not detract from the quality of experience. An interesting study would probably prove that consumers’ experience is actually enhanced if they can see that their stay does not harm the environment and helps the local population.

So what defines quality? Understandably it’s about safety, appearance, service and facilities. On all these counts, green businesses do not generally fail. So do they deserve a lower star rating for not providing a colour TV? Having a one star rating may not be good for business and perhaps has put off the more basic accommodation providers from applying. The fact that business owners are prepared to commit to the environment speaks volumes about the level of commitment they will provide to their customers to ensure that their experience is a quality one.

Essentially, could green become integrated into the quality assessment, rather than separating off into another scheme? Why not embed green criteria into the assessment if this can prove that quality is about caring for the environment? Could accommodation providers drop grades for consuming high levels of energy or not installing a recycling system?

Whatever the future for our tourism providers, my aspiration is that sustainable tourism will no longer be an end in itself, but rather a basic driving force behind the tourism industry which values the environment before everything else.

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