Going green helps Keys B&B’s bottom line

One of the fastest tourism growth areas has been the rise of “green,” or environmentally friendly, lodgings.

A good example is Costa Rica, a place that has actively and very successfully promoted ecotourism and boasts that it has more than 70 hotels and resorts that qualify as green.

The environment is also on the minds of U.S. hoteliers, and for good reason. According to the Travel Industry Association, more than half of all U.S. adults say they would be more willing to select a hotel that demonstrates environmental responsibility.

“Putting the ‘eco’ in front of your name gets attention,” said Ted Martens, director of outreach and development at Sustainable Travel International, a nonprofit organization that educates travelers and travel providers about conservation.

That was certainly the case for Old Town Manor in Key West. Converted by new owners, the bed and breakfast saw a big increase in business when it went green.

The decision to convert was an easy one, said Runi Goyal, who owns and operates the B&B on Eaton Stree with husband Walter Price.

“When we bought Old Town Manor, it was a dump and barely had an occupancy rate of 25 percent,” she said. “We were personally green already, so we thought it was appropriate to make it a place we could go to as tourists. Doing so really increased our business.”

Goyal instituted a number of regular practices that helped her gain the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging designation.

She started the process with the business end, working towards creating a paperless office. That means communicating with guests via email, booking people online, and printing — only when absolutely necessary — on both sides of the paper.

Florida began its lodging program in 2004. Participation in the Keys was slow at first — Old Town was among the early adopters — but now the island chain has 24 hotels that have qualified for the entry-level “One Palm” designation. Two of those, The Banyan Resort and The Gardens Hotel in Key West, just received the more advanced “Two Palm” designation.

The program will be the topic of discussion at the Jan. 16 meeting of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West. The DEP’s Celia Stearns will talk about how hotels can get involved or advance to the next level.

To earn the first palm, hotels must implement water conservation measures by installing low-flow plumbing fixtures and a linen reuse program. Old Town Manor has accomplished both, and its guests don’t mind at all. In fact, they like it so much that the shower heads disappear on a regular basis.

“Our guests don’t object to our towel policy at all,” Goyal said. “It’s something they do at home anyway.”

The resort has also experienced a significant decrease in trash since switching to large, refillable soap dispensers in the showers instead of those little bottles that most people toss. The organic, homemade breakfast, one of the most popular items at Old Town, doesn’t use paper plates or plastic utensils. You won’t find plastic cups in the rooms, and guests are encouraged to refill their water bottles at the hotel’s water cooler.

On the agenda now is the addition of a composter on site, which will further trim hotel garbage and supply organic fertilizer for the landscaping.

Old Town Manor’s pool is solar heated, saving on the electricity normally used to power pool heaters. All the lights are energy-efficient CFLs. Plans call for upgrading the televisions to more energy-efficient flat panel units.

The DEP requires green lodgings to recycle and buy in bulk and buy recycled materials and recycled ink and toner cartridges. All designated properties must also use green cleaners, something that Goyal put in place immediately with Shaklee products.

The couple makes monthly trips to Costco in Miami to buy organic food in bulk. They also place recycling bins in all the rooms as well as at central locations.

So, do the guests at Old Town Manor feel deprived? Not at all. In fact, the hotel was recently designated by Conde Nast publications as one of the 10 top places to stay in Key West.

“Our guests are accustomed to this,” Goyal said. “In fact, they expect it.”

McClatchy Tribune contributed to this report.