Hotels & responsible tourism – so many challenges, so many opportunities

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

Soweto Hotel stands apart from the other businesses participating in the Gauteng Responsible Tourism Challenge. Most of the other participating businesses are B&B’s or guesthouses and are much smaller than Soweto Hotel. The closest in size is Orchards Executive accommodation that has 21 rooms compared to Soweto Hotel’s 48.

Soweto Hotel has a four-star grading, and you may say that other businesses participating in the project are also graded four stars, but the requirements for a four star hotel are generally higher than those for a four star guest house. To give you an example, guests staying at a four star hotel would expect air-conditioning but it’s not a requirement of a four star guest house. Also, most other participating businesses offer breakfast and other meals on request, or have a restaurant and bar, but a four star hotel is expected to offer room service, something which Soweto Hotel does.

There certainly are difficulties in such a large, four-star accommodation establishment operating responsibly. Its size and the high standards means that Soweto Hotel uses a lot of everything – energy, water, resources… But size can also be an advantage and Soweto Hotel can benefit from economies of scale, in other bulk buying that is generally cheaper. Also, there’s potential for Soweto Hotel to install technology to control energy usage, something the other participating businesses can’t afford to invest in because they are too small and they will not get a return on their investment.

Soweto Hotel are already facing challenges regarding their electricity consumption. They’re getting billed by a property management company. The bills they get are very high, but does not provide any information on how much electricity they’re actually using. If they can’t measure their usage, they can’t control their usage. In cases like this, installing smart energy meters makes sense. Smart meters will give Soweto Hotel information on how much electricity is being used. By monitoring usage and then planning to reduce electricity usage where possible, they can shave quite a bit off their operational costs. They can also use energy usage information provided by energy monitoring devices to test if their electricity bills are fair. Smart metering technologies are a smart investment for any accommodation establishment with large capacity.

What staff do and don’t do also affects electricity usage. The hotel has checklists to ensure that appliances in guest rooms that are not occupied are turned off. You’ll be amazed at how much energy is wasted by televisions and air-conditioners that is kept running while rooms are cleaned.

Soweto Hotel already buys much of its cleaning products in bulk. Buying is budget and waste wise – bulk is not only cheaper but it also reduces the amount of packaging that comes with their cleaning products. Many of their cleaning products are concentrated and have to be diluted with water. Fact is, a large portion of the liquid cleaning products we use is water. These pre-diluted cleaning products make less work for us, and are also safer because undiluted cleaning products can sometimes be too strong and dangerous to use. But in the case of Soweto Hotel, there was enough reason for it to install a system on site for diluting cleaning concentrates. The system is electronic and doesn’t rely on staff needing to know the amount of water to use to dilute the concentrates – the concentrates are mixed automatically by the system, and in the case of the dishwasher is also automatically fed into the dishwasher in the right proportion.

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

Cleaning products are bought in bulk

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

The hotel has a system that automatically dilutes concentrated cleaning fluids

By buying in bulk and buying concentrates, Soweto Hotel saves money and has to dispose of less packaging. There’s another bonus, both for the environment and on costs – it costs less to transport concentrates because only the cleaning agents are being transported and not the water. Some of the cleaning products used have to be mixed with 30 parts of water, meaning that if Soweto Hotel had to buy the cleaning product premixed, it would need 30 bottles of it transported to replace each one it is currently using.

Installing a system for mixing cleaning concentrates is most viable for an accommodation establishment as large as the Soweto Hotel but is unlikely to make financial sense for many of the other participating businesses. Smaller businesses would still benefit from buying in bulk. They can also buy concentrates, though care has to be taken that mixing instructions are followed to ensure that cleaning products are safe. Soweto Hotel has usage instructions for cleaning products in areas in which they are being used, as well as safety and first aid instructions for each product. A few cleaning products being used are environmentally-friendly or biodegradable, and even though this was not a deliberate choice the result is still a positive one.

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

Posters give staff cleaning chemicals’ safe usage instructions

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

Some cleaning products are environmentally friendly

There are many other things Soweto Hotel is doing right. Here’s some pictures with what we found during our first site visit. We used a technical sheet to record what responsible practices Soweto Hotel were involved in when we did the first site visit. You can view the full results of this first visit here.

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

All lighting is energy efficient CFLs or LEDs

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

Office paper is made from responsible sources

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

Paper towels are made from recycled material

Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre

The kitchen has an instant water heater instead of a geyser. Water is only heated when it is needed, and it is needed less often because the kitchen has industrial dish washers

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