Consumers’ attitudes towards “green” initiatives in the hospitality industry and their actual environmentally responsible behavior in hotels differ markedly, a study by two hospitality and tourism management graduate students at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business has found.
The graduate students’ study also found that consumers who engage in environmentally friendly behavior at home behave differently when staying at a hotel.
In a project supervised by hospitality and tourism management professor Pamela Weaver, Master’s degree students Melissa Baker and Eric Davis say that while more hotels are adopting green practices, few scholars have examined the relationships between such initiatives and consumer knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.
“It has been argued that if individuals became more knowledgeable about environmental issues, they would become more aware of the problems and be more motivated to act in responsible ways,” Baker and Davis note in their study. “Prior research, however, has not shown this assumption to be true.”
Baker and Davis note that the hospitality and tourism industry is under pressure to become more environmentally friendly as a result of consumer demand, environmental regulation, and managerial concerns based on ethics as well as economics.
Linen and towel reuse policies are now commonplace, while low-flow showers and toilets, programmable on/off light sensors, and occupancy sensor controls for guestroom thermostats have been installed by many hotel companies, say Baker and Davis. In addition, most major hotel companies have created green mission statements and have an increasing number of LEED-certified green hotels in their portfolios
Baker and Davis conducted an online survey of 881 students in four Virginia Tech classes (undergraduate and graduate) for their study. The survey received 322 responses, for an overall response rate of 36.5 per cent.
The survey contained different categories of questions aimed at gauging knowledge of environmental issues, personal attitudes about environmentally friendly behavior while staying in hotels, attitudes about the extent to which hotels should operate sustainably, and respondents’ green behavior at home and while staying as guests in hotels.
Only a quarter of the respondents correctly answered eight or more of the environmental knowledge questions. Although 54 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that being environmentally conscious while in a hotel would have long-term environmental benefits, only 35 per cent stated they would prefer to stay in a green hotel instead of a non-green hotel.
Asked about the extent to which hotels should “go green,” three-quarters of the respondents thought that hotels should use energy-efficient or automatic lights; nearly half thought that hotels should have automatic sink faucets; and nearly 60 per cent thought that Styrofoam should not be used as a serving container in hotel guest rooms.
Nearly 60 per cent of respondents said they were likely or extremely likely to stay at a hotel that changed sheets only when requested during their stay; 55 per cent responded positively to a similar question regarding towel changes. However, 45 per cent said they would be unlikely or extremely unlikely to stay at a hotel that provided amenity dispensers instead of individual bottles.
As for enviromentally responsible behavior at home and in hotels, almost 60 percent of respondents said they recycled paper products at home, but only 30 per cent confirmed they recycled them while at a hotel. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they conserved water at home, but less than 40 per cent said they did so at a hotel. Some 80 per cent of respondents confirmed they conserved energy at home, but only 40 per cent stated they saved energy while at a hotel.
The survey also posed 11 parallel questions about common hotel practices, to compare attitudes and behavior. Baker and Davis found “a statistically significant gap” in eight instances. The three exceptions were changing sheets only when requested, having cooler corridor temperatures than guest-room temperatures during the winter, and vice versa during the summer. Offering possible reasons, the students say “guests are comfortable with hotel behavior that has little impact on them or are common practices today.”
As to why the extent of environmentally responsible behaviors differ between home and hotel, other researchers have suggested that “individuals might feel more obliged to behave in an environmentally friendly manner in their local community as opposed to the tourist destination,” Baker and Davis note.
In addition, the destination or hotel may lack the infrastructure necessary to practice green behavior. Also, engaging in green behavior may detract from the whole experience of being a hotel guest, the students note, pointing out that some researchers have found “a strong trade-off between participation and the sacrifice of comfort and luxury.”
To understand more clearly the reasons for the gaps between attitudes and behavior and between home and hotel behavior, future research could examine barriers to participation and ease of compliance, service expectations, and convenience, say Baker and Davis.
While surveying students was convenient for their study and is “typical for literature on green marketing and initiatives”, Baker and Davis recommend that future research should sample hotel guests “to improve external validity”.