Boutique Hotel Stadthalle in Vienna, the first zero-energy balanced hotel in the world, offers all customers a 10% discount of room rates if they arrive by environmentally friendly transport. This is just one of many initiatives the hotel uses to promote sustainability in tourism.
Michaela Reitterer, owner and operator of Boutique Hotel Stadthalle, was met with scepticism when she put forward the idea of making the hotel zero-energy balanced in 2007.
- A lot of people didn’t believe in the idea and it was difficult to get financing. Our bank didn’t think more people would visit the hotel just because our energy came from green energy sources. Luckily, we were able to find another bank that believed in the idea as much as we did, Reitterer tells us.
The hotel now produces as much energy as it consumes, using solar- and photovoltaic panels and ground water heat pumps, and is currently waiting for permission to set up windmills. Rainwater is collected and used for flushing and gardening, the whole hotel is equipped with LED lighting and guests can charge electric vehicles with energy generated by the hotel.
Creating expertise on sustainable hotels
The fact that the Boutique Hotel Stadthalle was the first of its kind in the world has created a lot of challenges for Reitterer and her staff.
- The problem is, whom should we ask? There are no hotel consultants that have the knowledge on sustainability that we have. This is why we have to work so hard to constantly improve our performance, she says.
Same issue applies to governmental support. Reitterer explains that the authorities have been helpful in bringing delegations and recommending the hotel to visitors, but that at the end of the day, groundbreaking sustainable initiatives have to come from entrepreneurs.
- If the people working in the administration had the ideas before me, they would be entrepreneurs themselves. The changes must come from us in the first place, and then the authorities have to adapt the laws to our ideas.
Valuable input from guests and staff
The original objective with the sustainable approach was to save energy costs, but the concept has developed rapidly since 2007, often based on feedback and ideas from guests.
- In the beginning, I didn’t really realise that my breakfast should be organic just because we generate our own energy. But our guests expected this from us, and we therefore changed it after receiving their feedback.
The employees at Boutique Hotel Stadthalle have a central position in generating new ideas and adapting internal processes to the innovation.
- Our staff meets regularly to discuss new ideas - what we can learn from our guests, which ideas should be implemented and how we can bring our system to perfection, Reitterer says. She adds that a shared passion is the most important driver for the innovation at Boutique Hotel Stadthalle.
- Everyone that applies for a job with us has to have a passion for the environment. This comes before any hotel business training or education. If you don’t have the passion, you are not likely to get the job, she says with a smile.
Sustainable business models
Reitterer points out that in everything they do, passion has to be accompanied by profitability.
- The guests are not necessarily prepared to pay higher prices for sustainability and we therefore have to find the right balance. That is what it comes down to, because this is my business. I put a lot of passion in it, but in the end, it is a business and I am an entrepreneur, says Reitterer.
She is however in no doubt that innovative business models embracing sustainability will have a large commercial value in the future.
- If you are good at what you do and authentic in being green, you will earn money on it. People won’t accept companies using sustainability for marketing purposes only. Authenticity is key, Reitterer concludes.
Páll Tómas Finnsson