The number of tourists visiting Grand County continues to increase every year. However, in recent years many of Moab’s hotels have begun programs to minimize the amount of resources that these visitors use.
These programs have been particularly effective in minimizing the amount of water used by guests.
“We have energy-saving bulbs, low-flow toilets and shower heads, and a recycling program for back office paper,” said Steve Wang, the managing director of Quintstar, the management company that manages Moab’s Motel 6, Super 8, River Canyon Lodge, Ramada Moab, and Best Western Plus Greenwell Inn.
Wang believes that these types of measures are a win-win; it cuts the hotel’s utility costs and is a good advertising point to bring in environmentally conscious guests.
The amount of overnight accommodation in Moab has dramatically increased since mountain biking put Moab on the world’s tourist radar in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1990 to 1991 there were only 650 hotel rooms, condos and RV sites available in Moab, according to the Moab Area Travel Council.
By 1994 to 1995 that number had jumped to 1,328 rooms, and in 2005 the number reached 3,240. Over the last eight years the number of hotel rooms, condos and RV sites has stayed relatively flat, with 3,482 available in 2013.
With Moab’s rising popularity, the city has sought to lead by example to curtail the amount of resources used by visitors and to get more electricity from renewable sources, said Rebecca Andrus, Moab’s city engineer.
“The city has bought a substantial amount of green power blocks. That is why we are the first EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) community in America,” she said.
Though Andrus would like to see more done, she believes that incentivizing and regulating sustainability is difficult to do effectively.
“If you mandate sustainability then you have a property rights issue,” Andrus said. “What most people do is incentivize sustainability somehow. (But) if you incentivize it you have to make sure that you are not creating other issues with it. Sustainability really needs to be a cradle to the grave kind of thing.”
There are some programs that local government has been able to put in place; starting this year the county has mandated that all new hotel rooms must have either a motion sensor or a master switch to shut off power to the room, said Jeff Whitney, the Grand County building inspector. This is to help ensure that no power is used when guests are not in their rooms.
Hotels have largely adopted energy and water saving measures on their own to cut their costs. But Wang said that the economic benefits of such changes can be overstated.
“Where we can, we try to be green. For Moab it’s important because our customer base comes from communities that are very green,” he said. “People have a strong preference to stay at hotels that are more green. However, when it comes to paying more for the room they are unwilling. They prefer to make a difference on the green side, but when it comes to spending more they are not willing to pay more.”
Andrus agreed that being green only does so much for a hotel.
“There’s a lot of people that are just looking for a place to stay. When everything is full it really doesn’t matter,” she said.
Wang also said that the cost savings are not very substantial.
“When it comes to utilities it does make an impact, but honestly the impact is not significant when it comes to the dollar amount,” Wang said.
However, several other hotels have found that their green programs have been very well received by their customers, and have helped them to cut costs.
The Gonzo Inn’s Go Green program offers guests the option of opting out of room service for a day in exchange for $5 off at the hotel gift shop or a free latte with breakfast.
“We have been doing the Go Green program for over a year now. It has been very successful,” said Kali Bisco, the Gonzo Inn’s operations manager. “I had a lady yesterday who got $40 off at the gift shop because she had two rooms and didn’t use service for eight days. It saves on payroll because you probably have six or seven of those (rooms opting out) a day.”
In addition to regular trash, hotels can produce a large amount of waste from the number of the complementary soaps and shampoos that are not fully used, or taken by guests, and subsequently thrown away, said Marlene Rodriguez, the general manager at Moab’s La Quinta Inn.
In April of this year La Quinta Inn decided to start sending those unused soaps and shampoos to the non-profit, Clean the World. For $470 a year Clean the World takes La Quinta Inn’s unused products, sanitizes and reprocesses them into soap bars, then sends them to homeless shelters and impoverished communities in 67 countries, including the USA and Canada.
“We decided to do it because we were just throwing (the soap and shampoo) away. We are throwing stuff away and it’s needed.” Rodriguez said. “It’s a fabulous program.”
“We are trying to do the best for everybody,” agreed Miguel Hemastrosa, the housekeeping and maintenance supervisor at La Quinta Inn who is overseeing the program. “The housekeepers are really glad we are doing it.”
Clean the World has so far distributed 12 million bars of soap around the world in pursuit of their mission to help prevent the millions of deaths that occur every year from hygiene related illnesses.
Though many large hotel chains have signed on to the program, La Quinta Inn is the first hotel in Moab to do so.
Both The Gonzo Inn and La Quinta Inn, like most of overnight accommodations in Moab, have also installed water efficient fixtures. Water efficient appliances in use have placed less demand on the Glen Canyon Aquifer, which supplies Moab’s potable water, allowing it to recharge despite the increasing number of visitors.
“Collectively the water that’s heading down the pipes is pretty efficient,” said Chris Baird, the director of the Canyonlands Watershed Council.
So efficient in fact, that the water treatment plant sometimes has to add water to the sewage it receives before it can process it.
“Thus far the levels of the aquifer have recharged reasonably well from year to year,” Baird said. “The problem is that we don’t know what the safe limit (to drain the aquifer to) is.”
That is because the aquifer has not been studied enough to determine its limits. Baird is now working on just such a study, but he is not too concerned about the amount of water that hotels are using.
“Where I am worried about is the city parks and the golf course,” he said “This is perfect water, some of the best water in the country. We could be squandering a very valuable resource, we just don’t know.”