The Latest Hotel Amenity is Designed to Save the Environment and Put Money Back in Your Pocket — Would You Opt In?

published Mar 11, 2018
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(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

When you stay at a hotel, are you the “Do Not Disturb” type, or a “Service, Please” traveler? While the hospitality industry has traditionally erred on the side of service, some hotels now allow visitors to opt out of in-stay housekeeping — whether to protect the environment or their own privacy — often in exchange for perks like food and beverage credit or rewards points.

I, for one, think this is brilliant. I know a lot of people love the feeling of coming back to a primped hotel room, and there is a certain magic to it — as if the hotel fairies came to make the beds and change the towels while you were out sightseeing. But to be honest, the whole charade seems unnecessary to me, and kind of stresses me out when I’m supposed to be relaxing on vacation.

For example, my wife and I had a midweek getaway in New York last month, without the kid. We stayed up late and went out to bars like the grownups we used to be, and the next morning we were savoring what might be the single greatest indulgence of parenthood — sleeping in — when I snapped awake in bed.

I heard the housekeeping staff making its rounds in the hallway, and realized I’d forgotten to hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign before bed. It was barely 8 a.m. I lurched out of bed, stumbled to the door, and fumbled with the sign — trying not to be seen or make a scene in my boxer shorts, and desperate to hang onto those last drops of drowsiness. It was no use: I was awake for the day, because I didn’t properly manage this added task hotels thrust upon us.

Even if housekeeping comes while we’re out, I find it a little weird knowing there’s someone futzing about in our room while we’re gone. I worry about leaving the room too messy, I can’t remember where to leave the towels that don’t need changing, and I stress about whether it’s okay to leave my laptop out. And as George Costanza can tell you, hotel beds are tucked so tautly, they can take awhile to break in — a fresh cleaning means I’ll spend another half hour at bedtime trying to loosen the sheets again without spraining my ankle.

But most of all, it just strikes me as wasteful — a wildly unnecessary burden on the environment. I tend to grimace at the excesses of luxury and the flaunting of limited resources, and this is no different. When we stay at an Airbnb, it’s clean when we arrive, it’s cleaned after we leave, and everything in between is up to us. That’s as it should be. We’re barely in our hotel room while on vacation — it would be a challenge to mess it up so much that it required a cleaning.

(Image credit: Nicole Crowder)

It appears I’m not alone. More than a third (38%) of U.S. travelers said they’d pay extra for a service that demonstrates environmental responsibility, according to MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers report. Younger travelers, in particular, are more environmentally aware — and hotels have gotten the message. “They received criticism from younger travelers: ‘This is ridiculous that they’re changing my towels and sheets every day. I don’t need that, it does harm the environment,'” Deloitte’s Adam Weissenberg told the New York Times.

Every skipped cleaning reduces water used in washing machines, saves energy used to dry linens and vacuum carpets, and cuts down on the chemicals used to clean surfaces in the room or bleach towels. All of these are benefits for the environment — and the hotel’s utility bills.

(Image credit: Arden Wray)

Starwood (and now Marriott) has been a corporate pioneer in this regard with its Make Green a Choice program. At about 20 different North American brands — including Marriott, JW Marriott, Westin, Sheraton, Delta, Renaissance, W, Courtyard, and Fairfield Inn & Suites — guests can receive an additional 500 Marriott Rewards points per day when they opt out of extra cleaning.

That’s not a lot — roughly five bucks toward a future Marriott booking. But if you’re ambivalent about a mid-stay cleaning, it’s an easy way to rack up more points toward a free night’s stay or a future room upgrade.

In Las Vegas, Caesars properties such as the Flamingo offer guests a $10 voucher per day toward food and beverage if they decline housecleaning service. Smaller hotels have gotten on board, too: The Miramonte Indian Wells Resort and Spa in California and the Suncadia Resort in Washington State each offer $5 vouchers to guests who skip housecleaning, reports the Times.

While I’m of the mind that every bit helps, it’s unclear how big an impact skipping your room cleaning might have on the environment. But a company like Marriott has thousands of hotels with hundreds of rooms in each; there’s every reason to think that, collectively, it can make a difference. And in fact, between 2007 and 2016, Marriott says it lowered energy use by 13.2%, water consumption by 7.7%, and greenhouse gas emissions by 15.8%. There’s no telling how much of that conservation was a result of skipped house cleaning, but it can’t have hurt.

My only big concern, however, is how this might impact housekeeping staff. If only a few guests per night opt out of extra cleanings, it probably just means a less hectic day for staff members. But there’s probably a tipping point where housekeepers would begin to see their hours cut — or lose their jobs entirely — if enough guests consistently declined in-stay cleanings. Not to mention a loss of tips. And that would keep me awake at night, whether I put up the Do Not Disturb sign or not.