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EARTHWATCH

Local Hotels Introduce Eco-Friendly Rooms : Nonsmoking accommodations at two sites are equipped with filtered air and water and biodegradable products.

August 18, 1994|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This summer, as far as some hotel operators are concerned, their customer's health and the planet's health seem to have assumed equal importance. Earthwatch recently looked into this issue at Simi Valley's Clarion Hotel, where two hotel professionals have outfitted six rooms in an environmentally friendly way.

The result is a form of consumer-supported environmentalism, which, according to a summer flurry of articles in the hotel industry's trade press, is part of a worldwide trend.

Richard Schwalbenberg, general manager of the Clarion in Simi, and Ray Berger, vice president of Green Suites International, a Century City environmental services company, both happen to live in Moorpark. Friends of long standing, the two became part of this trend by collaborating early this year to outfit some "Deluxe Nonsmoking Guest Rooms" at the Clarion. They discovered immediately that travelers will pay an extra $10 to stay in them.

What's involved essentially is an upgrade of the already existing, much in demand, nonsmoking class of rooms--but equipped with specially filtered air and water, biodegradable soaps and shampoos in dispensers rather than throw-away packaging, and environmentally friendly paper products. Housekeeping staff members use only special non-polluting cleansers and carpet cleaners in these rooms. In other words, the rooms are chock full of things Earthwatch has been touting for years.

Sounds like a haven for the allergy-prone, asthmatic or environmentally sensitive traveler. According to the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology, there are almost 50 million such sufferers in the country. But it's also good for the rest of us, because, when a hotel takes care of them in this new way, there's a reduction of water pollution and trash.

Our visit was unscheduled, so we could only see a room where the most recent tenant had just left and the place had not been serviced. Nobody had been in to spruce things up. Nevertheless, the air was noticeably better and the tap water much softer than the last place I had been in--my home.

It was a pleasant experience and left no doubt why a dozen companies have sprung up worldwide in the last few years to offer services--or versions of services--similar to those Berger supplies to hotels.

"Business travelers who have just stayed in the these rooms ask their companies to book them in one again next time," Schwalbenberg said. "Half the guests take away the free copy of the EcoTraveler Magazine Ray's company provides for the rooms and the list of environmentally friendly products we use they can order for home use."

A survey last month in the trade journal Hotel & Motel Management said that more than 40% of travelers consider themselves "environmental," and say they want accommodations which have "green" features of some sort. Folks, it seems, want environmental virtue and pleasure mixed together.

Some trade journals report that people don't want to pay extra for these features, but neither of the men from Moorpark reports having encountered price resistance. According to Berger--whose company also has eco-friendly room installations in the Piccadilly Inn chain and other sites in California and Nevada--people fill up the "Deluxe Nonsmoking Rooms" as fast as the hotels can set them up.

There's something to ponder here. If Schwalbenberg makes good on his plans to put in all natural fabrics--sheets, towels, maybe even the carpets and drapes in the Simi Valley Clarion Hotel--the result will be an environmental show-window folks can actually move into.

There's an old science fiction novel, "Ecotopia." The traveling protagonist finds this kind of accommodation, and at the end of the story he sends his boss a message: "I've decided I'm not coming back, but thanks for sending me on this assignment."

Details

* FYI: For information about EcoTraveler Magazine call (800) 334-8152. For Green Suites International locations and services call (800) 3-GREEN-3.

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