Tomorrow Needs Today

Hotel loyalty programmes are structured in a variety of ways – generally there is a points currency that can be redeemed for free stays, plus a status scheme that adds perks ranging from a welcome gift to late checkout all the way through to suite upgrades. Typically, though, progressing through either is related in some way to commercial value: number of stays, number of nights, or simply raw spend. On a recent trip, though, I – quite by chance – found one that takes a different tack: rewarding guests for acting in an environmentally conscious way!

That was the EcoBon scheme, operated by the small chain Martin’s as part of their broader tomorrow needs today environmental initiative. Martin’s runs (currently) ten hotels across Belgium; some have restaurant, spa or golf facilities too. ‘Burning’ is simple: 100 eco vouchers can be exchanged for a €50 gift voucher for use as part-payment against any of these, or there are fixed-rate redemptions such as 200 vouchers for a night at the hotel we used. Whether or not the latter presents value will depend on the cash prices available at the time of booking – we only paid €187 including tax for a three night stay, so we’d have been better off with the 2:1 swap.

The ‘earning’ side is a bit more confusing, or at least I didn’t entirely understand how it operated whilst we were there! You can collect points from each of five choices:

  • Requesting a limited cleaning service 20 vouchers, but they’ll just empty bins and re-make (not change) the bed.
  • Re-use your bath towels 10 vouchers, provided you keep the same set of towels.
  • Adopt “good practices” 10 vouchers, for sensible actions like not running the A/C with the windows open, turning off lights / electrical devices when not in the room etc.
  • Select EcoetBon dishes and drinks 5 vouchers for picking a locally sourced, seasonal food item from the restaurant.
  • Organise your transport responsibly 5 vouchers if (essentially) you avoid using a personal vehicle – public transport, car-pooling and even taxis count! Plus of course walking or cycling.

What wasn’t clear was how these bonuses would trigger, or how often. Some, like the limited clean, could in principle be tracked – you have to leave a special sign on your room door by 8am to opt out of the full service – whereas confirming your transport habits could be tedious, and determining if you follow good practices next to impossible. In practice, you get a customer satisfaction survey by email soon after checkout, and the first 5 questions ask whether or not you did any of these things. Seemingly then it’s entirely on the honour system, although I imagine they’d at least ignore the first two if you only had a single night stay! As it’s yes/no, points won’t stack for repeated good behaviour, so the sweet spot for optimal earning is collecting 50 points from a two night stay. Chaining together a run of those would work out at a €12.50 / night return; at our rate, that’s a 20% discount! Still having some scruples, I only claimed for the 45 vouchers we’d actually qualified for, plus we stayed for three nights, thus receiving the equivalent of 12% cashback if we could amass another 55 vouchers.

Of course, to do so we’d need at least two more stays, and then a third to actually redeem them against, so with so few properties in a single country, it’s unlikely I’ll ever actually cash out… Still, this is an intriguing direction for one of the larger schemes to consider going in. Most already have at least the towel re-use, but it’s often poorly supported (often I return to find them all needlessly replaced) for willing participants, and there’s no incentive for the less green-minded to play along. Of course, saving staff time or energy costs is of benefit to the hotel financially, and passing some of that along through the loyalty programme seems like a win all round: for the enviroment, for the chain, and for the customer. It’ll also be interesting to see where we are in a few years, when the ‘internet of things’ and smart buildings would allow for monitoring thermostat settings, more power draw when the room is unoccupied, whether windows are open and so on. I know I’m guilty of cranking the A/C when I know it makes no difference to my bill – but I could probably be lured into better behaviour by some bonus points!