Less is more – or why we refuse to make an additional US$1 Million in Revenues every year.

Some of our former professors at Cornell University”™s Hotel School  might think we have gone nuts.   Leaving over one Mio US$ on the table every year?   Is that a luxury that a small group of hotels and eco lodges can afford?   Will the owners of the hotels, resorts and lodges be happy with this decision or might we lose our contracts?

The Plastic Water Bottle Problem at Hotels and Resorts
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge uses zero plastic water bottles in its operation

At the Cayuga Collection Hotels we have made the conscious decision to get rid of plastic water bottles and are forgoing more than 1 Mio US Dollars in beverage sales every year.   This was not an easy decision.   As a consumer, you know how much you can get charged in a hotel for a bottle of water and that over the course of a year can add up to a big sum.   We estimated that in our eight Cayuga Collection Hotels, we have the potential to sell about 250,000 bottles of water every year.   That would be three bottles of water per guest per day.   At a sales price of $4, that means about 1 Mio in lost revenues with a very attractive profit margin of around 90 percent.   We are talking serious money.   This figure is not including potential sales to guests that visit our restaurants and that are not staying in our hotels. When we implemented the program, we received some resistance from our wait staff that makes a 10 percent ” mandatory tip” on all food and beverage sale (this is a government law) and of course, they saw their incomes reduced. But by explaining the problematic of plastic inundating the planet, we were able to quickly convince them to go along with our sustainability initiative.   The other issue we faced was how to get guests to bring water on their tours and activities.   We implemented different models in different hotels.   While at Jicaro Island Eco Lodge in Nicaragua, guests receive a reusable water bottle at check-in, at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula and Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa, we ask our guests to bring their own bottle from home, purchase one in our gift shop or use a reusable aluminum bottle provided by us during their stay with us.   At the Harmony Hotel  in Nosara, we installed a faucet next to the reception that provides out guests with chilled potable water at any time during their stay.  Kura Design Villas in Uvita served fresh spring water that has been purified in larger pitchers to its guests.

No more plastic water bottles at our hotels and resorts
Recycling is good. But avoiding bottled water is better.

Of course, there are always guests that insist on being served water in plastic bottles and we honor that request.   At Arenas del Mar Rainforest and Beachfront Resort in Manuel Antonio and the Grano de Oro Hotel in San Jose, we offer bottled water upon request, but in reusable glass bottles only.   If guests request sparkling water, the glass bottles get recycled.   One of our biggest challenges though has been the minibar.   Not all hotels offer that service and we are currently experimenting with water pitchers that we fill every day and put in the minibar as an alternative to plastic bottles.   We have had good results and positive guest acceptance, but are still working out logistical details. All bottled drinks such as Coca Cola, beer and wine are served in reusable glass bottles or the glass bottles will be part of our extensive recycling program at all the hotels.   Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Innhas been a leader in those practices.   In theory, not one single beverage bottle should leave our hotels in a trash bag.   We carefully monitor the amount of trash and recyclable materials that we produce every month and work hard on consistently reducing the amount of trash we produce.

Jicaro drink served in a Jicaro
The shell of the Jicaro fruit is used to serve the welcome drink at Jicaro Lodge in Nicaragua

So back to the economics of this issue.   Does it make sense for us forego $1 Mio in sales by not selling plastic water?   Absolutely!!!   It is who we are and what we believe in.   While financial sustainability is an important part of what we do – it is not all about the money.   The Cayuga Collection Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Resorts are among the top performing hotels in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.   Even without selling those plastic bottles of water.   We just have to work a bit harder in other areas to make up for it. We understand that sustainability is a process and one is never really there.   Besides the water project, we work very hard on a project to only service sustainable seafood to our guests.   We hope that those initiatives inspire others to follow our lead and to make the tourism industry the leader in sustainable practices not only in Costa Rica, but all over the world. The problem of pollution with plastic is drastic and we need to act.   Learn more about our efforts about this ” no plastic bottles” project on the Cayuga Collection Website.  Let us know about your experiences with bottled water in hotels or if you have advice for us on how to deal with the challenges we are still facing.   We would love to hear from you at hans@cayugaonline.com. The Cayuga Collection consists of eight eco lodges, eco resorts, and sustainable hotels  in different regions of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. All of them specialize in creating the symbiosis of sustainability and luxury always providing a sense of place taking into account local culture and customs.

Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce Sunrise
Sunrise at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica


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