CEO & FOUNDER OF ECOHOTELS
Hi, my name is Patricia Plesner. I am the CEO of EcoHotels.com.
I’ve always been fascinated by how tech and the environment can go hand in hand. I have an aunt and uncle who work in the hotel industry. They run a small hotel chain of eco-certified boutique hotels, Guldsmeden Hotels, primarily based in Copenhagen. I’ve heard all these stories, about guest experiences and how to sell the rooms, but it wasn’t until 2020 I really got into the industry. That was when we started Ecohotels.com.
Although the year 2020 presented personal challenges for me, with the disruption caused by the pandemic, it also served as a catalyst for the birth of EcoHotels.com. Originally planning to pursue my master’s degree at Columbia University in New York, circumstances prevented me from realizing that goal. However, this setback motivated me to assemble a small team and dive headfirst into creating a unique platform that would exclusively feature eco-certified hotels while prioritizing their best interests.
With the pandemic hitting the same month we started EcoHotels.com, we could see that bookings were extremely low to non. In Denmark, the government came up with the 6-day rule (for a short period). No one could stay at any hotel unless they stayed there for more than six days, meaning that all hotels in Copenhagen were as good as empty. We started talking about how hotels make money, how they get guests, and soon OTAs came up. This made us think how cool it would be if we could create a platform where we would only allow eco-certified hotels and keep their best interest in mind. Meaning we would offer them a lower commission fee than other OTAs.
Instead of dwelling on missed opportunities regarding New York, we assembled a compact team of three people and embarked on constructing the booking engine, developing the website, and initiating the process of onboarding eco-certified hotels.
Those were fun months. We all threw ourselves into the project without really understanding how huge this market is and without knowing all the different factors we needed to know. When we started onboarding hotels, we found the first issue to be, that there are many different channel managers, and that every hotel practically has its own – meaning we had to prioritize what hotels or chains to bring on first as we only had one developer.
With my background in business studies spanning five years, my mindset leaned toward the business aspects more than the technical aspects. It became apparent rather swiftly that acquiring individuals with extensive tech experience and additional developers was imperative for our success.
An equally significant aspect for us was certification. We were determined to steer clear of any form of greenwashing. As part of my generation – I’m 26 now – a green mindset has been ingrained in us since childhood. Refusing to purchase plastic bags while grocery shopping and opting for secondhand clothing over fast fashion are just a few examples of how this mindset has shaped at least my behavior. This consciousness has been deeply rooted in me, and I am aware that my friends, family, as well as former study and work colleagues, all share this perspective. So, transparency and accountability are primary for us. They were and are our core vision and mission.
We then reached out to the Global Sustainability Tourism Council to get a thorough understanding of the market and certifications. With numerous certifications such as Green Globe and Key Earth Check available, we recognized the need for an organization that could shed light on which certifications hold recognition and credibility. Collaborating with the GSTC enabled us to establish connections with various certification bodies, and their support has proven priceless throughout our journey.
For us, it is important that we know what hotel holds which certification, so we could understand the hotel’s values. Are the working conditions fair? Are efforts made to address food and water waste? Are fair wages provided? Is there diversity within the boards of larger hotels? These are crucial questions that can easily be overlooked when vacationing.
The hotel sector plays a significant role in global carbon emissions, accounting for around 1% of the total. By 2050 hotels should cut down their carbon emissions per room by more than 90%. Many hotels have already started to incorporate sustainable practices in their operations, and these are the hotels we are eager to showcase on our platform.
We are really focused on being informative and transparent to our travelers in explaining the different certifications, to showcase to our eco-travelers what the hotels are doing by minimizing food waste, conserving water, limiting plastic usage, green cleaning supplies, and especially how tech and automation can help with this.
We have recently launched a “pending certificate” logo. Hotels that are not yet certified can join our platform too, but with a special pending logo, as the certification process can take some time. We wish to be very transparent to travelers, but at the same time, we want to encourage hotels to join our mission. A lot of hotels don’t see the need for certification, they might believe they already are sustainable or that it is a waste of time. And we want to showcase to them, that there is a market for sustainability. The different certification bodies do not only visit and audit the hotel but help outline a new strategy or set of operations to assist the hotels with becoming better while saving money… in the long run, the hotels can end up saving money while attracting the whole eco-community of travelers.
Besides sustainability, the whole topic of family-owned boutique hotels owns a big place in my heart. I witnessed the immense challenges that individual hotels faced during the pandemic. In our first year, we offered these hotels a 0% commission rate to join our platform. This also helped showcase that there actually is a market for eco-travelers, but also attracted several small family-owned boutique hotels. Unfortunately, some of them, especially in Asia, were unable to withstand the financial hardships brought on by COVID-19 and went bankrupt. When you are a small boutique hotel, without a lot of negotiation power regarding larger OTAs nor the knowledge or experience with the importance of a strong online presence, it’s hard to sustain.
One important lesson I’ve learned is the power of surrounding myself with people who are smarter and more knowledgeable in their areas of expertise. This mindset creates an environment where we constantly learn from each other and grow together. Trust and respect are the foundation of a strong team, and I have deep admiration for my colleagues.
In the beginning, one of my mistakes was to think “I-know-it-all”. I always thought that I could just read or study to become the best, but then I was sitting on a call with super-skilled developers, and it became pretty clear that I simply don’t – and have to. And this was a really good thing, as it allowed me to focus on the aspects of EcoHotels.com where my knowledge was actually useful.
As a board member of Sustainable Changemakers, I get a lot of insides on other industries. Sustainable Changemakers is a networking group of people from the ages 25 to 35, who are really trying to push “the green” agenda, as well as the social agenda. We are a few hundred people coming together regularly to talk about how we can help improve the corporations we work in.
It’s quite fascinating to see all these different ideas in so many different environments. We have people working in the pharmaceutical industry, in banking, and in green tech – like myself. Seeing all of us coming together and really trying to push what matters is very nice. It also shows the importance of the topic and how people realize or acknowledge it. For example, right now we are seeing a lot of people deciding not to work in certain places because they simply don’t think that the company is green enough or has not set enough of a focus on the social well welfare of employees.
This project has been running for four-five years now, unfortunately, it’s only for people in Copenhagen, Denmark, but maybe in a few years, we’ll be able to expand.
I really hope that the hotel industry takes a strong stand on environmental and social impact in the future. It’s important for hotels to see sustainability as a big picture, something that should be incorporated into everything they do, from cleaning rooms to running their operations. By adopting sustainable practices like reducing waste, saving energy, conserving water, and using responsible suppliers, hotels can make a real difference. It’s not just about their own impact, but also about inspiring others in the industry to follow suit. And let’s not forget about the social side of things. Supporting local communities, promoting diversity and fairness, and treating workers ethically are all vital for a sustainable and responsible hotel sector.