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Which Side Are You On?

Politically speaking, it has been a tough few years for the lodging and restaurant industries in the United States. Industries that have flown underneath the radar are suddenly in the political spotlight for better and occasionally worse. Whether it is the recent effort in Detroit to impose a new QSR tax, the federal effort to restrict H2B visas, or the spate of laws surrounding restaurants, obesity and nutritional information, suddenly the restaurant and lodging industries are under the gun.

If the imposition of Sarbanes-Oxley has taught us anything, it is that government regulation can have a dramatic impact on the work we do. More often than not, the hospitality industry has been playing catch-up with most of these issues. Reacting to proposed legislation.

What would be nice, for a change, is for hotels and restaurants to get ahead of the game. Instead of reacting to new pushes by legislators or consumers, restaurants and hotels need to take a more proactive approach to dealing with hot button issues.

Many restaurants, for example, took a proactive approach to nutritional information by introducing well-designed tools on their websites. Fewer, however, took the impressive steps that Au Bon Pain did by adding the same tools at a kiosk inside each of their restaurants. The ROI for such a step was undoubtedly hard to measure, but you can be sure that such a move will help to keep Au Bon Pain far removed from the criticism leveled at other QSRs—a nice type of differentiation as it positions itself in the fast casual market.

As energy prices continue to remain high, it is naïve for hotels (or restaurants too) to ignore energy consumption. Not long ago, the lodging industry put its collective foot into a rather large mouth by imposing energy surcharges to room bills. As the industry came to realize that was not the right solution.

While most hotels ignored the problem and ate the expense, a few began to look for ways to cut consumption. Simple steps like suggesting that guests only have sheets and towels laundered every other day save money and can even be presented as the hotel's concern for the environment.
Given the growing ranks of environmental consumers (myself included), such steps are warranted. However, don't expect such self-serving steps to hold water for much longer. I give far more credit to companies, like Starwood, which have invested heavily in more efficient energy generation technologies and hotels that have smart energy-management systems. More and more guests will recognize the efforts of such leaders.

It is time for hotels and restaurant to become more proactive. Rather than waiting for the next crisis, take a side and get out ahead of the solution. Which would you rather be, part of the problem, or part of the solution?

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