March 14, 2018
A few years ago Hotel Park was just another budget hotel in Ljubljana, not far from the museums, galleries, and nightlife of Metelkova, but hardly on anyone’s radar unless they were looking for a cheap room for the night. But all that started to change when the hotel decided to commit to become a green exemplar in the city, with the move nicely timed to coincide with Ljubljana’s year as the European Green Capital of 2016.
One of the hotel's electric cars
Since then, the hotel has become known for its environmental efforts, as seen in more public activities like its electric cars and rooftop beehives, as well as its work in the local community to promote sustainable lifestyles and business practices, while also raising the standards of its services and satisfying guests who are more interested in the hospitality side of things than saving the planet when on vacation.
I sat down with Enej Vitrih, the Marketing Manager, to hear about the story so far and the latest developments at the hotel.
A man happy in his work. Photo: JL Flanner
What’s new for 2018?
Well, for this year the most visible change is we redid the restaurant, lobby and conference room. It’s all recycled, from old pallets, but behind the scenes we just found out yesterday that Travelife renewed our certificate for another two years.
Travelife’s a UK organisation, with EU support, and they work to help make the travel and tourism industry greener and more sustainable. They have set of criteria, and if you meet these you can get their certificate. We got it first in 2015, but then every two years they check again. This time they checked 163 criteria in the hotel, 30 more than before, and it’s a really hard certificate to get. [A PDF of the full checklist is here.]
At first I think the management didn’t know what they were getting into, and when Travelife came here we needed to make some investments in the water delivery system, the electricity. But this time the biggest focus was on the community and the employees. So this is the next stage for us, as you always need to improve.
Working on the roof
What changes are you making?
Well, the first time it was just making some investments, spending money on the inside of the hotel. But this time it was more about reaching out to our first customers, the people who work with us, and spreading the philosophy that way. For example, if we work with a farmer who brings us, say, potatoes, then we need to change his mind so as not to use pesticides.
But I’d say the biggest change in the last two years has been with the staff here, their mindset with regard to the whole idea of being a green hotel, and the way they share that story with our guests. Perhaps the most obvious thing, which everyone who stays here would notice, is what we’ve done with cleaning.
And what’s that?
It’s default no cleaning. Usually in a hotel you have to ask not to have your room cleaned, but here you ask to have it cleaned. It’s the same idea, but a different way of thinking about it, and hopefully it’s something that people will take away and consider when they stay in another place.
What else is new?
Something that’s very new, it doesn’t actually start until April 1, is a package called “Go‘n’Act Green”. With this you can use an app and see the carbon footprint of your trip. It’s an all-inclusive deal, so you get breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus trips and activities. It’s a three-night package, including using an electric car to go to Bled, and if you can’t drive or don’t have your papers then we organise a driver for you. The idea is that you travel with the lowest carbon emissions as possible, so, for example, you can get a discount if you come here by train. We also have a deal with Avant Car, where you can rent an electric car, a Tesla, or get one with a driver for the airport. It’s a way of getting people to try something new, and maybe change how they travel in future.
What’s been the reaction from guests?
The hotel is huge, 205 rooms, and we don’t expect to change everyone’s mind, or for everyone to come because we’re green, so the most important thing in all this is we don’t disturb people’s stay.
Before we started doing this Hotel Park was known as a budget hotel, and we even had two floors for a hostel. So it was really aimed at people just looking for a cheap place to stay, a bed for 15 euros. Then everything changed. We renewed the rooms, there were more amenities, breakfast was better, and we raised the prices.
We lost some really low-budget customers, but we also gained a lot of fans, which was a surprise. Now it’s the third year, and it’s really paid off. The structure of the guests has changed. We’re a three-star hotel, and we’re green, of course, but we try our best to not to seem like we’re greenwashing.
Fresh, healthy and locally-sourced food
Is that a problem?
Sure, anyone can get certificate from someone, you just pay two thousand euros and you get something to hang on the wall. But we did it the real way, with a lot more work. We’re now the only place in Ljubljana with the Travelife certificate. Hostel Celica in Metelkova had it, but now they’re closed. Seven other hotels actually applied for the Travelife certification, then when they found out what they had to do they didn’t go through with it, because it’s a big process.
But with us we decided to go all in, all or nothing.
A conference room
Do you get any government support?
No, not really. We have some for the Go’n’Act Green package, but in general the government doesn’t have a pro-business attitude here. At first we needed to convince the city about what were doing, but then of course Ljubljana was the Green Capital in 2016, and they started sending us visitors and tours, especially to see the beehives.
We have four beehives up on the roof, and so we get about 60 kg of honey a year, and that’s another way to connect with guests. The view is amazing, too. We also connected with schools, and they come here and see the bees. We tell them how important they are, because they pollinate everything. You can’t have pizza without bees, for example. And we also try and change their minds about plastic bags, carbon emissions, and so on.
The hardest working members of the team
And this part of your work reaching out beyond the hotel and its guests?
Yes, and the local community is very important for us, because people often don’t like hotels, as they can cause problems for those living nearby.
But we invite people to come and visit, have a coffee, look around. It doesn’t translate directly into better business, but it’s a feeling that helps. So, for example, if they see a Hotel Park bus parking in front of their home they won’t feel so bad about it. Now we even have people coming to see us and asking for advice, how they can be more ecological, or what they can do to help bees, because other people want to have hives too.
It’s a lot of work, but it pays off.
A space for locals to chill out and organise events
So what are you working on now?
The next big thing is launching the Go’n’Act Green package in April, and then there’ll be something for Earth Day, April 22. Last year we had Siddharta playing an acoustic concert on the roof. Which was a big thing, because we had to move the bees, and you can’t just move them into a hotel room or put them in the basement. No, you have to move them at least 3 km away, otherwise they just fly straight home.
At the time we only two hives, so we moved those and picked up two more when we brought them back, but this year we don’t want to disturb them. So we won’t have a concert, but there’ll be something. It’ll be chilled and open to the local community, and probably on the roof, so you get a good view.
How far can you take this green thing without hurting business?
We have to make compromises, it’s true. For example, for breakfast we have milk and other dairy products, and so people tell us about the impact that cows have on the environment. And yes, we know that, but if we remove all the milk and salami then we’d lose 200 guests a day. That’s why we have to change the mindset.
And things like breakfast are very important, a must-have part of the business. This year we’ll be offering the standard American breakfast, but also something more Slovene, and we’re planning on having an Indian breakfast for the Indian food week, because that makes sense in terms of the ingredients and so on. We have a chef from India, not just a cook, and that’s why we offer an Indian menu, from Monday to Saturday, and 3 o’clock on.
And how’s business been with the changes?
The last three years have been very good, and some of that is of course the general growth Ljubljana’s seen, with a lot more tourists every year. But we also have a story to tell, and we’re not just a hotel in the city. When we go to trade shows and so on we have something interesting and memorable to say, and that helps. We’re something more than the usual hotel.
You can learn more about Hotel Park’s environmental work, or make a reservation, at the related website.