Go green to save the tourism industry 

Charleston's hospitality businesses are especially vulnerable to climate change

This week, Gov. Nikki Haley will host the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism and Travel, providing a great opportunity for those of us in the tourism industry to come together and share our success stories as well as ideas for improvement. It's not surprising that Gov. Haley would dedicate her administration's attention to these issues each year. After all, tourism is a huge part of South Carolina's economy, with millions of visitors each year pumping billions of dollars into the state. According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism support the jobs of one in 10 South Carolinians and contribute over $1.5 billion to state and local tax revenues.

And we all know why visitors flock here. They're the same reasons that we love to live here. The world-class beaches, the good weather, the vibrant and historic culture, and, of course, the mouth-wateringly good food, to name just a few. Our natural and cultural riches are what set our state apart. But they do not look after themselves: We are all stewards of these assets, a role that we at Holiday Inn Express and Suites, Mt. Pleasant, take very seriously. That's why we are working hard to reduce our hotel's impact on our immediate and wider environment.

As the first S.C. Green Hospitality Alliance 5 Palmetto Certified hotel in the state, we've adopted a number of green practices in the past few years, including motion sensor lighting in the common areas, a saline swimming pool that requires fewer chemicals, and a rooftop rainwater collection unit to irrigate the plants surrounding the hotel. And we're already seeing the benefits of these resource- and money-saving changes.

These relatively small changes would also benefit the thousands of other businesses that make up our state's tourism industry, and we're seeing more and more of them making these changes for the good of the environment and their budgets. But if we are to truly protect the lifeblood of South Carolina's economy, we must also get prepared for more frequent and extreme weather events, as well as the rising seas that a changing climate will surely bring. For example, everyone knows that Charleston is notoriously vulnerable to flooding, and flooded streets are bad for business. An increase in the number of days in a year that are written off to these sorts of climate afflictions would undoubtedly impact the bottom lines for local businesses. The good news is we already know where our weak spots are, and we can make them stronger.

Anyone who has worked in a service industry for as long as I have knows how important it is to be one step ahead of the customer at all times. We have a knack for foresight and preparation. And that's the key to our ongoing success in the face of these changes. If we apply that same foresight and preparation to a changing climate, we can protect the attractions that draw tourists here in the millions as well as our businesses.

Whether they call it climate change, weird weather, or simply risk management, I hope that when our elected and appointed leaders meet in Greenville this week to talk tourism, they will keep in mind how important it is that we all work together to ensure that South Carolina is prepared for extreme weather events and other climate impacts. The flip side of living in a state of such great beauty means that we have much to protect, for tourists and each other.

Haywood Robinson is the assistant general manager and director of sales of the eco-friendly Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Mt. Pleasant.

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