The Tech-Enabled Profit Center Your Hotel Is Probably Missing: Water

Deploying advanced water filtration systems within the guestrooms can become a visible and marketable room feature so that you can lure in the growing wellness-minded crowd or possibly command a higher nightly rate. (Shown here: Elkay EZH2O Liv Pro in-wall water dispenser)
By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky - 4.8.2023

“Will that be still or sparkling?” as a question asked by servers is about to get far more complicated, and it has profound implications for not just onsite restaurants but for all instances in your rooms where guests directly interact with water – namely, bottles, sink and shower.

For those who just want the TLDR, here’s our thesis:

  1. As wellness becomes a central facet of society, there’s growing awareness for the hidden dangers lurking within our water supplies and their long-term health effects.
  2. This concern can justify additional onsite filtration capex or upscale bottling as branded features to drive nightly rates or supplemental revenues in the room and at the restaurant.
  3. Concurrently, as ESG takes hold, hotels will have to upgrade their water management systems and eliminate single-use plastics, presenting yet two more marketable brand features.
  4. The bottom line is that water is no longer just water but is rife with innovation, trends and technologies to aid in ramping up both sustainability practices as well as human longevity.

The Problem

The rationale for wanting ever-cleaner water comes down to what biologists and physicians call hormone or endocrine disruptors. Now in 2023, we have completed enough longitudinal population studies to draw statistical causality between the long-term exposure from such substances like heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, bisphenols in canned goods, phthalates in cosmetics, solvents in sunscreens and even prescribed medications leftover in our water supplies that all have detrimental health effects like mood disorders, chronic inflammation, obesity and low testosterone levels.

This is what human longevity pundits would codify as a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ problem. The acute exposure to something hazardous like glyphosate or atrazine (both are herbicides sprayed on non-organic crops that leech into our foods and animal feed) won’t register a noticeable effect, any yet chronic, decades-long ingestion will accelerate other negative health conditions by jumbling the proper ratio of our bodily chemicals and preoccupying the immune system.

Excising these chemicals from our lives is a huge, existential challenge made even worse by the fact that the unnatural stuff we humans produce also affects other species, potentially leading to bioaccumulation up the food chain, mutations or environmental degradation. For instance, some compounds in non-mineral sunscreens (often in addition to being hormone disruptors) have been shown to bleach coral reefs, helping propel the movement for ‘reef safe’ products.

As governments and corporations become more draconian with their environmental policies, cleaning up the water will undoubtedly gain more attention, necessitating upgrades at municipal facilities, at individual buildings and for commercially sold products. For the everyday consumer, the combination of this ever-growing focus on ESG with each new scientific analysis that reaches the airwaves on a particular health hazard will drive more and more people to reconsider drinking regular tap water.

This will be reflected at home with the purchasing of advanced filtration units like a kitchen reverse osmosis system, a hard water filter for the showerhead or something more mobile like a filtered water pitcher. And as one does in private, one will expect the same (or better) for public spaces, meaning that there may soon be a time when your guests will grimace at the server’s mere mention of unfiltered tap water, the presence of only soft, single-use plastic bottled water in the room (which often contain leeched phthalates) or the lack of any additional shower water filtration.

The Opportunity

Hardly a glass-half-empty situation where your hotel will inevitably have to absorb the mandated capex, this is the perfect application of the blue ocean strategic thinking (both puns intended).

That is, deploying advanced water filtration systems within the guestrooms can become a visible and marketable room feature so that you can lure in the growing wellness-minded crowd or possibly command a higher nightly rate. Then in the restaurant, with the right explanation guests will be more than willing to pay a reasonable fee for having bottles of filtered still or sparkling, or by procured a trusted supplier in this space. At the very least, it will enhance the meal experience.

For in-room upgrades, the two of us have long ragged on hotels that overcharge for bottled water. One thing we are entirely sure of: single-use plastic bottles are a dinosaur and they simply must go, both for the hormone disruption reason as well as to appease climatarians.

Now let’s say you instead source a high-end bottled water supplier that uses either hard plastic or aluminum in a graphically pleasing manner; this can help to justify the price tag of what we would consider overcharging the guest. Moreover, a mineral water selection could be part of the new minibar stock as you rethink this oft-staid amenity.

And while thinking about water bottles, you can also consider these as a branded souvenir – a nice gesture for guest satisfaction but also one that will help with ‘social proofing’ due to its utility outside of the household. Common on cruise ships nowadays is to provide each cabin with a metal refillable water bottle then have pure water pump stations all over the boat (caveat: this may not be as practical for hotels that deal with a much more transient guest).

Such initiatives are obviously not for every hotel organization, but we are witnessing a continual climb in wellness-driven guests for which these sorts of health-boosting amenities are meaningful, both in their brand selection and for generating ancillary spend.

So, perhaps you test the waters (apologies, these water puns just flow) by carving out a new ‘wellness room’ category after renovating a single floor, installing vitamin C shower filters and a reverse osmosis tap with an aluminum bottle next to it for refilling, alongside other upgrades like smart lighting, HEPA air filters and exercise equipment.

Then taking the long view on ESG, we know that environmentalism will become both increasingly important for guests (especially from the younger generations) while governments will simultaneously be ramping up bylaws. Together, this means there is a clear and present case for conducting a study on the cost and breakeven point of installing new water saving or water recycling systems. Much like how you can market purified water to guests, we would argue that right now sustainability can also be leveraged as a marketing tool to garner the advocacy of these customer mindsets and to drive rate.

All guest rooms at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 2017, sport faucets with triple-filtered water. The hotel is known for its “eco-luxury” ethos, with a focus on sustainable practices.

The Future

To end, let’s give you one totally-out-there possibility to show where the market for high-end water may be headed. Bear with us while we riff through some chemistry, while the overall point is that this omnipresent fluid offers many layers of technologies that you can capitalize upon.

Hardly mainstream science just yet, but there is emerging evidence that ‘deuterium-depleted water’ (DDW) can help to improve the piezoelectric structuring of gel-state water within our cells and mitochondria to optimize protein folding and boost energy levels. For reference, deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen that combines with oxygen to form ‘heavy water’ denoted as D20 versus regular water which is H20, where these atomic-level disturbances to the fluid’s structure are caused by heavy water’s sharper bond angle over light water (120 degrees for the D-O bond versus 135 degrees for H-O bonds).

In most water supplies – save for glacial runoff and fresh mountain spring water – heavy water naturally exists only around 150 parts per million. Still, this is another death-by-a-thousand-cuts issue.

Thus, using special machinery (which are on the market today) to remove D2O and create purified DDW or ‘light water’ can theoretically work over a long period of time it may improve health. Fascinatingly, the impetus for investigating DDW as a salve came from the bathing waters beneath the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, which have long been sought out for their ’miraculous’ healing abilities.

All this is to say that water is not just water anymore. There are innovations happening and new ways to use the latest water trends to build revenues for your hotel. Maybe in a decade a server at a fine dining establishment can get away with asking the table, “With that be still, sparkling or deuterium-depleted water?” Mind you, the latter entry in this sci-fi case would be priced far higher than the former two.

For now, though, know that there are steps you can take to use something so commonplace and vital to our lives as water to augment the guest experience. Wellness-minded customers want it and the ESG mandates are soon to follow, so get started today.

Together, Adam and Larry Mogelonsky represent one of the world’s most published writing teams in hospitality, with over a decade’s worth of material online. As the partners of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice, Larry focuses on asset management, sales and operations while Adam specializes in hotel technology and marketing. Their experience encompasses properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Their work includes seven books: “In Vino Veritas: A Guide for Hoteliers and Restaurateurs to Sell More Wine” (2022), “More Hotel Mogel” (2020), “The Hotel Mogel” (2018), “The Llama is Inn” (2017), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “Llamas Rule” (2013) and “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012). You can reach Larry at [email protected] or Adam at [email protected] to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

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