Don’t trash your reputation because of your trash

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Photo of trash, courtesy of TripAdvisor
Img: TripAdvisor

We recently read a negative TripAdvisor review for a Costa Rican hotel (not pictured). That in itself isn’t so unusual – after all, you can’t please everybody.

What was different about this review was that it wasn’t a critique of the service, the food, or the cleanliness of the amenities, but about something many hoteliers might not give a lot of thought to: their garbage.

The review was written by a previous guest of the hotel who had rented a house behind the  same hotel on a subsequent visit. He was a frequent patron of the hotel’s amenities, like the bar and restaurant, mainly because of its convenient accessibility (and because he’d liked it on his first visit). His review wasn’t just a rant – he sounded quite constructive, thoughtful, and otherwise positive about the property. The kind of review a reader might take seriously.

His bone of contention was how the property handled its garbage, recycling, and compost, something of which he was apparently an unwilling witness: his house was positioned so he had a good view of the dumpster. According to the reviewer, the property’s staff threw garbage bags full of trash and food waste into the dumpster rather than sorting, recycling, and composting, as appropriate. They threw so much out this way that the dumpster was full, and the surplus bags that sat on the ground were soon torn open by dogs and vultures, creating an unsightly mess.

recycling-and-trash-in-Costa-Rica, photo credit https://www.tanktopsflipflops.com
Img: tanktopsflipflops.com

Now, there could have been any number of extenuating circumstances for why and how this hotel handled their trash and compost that may or may not demonstrate that they were handling it appropriately for the circumstances. But like so may things in this industry, appearances sometimes mean more than facts and details. In the end, it often doesn’t matter whether the reviewer was right or wrong, he still wrote a review and it was out there for the world to see, fair or not.

Many hotel and restaurant operators are pretty fastidious about identifying and correcting things that might dissatisfy a customer before the customer has a chance to notice them. As they should. But times are changing, and what potential customers pay attention to is changing too. Customers are increasingly aware of and care about environmental issues, climate change, and being green. Tourism professionals need to pay attention to this changing awareness.

In this case, the property owners might take this review as an opportunity to improve their trash- and compost-handling practises. Not only will they reduce the chances of green-attentive customers finding reason to complain, but they’ll also improve their community and Costa Rica as a whole in the process, a gain for everyone. And, they’ll have a reason to brag proactively in their marketing about the positive green steps they’re taking, possibly attracting positive attention from green-focused potential customers that might otherwise have overlooked them.

Even if local conditions or (lack of) infrastructure makes it difficult for this property to improve their trash-handling, they might take steps to make it appear less jarring to environmentally-sensitive eyes, perhaps by relocating the dumpster, or if that’s not possible, making it less prominent with fencing and/or foliage.

What our customers pay attention to is changing. We can get out ahead of the curve or lag behind it, it’s our choice.