While the hotel industry is awash in sustainability certifications, there is a dearth of them in the short-term rental (STR) sector. Until now, owners of short-term rentals haven’t had a sector-specific standard to work toward.
Vanessa de Souza Lage, founder and CEO of Sustonica, aims to change that. Her Barcelona-based startup awards properties a “certification for environmental sustainability” that she claims is the first sustainability certification open to all STRs, regardless of where they’re listed. The certification program launched earlier this month.
STR sustainability is “a very confusing world as you may find lots and lots of contradicting information,” de Souza Lage says. The industry needs “one certification, not 201 certifications” like the hotel industry, in which the vast array of sustainability certifications only serve to “confuse customers,” she says.
“I think it’s the right moment to introduce something like this,” de Souza Lage says. “It’s top of mind for many people, and [owners] realize the benefits not only to get more bookings because many more travelers are interested in sustainable tourism … also they’re interested in doing something good for the planet themselves.”
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Forty-one percent of travelers say they are likely or extremely likely to book with a travel brand that makes sustainability a priority, Phocuswright senior research analyst Madeline List says, citing Phocuswright's latest U.S. Consumer Travel research.
“Many travelers have good intentions for seeking out options that seem friendlier to the environment but just don’t have a rigorous enough understanding of the industry to fully judge their travel providers or their choice of certification,” List says.
Another new effort that launched Friday is aimed at getting the STR industry on the same page on the topic of sustainability.
EnviroRental describes itself as “the vacation rental sector’s first sustainability information hub” to give owners, property managers and other companies the knowledge they need to save money, cut emissions and meet the growing consumer demand for sustainable stays. The site contains a sustainability roadmap, news stories, webinars, case studies, measurement tools, data and podcasts.
“The vast majority of vacation rental professionals want to make their business more sustainable - intellectually and emotionally, they get it,” says Bob Garner, founder of EnviroRental. “Their problem is they don't know what to do or where to start.
“EnviroRental aims to eliminate that concern and give each property owner/manager appropriate sustainability solutions they can implement at their own pace … with the least effort or expense.”
Steve Milo, founder and CEO of Florida-based property management company Vtrips, says he would be “very supportive” of Sustonica’s initiative.
“Currently there’s a lack of… a cohesive standard as to what makes a property or property management company sustainable,” Milo says. “You go on an OTA like Airbnb and it’s a bit like the Wild West. … What sustainability means to one person could be completely different in another property.”
Milo suggests that the first pass of certification could set “a lower bar, then every year that goes by, you make tweaks.”
Also, he adds, “what may be standards in Europe may not be in the U.S. I think Europe is further ahead of the U.S., so I think the standards are going to have to potentially be based on the country as well.”
To earn Sustonica’s badge, a rental property must provide proof that they’ve met at least 12 of 40 benchmarks, including having recycling and composting bins and using LED lightbulbs, low-flow toilets and energy-saving refrigerators.
About 30% of STRs that have so far applied for Sustonica’s certification have not qualified, according to de Souza Lage.
What sustainability means to one person could be completely different in another property.
Steve Milo - VTrips
In the near future she expects to announce a partnership with a smaller OTA that will enable its users to filter results for Sustonica-approved properties.
“And then we’re talking to the big boys, obviously to Airbnb, to Expedia, to Booking.com,” de Souza Lage says. “As we grow, the standard is meant to evolve, and we may look at benchmarking one property against other properties in the same region.”
Sustonica’s message to rental owners: “We need your help to reach critical mass as this will speed up the process. Meanwhile, your certification will boost your direct booking efforts.”
The certification can pay off for vacation rentals by helping them achieve environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals that appeal to investors, de Souza Lage says.
“We have the power to influence so many people because the guests that come to our homes, they’re also homeowners so they … can be influenced by how we have changed our homes to make them more environmentally friendly,” she says.
De Souza Lage points to Booking.com as a leader in the space, with its own badge for sustainable hotels, resorts, apartments, B&Bs, holiday homes, hotels, resorts and other properties.
STR data company Transparent Intelligence studied Booking.com’s listings and found that sustainable listings have achieved a 2% higher occupancy than their “unbadged competition.”
“You may well scoff at 2%, but that is equivalent to an extra week booked over the course of a year, which as we all know, adds up,” Transparent Intelligence says.
However, the key performance indicator of average daily rate has not followed suit, the company finds, with ADR lagging by $7 for sustainable properties. One reason could be prices are lower for newer listings that have these badges, according to Transparent Intelligence.
Milo says professional property management companies have an ability to make a big impact on sustainability, adding that Vtrips has adopted various eco-friendly practices.
For example, Milo says, Vtrips saves both energy and water by doing laundry at environmentally sustainable facilities that use recycled water and environmentally friendly cleaning products, rather than in residential laundry machines. The company has also eliminated paper and is looking to install dispenses for shower products rather that providing single-use bottles.