Water is a fundamental requirement for life: it feeds our cells, rejuvenates our skin, hair, and cleanses our system. Possibly due to its life-fundamental status, it goes somewhat unnoticed…unless it’s bad.
Gulping down poor tasting tepid water is not how guests like to begin their day after a rich holiday meal with a few glasses of celebratory accompaniment. The business traveller, recently descended from a dehydrating mission across the skies, is also not enamoured by tepid water, with a touch of chlorine or tank moss – nor a chilled plastic carafe of tap water with more than a hint of its receptacle.
These products may be approved for human consumption, but are they advised for valued guest consumption?
Guests will not proclaim their pleasure at the bouquet or balance of their very nice drop of water, but in this case, silence is golden. If guests can hydrate in a way that doesn’t offend the palate, you’ve won that round.
Water options for guests can range from providing nothing more than unfiltered tap water to experience-enhancing options such as installing filters to your in-room taps, or the provision of cooling stations that filter, chill and dispense your own tap water. With cost-effective options abundant, and consumer expectation high, providing pleasant tasting clean water really does make good business sense.
So how to hydrate your guests in a way that won’t mar their hotel review? Filtered tap water, spring water in dispensers with 15-litre barrel bottles, or water bottled in individual plastic bottles? Could guest water present a marketing opportunity, through branded bottles?
With options and questions flowing freely, we tapped into some industry expertise for some clarity on supply, packaging, method of distribution within your hotel, and relative price points.
Water as a hotel branding tool?
Sean Cuttance is a self-confessed ‘water-boy’ and director of Waimak New Zealand Ltd. He told AMG that custom-branded bottled water combines provision of a guest service with branding and marketing objectives: “When you brand your water bottles, you are promoting yourself on the label, instead of promoting someone else’s beverage brand.”
So, what can self-branded bottles achieve? Mr Cuttance says the possibilities are extensive: “You can portray your general marketing message, or promote a seasonal sale coming up, or even theme the bottles to align with an event in your region.”
“There is even the opportunity to offer conference clients their own branded water for their event, where they can promote their own message or brand.”
“Whatever you choose to promote, if it looks good, that bottle is probably going to be kept and re-used, reinforcing your brand and message.”
What about all that plastic?
Bottled water requires a responsible approach, against the backdrop of the worldwide push against its use, while cities and institutions are banning the sale of bottle water outright, with mixed success.
A research paper titled ‘The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options’, published in the American Journal of Public Health found a total ban at The University of Vermont actually increased the number of bottles being thrown out. People just drank more sugary beverages – and consumers tend to reuse water bottles, but discard soft drink bottles.
Perhaps this means focussing on the bottle itself is advised. What is going to happen to those bottles after use, and what sort of care is being taken in their production?
Many plastic containers are now available BPA-free. BPA stands for bisphenol A, which is a chemical that has been used in the industrial production of plastics and resins since the 1960s, and can leach into food or beverages from containers: “It’s important to source BPA free bottles, especially when you are dealing with water bottles that might be sitting in the sun, which can accelerate leaching.”
Mr Cuttance indicated that good quality plastic water bottles are fully recyclable “and should be placed in the yellow bin, but generally with branded bottles, we find they enjoy ‘a second life, as they are refilled again and again.”
Mr Cuttance says that while corn starch compostable bottles may have potential, with only a couple of processing stations country-wide, the New Zealand recycling system is not set up for processing the bottles.
“It could certainly work if all bottles were switched over, with the recycling services adapted to service the new material.”
What about the water?
Mr Cuttance recommends sourcing locally: “Within the tourism industry particularly, people appreciate a product of New Zealand origin.” With boutique beer on the rise, it makes sense that water would follow suit: “Accommodation providers are showing a preference for thinking locally and supporting smaller operations, with positive feedback from guests.”
It might just be that these boutique companies are accessing better quality water as well: “It’s worth asking a little about the water analysis results. How is the pH level? Is the water towards alkaline or is it a more stringent tasting acidic product?” According to Mr Cuttance, a natural artesian water will be more neutral tasting, and will have higher levels of minerals, such as Silica, which is good for hair and nails.
While embarking on a branded water journey can seem like a big job, Mr Cuttance says the opportunity to promote your property on something you are going to purchase anyway is preferable to advertising a generic brand in your hotel: “Why not use the space for your own marketing goals?”
For New Zealand accommodation providers looking to market their property, and perhaps even their region on their water bottles, our ‘water-boy’ recommends finding a company that will let you “dip your toe in the water”.
He says that with a small initial production run, you can try things out without the sting of a large investment or lengthy contract.
“This is especially beneficial if intended use is not just as a turn-down service, but for sale in outlets around the property. Once you have feedback from guests, you can look at larger orders and contracts.
“We’re not the only provider in New Zealand by any means, but if you’re looking for water, talk to a water company, not a broad-spectrum beverage company. While a beverage can offer a convenient one-stop shop, dealing direct with the water company will deliver better pricing, not to mention more personalised service.”
So, for guest water options, the message is clear. Make sure your guests enjoy access to clean, fresh-tasting water, and maybe your water won’t rate a mention on TripAdvisor, but that’s probably a good thing after all.