“The espresso bar is free and open 24/7,” the gal with the tattoos said. “And here’s a–”
“Did you say free espresso…24/7?”
“Ha, yep. Just grab your own personal mug. And here’s a happy hour token for your free welcome beer. Bar opens in an hour.”
What kind of hotel was this? A few folks in flannel and bandanas were traipsing between pool tables, hanging chairs, private working spaces, and shelves of local goodies. A well-behaved German Shepherd was lazing by the fireplace, its owners deep in a checkers match. Vivid murals and bright-green hallways faded into a dimly lit, industrial-chic common area more reminiscent of a hip European hostel.
I was standing in SCP Colorado Springs, or Soul Community Planet. Once a one-star Knights Inn — regarded as one of the sorriest motels in the country — this totally renovated combination hotel/motel is a far cry from its former corporate days advertising with “CASH ONLY NO REFUNDS.” With one property in Colorado and two in Oregon, the brand espouses some seriously boundary-pushing ideas: “Fair-trade” pricing means guests can name their price (with a suggested starting point around $100); in lieu of corporate points programs, your stay donates to families and forests in need; the provisions and products are local, organic, and eco-friendly; and that lazing German Shepherd? Just as welcome as I was.
More figuratively, I was standing inside a shining example of where the $7-trillion hotel industry could be headed.
Each stay contributes to charity and plants a tree
Ken Cruse, CEO of Soul Community Planet, LLC, was the mastermind behind the company’s fair-trade pricing model. “This is one idea I really pushed for. Naturally, there was a fair amount of skepticism,” he admits. “People thought that guests would come in and play the system. But if you think of what we’re about, that [framework] perfectly reflects our values.”
Pointing to similar minds like Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia, he says, “When we set out to form SCP, we set it up as a social enterprise. We can do well from a traditional sense while first and foremost making the world a better place.”
As for that fair-trade skepticism, it’s thus far unwarranted. “We haven’t seen abuse to the system,” Cruse states definitively. “If the guests do utilize it, it’s always for a good reason.” Utilization has been in the low single digits, and — Cruse points out — rather than the guest simply not returning, they can voice their honest feedback and feel more inclined to return.
But say you do pay the full suggested price. A portion of that cost goes toward supporting local and good causes. At SCP Colorado Springs, that 24/7 espresso bar sits behind the local and sustainable Provisions Market, and 1 percent goes to the WE Well-Being Initiative, a youth empowerment program, and another 1 percent goes to Miracle for Kids, an organization fighting for families with critically-ill children.
It’s called Every Stay Does Good. And that “good” is for the natural environment, too — for every stay, one tree gets planted, part of the simply named One Tree Planted program. After just one year, Cruse adds, they had planted over 5,000 trees. (That number is now above 20,000.)
All this do-goodery has worked out better than the company expected. In a little over a year, Soul Community Planet is the third of 113 hotels in Colorado Springs on TripAdvisor and was voted into the top 10 percent of hotels worldwide.
Will other hotels follow suit? Can other hotels follow suit?
The brand hopes to re-inspire the hotel industry
“Our industry is dominated by major brands; they’re big corporate enterprises that are difficult to turn,” Cruse explains. But some headway is being made: Omni Hotels & Resorts has partnered with Feeding America and provides one meal to a family in need for every stay. Choice Hotels matches donations made by those within the company. With Hilton, for every 10,000 points you donate, it’ll contribute $25 to the charity of your choice. But SCP blows these initiatives out of the water.
“For each program, that’s 1% of our revenue. That’s 3% lost off the top — nobody is doing it near that degree.” That’s a notable figure regardless, but at the affordable $100 per night price point, it packs an even bigger punch.
“As we grow, we’re making a bigger and bigger impact,” Cruse says. “This is what we’re about. The ripple effect.”
And the brand is actively expanding. Cruse goes so far as to say that he’s not worried about sustained competitive advantage. “We hope others will adopt it!” he adds emphatically, referring to these socially conscious policies. “This way, travelers benefit, the industry benefits, and we can all grow together.”
I pocket my happy hour token and beeline for the espresso bar, thinking about what kind of tree I should plant — of my own accord. After all, that ripple effect isn’t confined to the hotel industry: Every guest, too, gets a dose of soul, community, and planet.
I’d take two if I could.