I WOKE up in the middle of the night in a big hotel overlooking the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. My red message light was flashing. Oh, no, I thought. Somebody had needed to reach me urgently, and I hadn't heard the phone.
I turned on the light, groped for the phone and tapped at the message button. A recorded female voice said: "Good evening and welcome to the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort. As a friendly reminder, it is turtle season in south-west Florida."
What? The message went on to say that baby sea turtles were hatching on the beach. "Please assist in the preservation of these hatchlings by closing your blackout curtains by 9pm."
Blackout curtains? Before going to bed around midnight, I had turned off the lights and the air-conditioner, and propped open my balcony door with a chair to let in the sea breeze - a good thing, right?
But I hadn't seen any light on the phone or heard anything before this about blackout curtains and hatchlings. Sure, I wanted to save the little baby sea turtles! But it was 3am. I didn't know what to do except to go back to sleep.
The hotel experience, as all business travellers know, has become partly a lecture hall experience about saving the planet. Green marketing is big, especially in hotels, many of which have deftly combined real environmental concerns - more efficient energy use and a better awareness of one's footprint in environmentally fragile areas - with clever marketing.
Hotels that care about the environment often have a delicate balancing act. They want to offer guests the opportunity to stay, without guilt, in a pristine environment.
Yet their very existence there is an intrusion. So a good option is to leave the message that drawing your room curtain helps keep the baby turtles from getting disoriented by artificial light on their fledgling crawl to the sea.
Who, then, would be so churlish as to point out that turtle protocols are actually enforced by law?
Several hotels in nearby Naples, for example, were cited last year for violations that included failure to shield the beach from the glow of their lights during sea turtle nesting season - from May through October. Whatever works, I say.
In travel, where the footprint is often literal, every step towards sharper environmental awareness is important. And the hotel industry knows that guests are increasingly aware of that.
Last autumn, Deloitte & Touche USA did a study of 'green' attitudes by travellers and found that 41 per cent said they actively consider environmental issues when choosing a hotel. Of those, 13 per cent said they looked into a hotel's environmental policies before booking.
"More and more business travellers, and especially the younger ones, are discussing these things," said Mr Adam F. Weissenberg, who heads the Deloitte USA hospitality division.
"This is not a passing fad. And for the younger generation, this is huge stuff."
Smart hotels are working out sensible approaches. Better communication between guest, management and employee, it seems to me, is a good way to start.
For example, no business traveller I know thinks that changing bed sheets every day is a necessary amenity. And most of us see no need to expend all that energy on laundering all those towels every day. But we and the industry have not yet worked out signals to indicate what we want.
After a short stay on Marco Island, I headed up the coast to Cape Coral, where I stayed at a Hampton Inn, a mid-price Hilton brand.
On the bed was a door hanger notice that solved one small communications problem simply: "If you would like your linens changed, place this hanger on your bathroom door and housekeeping will be sure to honour your request.--NYT
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