Westbury hotel uses 'green,' feng shui guides

The spa at the new Viana Hotel and The spa at the new Viana Hotel and Spa uses the feng shui principle to promote the flow of energy. (Dec. 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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At the newly opened Viana Hotel and Spa in Westbury, where green building meets feng shui, co-owner Alan Mindel bills the brand as a "different kind of luxury" for guests.

Paper or e-mail receipts? The trash half or the recyclable half of the bedroom garbage bin? The No. 1 or No. 2 button in the low-flush toilet?

"We want them to be participants," said Mindel, who runs hotels in his family's real estate holdings. "I want to encourage, not force. Even if they don't hit the right button on the toilet, it's still using less water."

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The Viana, where Chinese lion statues flank the front door, fuses concepts into a brand that Mindel thinks will work, despite the economy. None of the other roughly 300 lodgings on Long Island have been built and decorated using feng shui principles, and if the Mindels succeed, Viana will also be the first hotel here certified for its environmental and energy friendliness.

But at $185 for a standard room, the upscale ambience is about $46 more than the Hampton Inn a minute away.

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R. Moke McGowan, president of the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, said travelers surveyed show a willingness to pay reasonably more for green, welcoming places.

"There's certainly an increased awareness and desire to do something positive regarding the planet and environment," McGowan said.

The Mindels spent $18 million on the 116-room boutique hotel, with $2.5 million of that used just to pay for the green components. In public restrooms, flowing water generates electricity. Computers in doorways detect when rooms are empty and turn off heating, cooling and lighting.

If guests flush as projected and more, the green fittings could reduce usual operations costs by 35 percent, he said.

Mindel didn't go extreme on feng shui, the Chinese philosophy for arranging the environment to produce health and prosperity. He tried boiling it down to something more scientific, like color-mood associations.

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But Viana has plenty of less-grounded ideas. One won't find room numbers with "4" or anything grouped in four; in Chinese, the number sounds like "die" and "dead." Chairs - designed by Mindel - have rounded armrests and backs because curves promote energy flow.

The hotel has opened in bad times, when occupancy rates here are at 62 percent compared to the normal 65 percent, despite lower prices, said Michael Johnston, former head of the Long Island Hotel and Lodging Association and head of LIHT Hospitality in Centerport, which manages hotels.

Mindel has already overcome a hurdle by deliberately not being ready to open last year, when the economy was in the pits. He did this, he said, by not pushing construction.

Business will get better next year, he predicted, because travelers want hotels in sync with their ideals.

"What all these things are is our vision of what the guest experience should be in the 21st century," Mindel said. "I think people want to have a personal relationship with what they do in their lives."

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