Are Charitable Endeavors Appropriate For Hotel Corporations?

Giving back through charitable endeavors should not only be a choice but a must in the hospitality industry. Industry vet Steven Belmonte says it's not only your civic duty but it's good for business as well. Here's why.

By Steven Belmonte CEO, Vimana Franchise Systems LLC | February 26, 2012

The hospitality industry has long been defined as the "people business." What's more hospitable than helping those who need it? It is our responsibility to give back to those who need it the most and hotel corporations have great reach and opportunities to do so. Joining forces with a charity and putting the weight of the brand behind the philanthropic mission should be a no-brainer for hoteliers. By giving a charity organization 100% of your commitment, you'll see that, you really can make a difference in the world – whether it's just to one person, an entire community, or the planet. And customers will respond positively to that.

It has always been my personal belief that no child or adult should ever live without hope. Not only is it our civic duty to give to those who need our help most, but we all stand to do better in the long run if everyone has a chance to grow and prosper. At my previous position as CEO of Ramada and my current one as CEO of Vimana Franchise Systems LLC, the franchisors of Key West Inns and Centerstone Hotels, I have made a concerted push to make sure we give the needy a fighting chance in this world. Currently, are now studying charities for Vimana to find a charitable program that will be a great fit for our hotels. If you were to ask me if large corporations should give to charity, I would not only tell you "Yes" but I would also say it is their responsibility to do so.

In the past, I partnered with Plan USA (formerly known as Child Reach in my Ramada days) in order to make a better world and a better business. Plan USA was the charity of choice for me because the dire situation of the children and families in the poorest countries where there are no public safety nets, few assistance programs, no unemployment benefits, and little hope to make things better was beyond daunting. I knew that my hotels could make a difference. And boy was that true! I was even lucky enough to witness the accomplishments of all our efforts first hand when I traveled to Africa, Dominican Republic, and Honduras. I was lucky enough to meet in person my actual sponsor children and got to see how my help not only affected their lives, but their families lives as well.

When you embrace a cause to make a difference in the world, your guests will equate your name with a reputation intent on doing good. And that makes perfect business sense. It's also just the right thing to do.
In the never-ending quest to gain market share in a highly competitive business, hoteliers are, unfortunately, being seduced into what I call the "amenity game" to build and secure a form of loyalty with customers. An example of this game is when Hotel Brand X puts coffee makers in every room, then Hotel Brand Y feels the need to 'up the ante' with automatic pant pressers. While the seduction for fancy gadgets or basic amenities is an enticing lure, customers today are still not fully satisfied with self-indulgent benefits. According to studies, they feel a need to do more – to make a difference in the world.

The global and information community is getting smaller via the Internet, travel, and abundance of media outlets. As a result, the awareness of the plight of the needy, sick, environment, and endangered species is more acute. Therefore, it's not surprising that many times when a customer is deciding between hotels that offer similar products, the tie-breaker most often isn't the state-of-the-art fitness center but the hotel's program that is making a difference in the world. An example would be those that are directly supporting global welfare initiatives, green issues, and/or health research programs.

The consumer marketplace is being transformed by a generation of socially-aware individuals who would like to see companies they patronize and work for take the lead in making the world a better place. Surveys have long validated the growing power of the baby boomer generation, and businesses should not dismiss those unique wants and needs. On top of that, the younger Generation Y members are voicing their desire to embrace causes they are passionate about. To the hotelier, this means that guests and employees want a promise of social vision and to be a part of a brand that advocates social improvement.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.