Conscious Business in the Time of Corona
Maintaining values alignment in the time of a Pandemic Driven Crisis while co-creating an equitable and prosperous future for the planet and its people
By Jared Meyers Co-Owner Legacy Vacation Resorts, Legacy Vacation Resorts | June 21, 2020
Almost every industry is struggling with the impact of COVID-19, especially in travel and tourism. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) recently reported that since the US public health issue began escalating (in mid-February), hotels have already lost more than $21 billion in room revenue. The job loss figures are equally as staggering, with nearly 70% of hotel employees having been laid off or furloughed.
The impact is already worse than the 2008 Financial Crisis and 9/11 combined. Travelers from every corner of the globe are limited by travel restrictions as governments and responsible businesses try to contain the virus and flatten the curve. The closure and cancellation of major attractions, events, and entertainment venues has further reduced travel and impacted the people that rely on travel's economic prosperity for their livelihoods. This virus has exposed weaknesses in the foundation upon which our social and economic systems depend.
While the closing of our economy was initially seen as temporary, the unknown timeframe of our economic shutdown presents challenges on how to rebuild in a way that benefits people and planet. Surviving this downturn is difficult work. Maintaining a values-driven mission during the global pandemic is even harder, and can feel impossible at times.
At Legacy Vacation Resorts (LVR), we, like many others in the industry, faced tough decisions yet we knew these decisions were critical to ensure equity among all of our stakeholders. Our business had to survive to achieve its larger aspirations, and these decisions would reflect how we were using our business as a force for good.
At the Start
As a Certified B Corporation, LVR's values reach beyond financial success and extend to the safety and well-being of our guests, employees, environment, and communities. In the midst of the coronavirus uncertainty, we knew it was our job to lead responsibly, act collectively, and demonstrate authentic care.
When the outbreak began to escalate with closures, cancellations, furloughs and layoffs, our leadership team focused on decision making from a place of truth, equity and compassion – not from fear, rumor, or misinformation. We encouraged employees to lead by example and to see themselves as stewards of our B Corp certification, to demonstrate safety measures for their co-workers and to maintain our values and commitments.
Action in the Face of Adversity
We have learned from experience that measured action during a crisis is always preferable to "waiting it out," looking for others to lead, or being stuck in a place of fear and indecision. At LVR, acting decisively while doing the right thing, as a citizen of the world, was our guiding principle. We felt strongly that our actions, while small in the global health and wellness sense, would be significant for our employees and service providers. We knew we had an opportunity to show why a conscious business model was necessary, now for our survival, and in the future for companies across all industries.
Stakeholder-oriented actions should be the cornerstone of a new normal and be preserved in future crises. This is not to say that all of our decisions were correct. In fact, we have no assurance that our company, nor any company in tourism will survive this crisis, but we have confidence in our industry and in values aligned business models.
In March, governments began to impose travel restrictions and health organizations made recommendations which would not allow for us to continue operations. Realizing that our revenues would not be sufficient to operate, we submitted for the SBA's Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). After receiving no indication on when the EIDL might be processed and the government ordered shutdowns, we announced the temporary closure of all of our resorts and layoffs for about 50% of our employees, effective at month end and about two weeks later than many in the industry.
We debated layoffs versus furloughs, but with changing information we could not be certain that furloughed employees would receive unemployment benefits. I felt like we failed. Laying off our employees, for reasons beyond their control, was heartbreaking and challenged us to reconsider if we really were the conscious leaders that we once believed.
To help our employees that were now jobless, we launched the B Tourism platform in partnership with our co-created Florida For Good organization and provided access to free resources. For our retained employees, we continued to pay them a living wage, maintained compensation levels, and modified our practices to permit remote work for all except for a small number in charge of maintaining the resorts.
Over the next few weeks, we sought financial assistance from all available programs. We managed 26 SBA loan requests, with both the SBA directly and four different banks, plus additional disaster assistance requests. At 4:54 am on the day the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) ran out of money, we were approved.
Less than three weeks after the layoffs, we began rehiring. Most of the former employees were unable to collect unemployment due to broken unemployment systems. In Florida, only 6% of claims had been processed at that time. These employees were reinstated, maintaining tenure and all benefits previously in place. Because these rehired employees lacked income for part of April, we offered them an employee loan program through one of our banking partners.This program would provide emergency funds with no credit check, free financial literacy, improve their credit score, and build a savings account.
When you consider that only 32% (per Gallup) of employees are engaged at work, this not only feels good, but is a wise investment.
While our resorts have been closed, our customer interactions have primarily been through our call center to field questions and concerns. We have worked with each customer to their satisfaction and were able to rebook most vacations for future dates. Our wait times and service levels have been consistent with our pre-crisis practices.
Proactively, we have also used our website, social media and email newsletters to issue statements and remain transparent – an essential quality to Certified B Corps. We also posted our first 2019 Sustainability and Social Purpose Report during the crisis. We are rebranding, creating a new web experience and investing in projects that will improve our guest experience and ensure safety.
A silver lining to this crisis has been the undeniable observations that our human activities impact our planet negatively. From the clear skies in China to the clean canals in Venice to the worldwide drop in greenhouse gas emissions, this proves we have the power to recreate our world in a harmonious way that protects nature and humanity. This year LVR became carbon neutral and we have maintained that status during the crisis. We have also continued our support of 1% for the Planet, Ceres, We are Neutral, Earth Hour, Earth Day Live and many grassroots initiatives.
While our resorts have been closed we have grown our social responsibility department, employee and guest education programs, improved impact reporting and brought closer alignment between our practices and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We are incorporating water reduction features in all guest rooms, further reducing paper use, increasing our renewable energy and replacing the remaining single-use plastic shampoo/soap amenities with refillable dispensers. Our goal of a zero single-use plastic environment is in sight.
We have maintained our commitments, created new initiatives and supported organizations that are protecting our industry, its employees and the underserved. Through the AHLA, we joined the Hospitality for Hope program at all resorts, signed petitions and garnered support from members within our business networks for expansion of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). Through a collective of B Corps, we have supported petitions that protected small businesses, vulnerable communities and companies that insist upon equity, while backing efforts to ensure businesses post-crisis are more B Corp-like. After all, businesses that take money from "the people" (E.g. Government Stimulus) should have practices and commitments for the benefit of "the people."
Through Florida for Good (FFG), we continue to promote the Florida business for good and B Corp movements by providing free resources to employees and employers. We donated tens of thousands of dollars to our co-created 501(c)3 non-profit, For Good Movement, Inc. for it to provide information during this time. We supported the University of Florida's Business For Good Lab, where 12 companies completed the program, seven of which scored high enough to submit for B Corp certification. Another exciting initiative is the recent online launch of the B Tourism platform. In partnership with other like-minded networks, we are ensuring a more inclusive, equitable and regenerative society.
B Tourism Resource Platform – A Helpful Tool for Now and the Future of Mindful Travel
With FFG, we organized information on SBA loans, remote working, Best Practices in times of crisis, COVID-19 precautions, self-care and mental health, the B Impact Assessment and companies that were hiring. We realized that this information was not only relevant to FFG's members and their employees but also to the tourism industry. We wanted to bring together our community for collective action in their COVID-19 response. This led to the new nationally-focused B Tourism Resource Center. While B Tourism's current mission is to help companies through the crisis, the larger goal is to grow the mindful travel movement.
Resetting for a New "Normal"
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset business' relationship to society. This is our chance to build resilience before the next crisis, or better yet, to incorporate equity and avoid the crisis entirely. Our new systems and practices can actually result in travel that regenerates our world. That is the only way to protect all stakeholders and the only way our guests can truly relax on their vacation.
We need travel to regenerate ecosystems and create harmony among all of its parts. We need it to embrace interdependence and interconnectedness. We need to use tourism as a force for good, so that travelers can cultivate connections with their family & friends, create their own unique experiences and memories, reduce stress and improve their health, enhance creativity and abilities, all while enriching their appreciation for life itself. We need collaboration, equity, inclusion, and credible action to achieve a shared prosperity for all – a goal that we at Legacy Vacation Resorts are determined to achieve.
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