The Bottom Line: Why Responsible Travel Matters
by Kathryn Maier
As panel moderator Dorinda Elliott, Deputy Editor at Conde Nast Traveler, said in her introduction, corporate social responsibility has come a long way since Milton Freeman declared that the social responsibility of a business is to increase profits. These days, it's increasingly vital for competitive success.
The way companies look at corporate social responsibility has evolved from philanthropy to real integration into business practices, according to panelist Kara Hartnett Hurst, Managing Director of Business for Social Responsibility. It's now less about giving away the money you've made, and more about how you made it in the first place. It's also becoming more of a leading factor that consumers are considering when deciding whom to do business with.
Mark Hoplamazian, President and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, echoed this statement when talking about sustainability initiatives that have been implemented at his company's hotels, which have proven to produce cost savings as well. An example he gave was that in Santiago, Chile, a team collected waste stream items that were recyclable and received money for them. The proceeds went to a local charity for burn victims. Similar initiatives have been implemented in Moscow and Mumbai. According to Hoplamazian, it's possible to align economic decisions with CSR initiatives, it just takes ingenuity.
Several panelists have increasingly seen that guests want to actively participate in a company's CSR initiatives. Raymond Bickson, CEO of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, says that some of his lodges in India have adopted schools, and offer excursions where travelers can go and read to the children there.
Abercrombie & Kent started its philanthropic foundation 27 years ago, according to Vice Chairman Jorie Butler Kent, who said that social responsibility is just as important to her company's guests as it was before the economic crisis. Every destination management company has a project running now, in 27 countries. Guests love to visit the projects, she said, to see what the company is doing and become actively involved; A&K has recently introduced philanthropic travel as a separate offering.
In response to an audience question about the willingness of companies to work together to achieve a set of common CSR goals, Elliott gave credit to the companies -- Abercrombie & Kent, Carlson Hotels, Fairmont Hotels, Four Seasons, Hyatt Corporation, InterContinental, Kimpton Hotels, Loews, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Starwood, and Vail Resorts -- who've been working together to set standards for measuring and reducing water consumption. All are competitors, and each company handles these issues differently, Elliott said, but each believed that this issue is important enough to work together on it.
But yet, the average consumer may not know about the CSR initiatives that many travel companies have implemented. Hoplamazian sees this as a missed business opportunity. "Everyone's consciousness has been raised," he said. "Guests now come to our properties aware of and interested and wanting to participate in the inititives."