Industry Update
Opinion Article27 May 2015

Hotel CSR: Social Causes and 'Doing Good' Will Remain Integral in Hospitality

By Leora Lanz, President of LHL Communications and Bryce Rackham , Student at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration (SHA)

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With the powerful travel influence of the millennial generation as well as the ever-growing needs of today's geo-traveler, the popularity of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasingly important in the arena of hospitality. While various luxury brands and independent resorts have, over the last few years, implemented their own elementary degree of CSR programs (in which employees can partake or even the guest), today we are witnessing hospitality assets implementing interesting programs to further elevate their CSR practices into services or amenities. Hotels and brands need not spend considerable investments to implement wellness and sustainable practices into everyday operations.

Like any business, hotels must hear their customers and listen to their desires and needs. Whether passions lean toward corporate citizenship, healthy living or supporting those who need assistance, it is in our human nature to do good for others. Shared here are brief examples of how hotels are elevating their corporate social responsibility initiatives to new heights while educating us on the distinction between "wellness" and "sustainability."

In terms of the hospitality industry, wellness can be defined as any amenity or service that allows the guest to be in a state of good physical and mental health; sustainability can be defined as any initiative that uses water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.

According to Kathy Conroy, MAI, CEO and Director/Partner of the Florida offices of HVS - one of the world's leading hospitality consulting and services firms - wellness and sustainability trends can be further broken down into three pillars: the Environment, the Economy, and the Community.

To clarify, if one is to build a concept, service or product, it is necessary to initially assess the entire life cycle of what is being created, beyond the product itself. For example, when looking at the life cycle of a product, it is crucial to see where it is sourced from, how it is disposed when finished, and how it in actuality impacts the environment, economy, and community. Important questions to ask are:
- Will this affect the environment?
- Can I make a profit by finding ways to build this product in a sustainable manner?
- Will the creation of the iPhone lead to more jobs, which will in turn help local economies and /or the overall workforce?

When applied, the responses to these questions can help guide towards more reasonable, sustainable practices while remaining affordable and even profitable for the hotel or brand. In 2011, Starwood Hotels & Resorts became the first corporate partner of Clean the World, Soap Saves Lives. The Orlando, Florida-based social enterprise and global recycler collects and recycles soaps and bottled amenities. The soaps and cleaning products are sanitized, re-packaged and distributed within 60 days to children and families in the United States, Canada and more than 40 countries. (Clean the World has teamed up with more than 1,300 hospitality groups. In just three years after it was initiated, Clean the World has recycled and distributed nearly 10 million bars of soap.) By simply recycling and sanitizing soaps, shampoos and conditioners, thousands of children around the world can be protected from deadly illnesses each day; this is at no cost to the hotel or the hotel guest. It's as simple as this: Soap Saves Lives.

Another company that has taken CSR practices to the next level is the Illinois based third-party management company, Spire Hospitality, which in September 2014 also partnered with Clean the World. In its more recent CSR endeavor, Spire Hospitality is working with Thrive Farmers International LLC to implement a new coffee program into its Atlanta-based Crowne Plaza Hotel that has taken the concept of farm-to-table to an entirely new level.

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"Why THRIVE". THRIVE Farmers Coffee

Ginny Morrison, vice president of Spire Hospitality explains that "the coffee industry is a commodity industry. When the farmers in third world countries produce the fruits and sell it, they sell it to commodity brokers and depending on the market, and how high or low the market is, the farmer might only earn $5 or $10 per pound."

Thrive Farmers Coffee works with various farmers from different countries and pays them an agreed-upon dollar amount for their coffee beans, removing the middleman altogether. Through disintermediation, the consumer knows exactly where the coffee is coming from, giving it a more personalized service.

"Guests at our hotel will be able to buy a cup of coffee directly from a farmer," adds Morrison. "This is truly farm-to-table in every sense of the meaning. We thought it was an important endeavor, and would be meaningful to our guests. Giving back can be as simple as changing the way you buy your coffee. It is a win-win for both parties involved because the consumer knows from whom and where their coffee is generated, and the farmer is getting paid an honest price for what they produce."

"Thrive Farmers Coffee evolved to help farmers in various third world countries, and to help them own their future." Morrison and her team at Spire recognized this was an important opportunity and will launch the initiative when the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown completes its renovation in the fourth quarter of 2015.

16 Handles, a New York-based frozen yogurt franchise, is another company that has embraced corporate social responsibility in its daily business ventures. Two of its CSR initiatives are referred to as Earth Friendly and Trees for the Future. Earth Friendly eliminates waste by utilizing compostable cups and recyclable spoons in all of their locations. Trees for the Future actually plants 16 trees every day to help nourish "Mother Earth," already planting more than 120,000 trees at this point in time.

The IHG Owners Association, which represents the interests of owners and operators of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) properties around the globe, has been strongly encouraging its membership to implement and utilize the brand's program Green Engage.

"This program has the potential to help hotels reduce their energy costs by up to 24%," explains Kerry Ranson, Chair of the Association. "The program provides an internal toolkit so that we can measure our energy, waste and water usage; we can run reports to help analyze trends and create further action plans for our hotels."

The action plans, as Ranson adds, include nearly 200 suggestions from the brand on how hotel owners can reduce costs and environmental impacts without negative effect on the guest experience. Tips for lighting levels in various departments of the operation, best practices for housekeeping and laundry services, and recommendations for water conservation are just but a few of the many suggestions.

Regarding the human desire for wellness, the customer is at the forefront of the decision-making process, simply because wellness has a different meaning for each guest and patron. It can range from amenities of relaxation to help soothe the mind, body, and soul, to activities for stress relief such as weight lifting in a gym facility or enjoying a 10-mile hike through a nearby forest trail.

In 2014, Westin Hotels & Resorts announced the global launch of the Westin Well-being Movement, an ambitious $15 million brand-wide campaign designed to enhance the well-being of guests and associates around the world. The initiative introduced a string of innovative partnerships and programs across Westin's six brand pillars: Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Work Well and Play Well.

As the next phase of the Westin Well-being Movement, the brand announced Westin Wellness Escapes in March 2015 - an ongoing well-being series led by experts in the field of mindfulness meditation, nutrition, yoga, running and more. Taking place at Westin properties around the glove, the series was first launched in North America and will roll out internationally.

According to Starwood spokesperson Bridget Richter, Westin Wellness Escapes are designed to "inspire empowerment and help attendees pursue their well-being through interactive workshops, including fitness classes, healthy cooking courses, panel discussions, seminars and robust itineraries of wellness activities."


The different segments of the Westin Well-Being Movement "Westin Ka'anapali."

In 2013, Canyon Ranch, the all-inclusive health resort and luxury spa in Lenox, Massachusetts, took things one step further and announced their Jumpstart to a Healthier Life wellness program, located at the renowned Bellefontaine Mansion in the Berkshires. This group program offers a five-day, and four-night wellness adventure including, but not limited to fitness and movement classes, workshops, medical services, food and nutrition tips, and even "spiritual wellness amenities."

"Jumpstart to a Healthier Life" is designed to offer a firsthand experience in all -healthy living. Participants are exposed to a holistic approach to wellness and the programming focuses on the areas of medicine, nutrition, exercise physiology and spiritual wellness. There is also adventure -focused offerings including canoeing, zip lining and hiking the Appalachian Trail, which provides guests the opportunity to renew their spirit by experiencing new and challenging activities. The program is available to corporate groups, couples, families, and individuals with the goal of living and leading a healthier and more fulfilling life. There is also an array of health specialists and educators available on site to assist and help guide guests in deciding which of the amenities and activities correspond with their lifestyle and goals.


Canyon Ranch guests hiking the Appalachian Trails and canoeing through Placid Lake. "Welcome to Canyon Ranch in Lenox."

In an attempt to shift the focus to the guest, Canyon Ranch concentrates on providing attentive care in an environment that is reminiscent of one's own home. The next offerings are scheduled for July and October 2015.

Corporate social responsibility can be viewed as challenging because it can be difficult for a brand or business to implement wellness and sustainable initiatives without being seen as trying too hard, exploiting a situation, appearing self-serving or even inauthentic. If hospitality assets focus on taking the initiative to offer sustainable and /or wellness options for its guests, consumers do take note and will appreciate.

Adds HVS Florida's Kathy Conroy, "If it doesn't make a difference to your clients, then you should really think about whether or not you should invest. But people do care, and your business should too."

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com

Leora Lanz

Leora Halpern Lanz is the principal of LHL Communications, a hospitality content marketing, branding and media relations advisory. She is also full-time faculty teaching various marketing classes at Boston University’s School of Hospitality. In February 2017 she was named one of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Marketing by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI).

More from Leora Lanz

Bryce Rackham

Bryce Rackham is a student at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration (SHA). Her studies and areas of interest include sales and marketing, public relations, event planning, food and beverage management, and tourism. Beyond her studies at SHA, she serves as the student manager at the Boston University Pub.

More from Bryce Rackham
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