Nationwide Franchise Assistance for Hotel Owners
Employing Charitable Causes: Build a Better World and a Better Business
It has always been my personal belief that no child should 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 prosper. At my previous position as CEO of Ramada and my current one as President & CEO of The Lexington Collection of fine hotels, plaza hotels, and resorts worldwide, I have made a concerted push to make sure we give children a fighting chance in this world.
In both of these positions, I partnered with Plan USA (formerly known as Child Reach in my Ramada days) 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. And I knew that my hotels could make a difference. And boy was that true!
At the Lexington Hotels, employees have rallied around our partnership with Plan USA and are sponsoring children from a few of the 49 poorest countries in the world. They are being assigned positions such as Ambassadors to the cause on behalf of their property and encouraging guests to get involved with the charity. It was an incredible experience to see how they embraced this cause and have a deep-rooted concern for the children they are sponsoring. It’s amazing to see such corporate involvement and it’s even more wonderful to know that I’m in an industry that has heart.
I was thrilled to write the article titled Employing Charitable Causes: Build a Better World and a Better Business because I have seen first hand throughout the past two decades how it really does make a difference.
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 in the world. And that makes perfect business sense.
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.
That promise is generally referred to as strategic philanthropy, or, corporate giving; that is, when a company makes a long term investment in the cause that not only does good in society, but also enhances the company’s reputation with key audiences. Some forms of strategic philanthropies are already engrained in the public’s consciousness – such as the eponymous Ronald McDonald House and McDonalds Restaurants; environmental causes and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream; and Home Depot’s involvement with Habitat for Humanity. Those carefully selected charities are a logical extension to those companies’ primary businesses.
The mega hit Hollywood movie, Field of Dreams, provided us with the cherished line “if you build it, they will come.” In many instances, the adage is dubious at best. We all know that building a hotel or restaurant does not mean people will instantly start flocking to it. However, in the cases where businesses are already built and established, the movie line couldn’t be truer. Many hotels that have embraced a form of strategic philanthropy are not only building a better business, but a better world at the same time.
Joining forces with a charity and putting the weight of the brand behind the philanthropic mission should be a no-brainer for hoteliers. I truly believe that 99.99% of guests can relate to charitable endeavors, regardless of the cause. Here’s an example of how interconnected consumers are with charitable causes:
• For global welfare initiatives, almost everyone has seen a picture or television commercial or news report of starving children in undeveloped countries.
• For health issues, according to studies, one out of three people have a close relative or friend who has battled cancer or heart disease.
• For housing issues, the devastation Hurricane Katrina and the 2006 tsunami left millions of people homeless. Those stories of loss and destruction have been broadcasted and reported on nearly every major media platform.
• For animal issues, it is well documented that over 1,000 species are on the endangered species list.
• For green and environmental issues, these are so popular that they have become focus points in the upcoming Presidential election.
These are just a few of the many causes that have become front-and-center in our collective social consciousness.
I have always stated that the hospitality industry has long been defined as a ‘people’ business – one that puts the needs of the guests before all else. But today, we can take it a step further. Our industry is also in the ‘hope’ business. We have the corporate weight and muscle to provide enormous backing for the charity of choice. Each of us have a continual flow of customers, a well-planned national marketing/communications/ advertising agenda that could be used to showcase our partnership with charities, a host of employees that would welcome an opportunity to volunteer for organized charity events, and a location to host events. In return for providing these elements to the charity of choice, you are building a solid reputation with the public as a business with heart.
There is a plethora of causes hoteliers can embrace as a charity of choice. I would recommend one that makes smart business sense as it relates to its brand and community. For independently owned and operated hotels, a wise consideration would be partnering with or lending support to a cause that benefits the local community.
I would also encourage hoteliers to make their involvement with a charity a part of their marketing and advertising plans. The more the public knows about it, the more likely they are to join you in making a difference.
And finally, I would encourage the participation of employees. Getting them involved in a project that makes a difference in the world can provide a renewed sense of corporate pride, which in turn is reflected on the guests.
As a cautionary note, there is the reality of corporate-giving overload. That’s why it’s important to find only a handful, or just one, charities to lend your name, energy, funds, and efforts. By giving them 100% of your commitment, you’ll easily see that, indeed, you really can make a difference in the world – whether it’s just to one person, an entire community, or the planet – it’s a difference that wasn’t there before. And customers will respond positively to that.
Steven J. Belmonte
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