Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasingly becoming an integral part of brands’ business strategies.  Typically, when we think of socially responsible hotels examples of environmental stewardship come to mind.  But in today’s increasingly competitive business landscape, CSR efforts can — and should — go beyond the typical green initiatives that have become expected practice in the hospitality industry.   Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman Public Relations and panelist at the 2009 World Savers Congress hosted by Conde Nast Traveler, summed it up well when he said, The traveler’s expectation is that the company is going to be green.  Instead of being the eco-cherry on the sundae, it’s in the ice cream.”

Guests have come to expect hotels to be environmentally-friendly — be it through water conservation efforts, recycling programs, energy saving initiatives and beyond.  In fact, a recent study by Carlson Hotels found that 76% of travelers said that a hotel’s degree of environmental friendliness influenced their decision of where to say.  Surprising?  Not really.  But what is eye-opening is that the same study found that some guests are willing to pay a premium to those with a high CSR involvement. 

CSR efforts affect consumer purchase decisions

The way brands approach corporate social responsibility has evolved from philanthropy to a true integration into business practices.  Once viewed as how you spend the money you make, social responsibility is now more about how you make the money you spend.  And it’s an increasingly important factor consumers consider when deciding whom to do business with. People want to be associated with companies that are good corporate citizens.

The 2008 Cone/Duke University Behavioral Cause Study, released by Cone and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, validates for the first time that cause-related marketing can significantly drive actual consumer choice.  According to the survey: 

  • 85% of Americans say they have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause they care about
  • 84% of women and 75% of men say they consider a company’s commitment to social  issues when deciding what to buy or where to shop
  • 85% feel it is acceptable for companies to involve a cause in their marketing

A poll of its readers by CondeNast Traveler echoed these findings.  The survey found that 73% of readers would be willing to pay more to stay in a hotel that helps support the local community through health and education initiatives — 20% would spend between 1-5% more, 29% would spend between 6-10% more, and 24% would spend 10% more. 

Given these findings it should not be surprising that CSR programs are gaining popularity, with 68% of hotel executives polled currently operating such programs and another 20% planning to implement such programs with the next 12 months (Ernst & Young 4/09) 

For example, Kimpton Hotels & Resorts’ commitment to social responsibility is evident via its long-running Kimpton CARES  initiatives.  On a national level, KimptonCARES program builds awareness and raises funds for three non-profit organizations through a series of annual events:  Dress for Success, The Trust For Public Land, and the Red Ribbon Campaign.  

On a local level, all of Kimpton’s hotels are affiliated with local non-profit organizations, including those that benefit the arts, education and neighborhood beautification. In addition, Kimpton Restaurants are involved in their local communities, working to help support food and hunger organizations, as well as underprivileged children, by hosting and teaching cooking classes along with other charitable events and promotions throughout the year. On a national scale, many of its chefs and restaurants are also involved in Taste of the Nation, a program for Share Our Strength.

InterContinental Hotels Group is also committed to making a positive contribution in the communities in which they operate.  In addition to its corporate efforts, IHG hotels are also very involved grass roots efforts within their local communities.  For instance, InterContinental Hotels Group participates in the Dekalb County Schools’ mentoring program, Partners ‘N Pals. Each mentor commits to spend 30 minutes a week with a specially matched student at one of the county system’s schools.  Once established, the mentoring relationship continues throughout the school year. 

Voluntourism on the Rise

In addition to supporting socially responsible hotels, many travelers are looking to make a difference themselves.  Voluntourism — vacations that combine service with sightseeing — has boomed in popularity in recent years.  Twenty percent of American travelers have taken at least one volunteer vacation, according to a survey by Condé Nast Traveller magazine and MSNBC (of those 95% said they wanted to take one again), and more than half (55%) said they would like to take such a vacation in the future.

A 2009 survey by the University of California San Diego also found that the number of Americans interested in volunteer vacations continues to climb.  The top five types of volunteer assignments the survey respondents want are: 

  • Education or artistic and cultural development 23 percent
  • Provide spiritual or emotional assistance 19 percent
  • Improve health and nutrition 18 percent
  • Construct roads, homes and technology infrastructure 14 percent
  • Environmental clean up or agriculture assistance 12 percent

The Four Seasons in Austin is testing the altruism of travelers by offering nearly 50 percent off their room rates in exchange for half a day of their vacation.  From May-September, 2010, the hotel is cutting summer rates by up to 46 percent for guests who volunteer with one of two non-profit organizations during their stay — lend a hand at community kitchen or take part in litter picking or beautification projects near Lady Bird Lake, next to the hotel.

So what’s the bottom line?  Being green is important.  No doubt.  And, hotel guests expect hotels to be stewards of the environment.  But increasingly, guests expect “doing well by doing good” to be a part of a hotel’s business strategy.  And, they’re happy to reward companies that give back with both respect and patronage. 

Author: Mark Johnson is President and CEO of Loyalty 360 – The Loyalty Marketer’s Association.  Loyalty 360 is the only organization that addresses the full spectrum of both customer and employee loyalty issues.  An unbiased, market driven clearinghouse and think-tank for loyalty and engagement opportunities, insights, and responses, Loyalty 360 is the source business leaders trust for industry metrics, market driven research, actionable case studies, and networking opportunities.