Best practice: The serious case of CSR

Without passion and communication, CSR can often fall flat

The on-site urban farm at Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman.
The on-site urban farm at Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman.

It looks good for a hotel’s image and can often save some money, but CSR is not easy and without passion and communication it can often fall flat, as Hotelier discovers…

Most hotel groups want to look like they care, but gone are the days when a half-hearted token gesture to charity made the grade. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now integral to the DNA of the top hoteliers, not only because many do care, but because it makes good business sense.

It has been established that many CSR measures save money, whether through water conservation, utilising gardens for food or just increased efficiency in general. Another critical factor is that increasing numbers of guests are concerned about the environmental and social policies of the hotels they are staying in.

In response, hoteliers have upped their CSR game and now the challenge is not only to create initiatives that are worthwhile, but ones that engage guests and employees, while informing the public about the projects.
Getting yourself noticed in a growing hospitality CSR market is essential and this is why the CSR game is now serious business.

“A sustainable hotel is one that creates profit for its shareholders while protecting the environment and improving the lives of those with whom it interacts,” says Minor Hotel Group director of public relations and communications Mark Thomson. “It operates so that its business interests and the interests of the environment and society intersect.”

While a monetary value on the benefits of CSR is often hard to assess, there are areas where it can be done, as Ramada Hotel and Suites Ajman general manager Iftikhar Hamdani explains.

“Naturally, the environmental efforts have commercial benefits as well,” he asserts. “My hotel is saving AED 120,000 (US $32,700) per year as we do not pay a single penny for waste collection, due to our strict reduce, re-use and recycle policy and because of our compost machine operation.”

The effects of these initiatives, the ones that are done well, benefit more than the hard numbers on a financial report. The advantages such as staff efficiency and willingness to work can also be attributed to CSR.

Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas’ marine biologist Arabella Willing believes the biggest benefit is “the effect on the staff”.

“It’s a wonderful thing to work for a company that tries to make the world a better place. Engaging with the community or the environment is hugely rewarding and the boost in moral is amazing to watch,” she enthuses.
And then there are awards that can be used as part of the hotel’s PR campaign. Ramada Ajman has won local and international awards, has been recognised for its best practices, and the GM has been nominated for the Hotelier CSR Champion award twice.

So the business advantages are transparent, but they are by no means easily achieved. Getting the community involved takes time and effort, and is essential to CSR success as Warren Baverstock, aquarium operations manager, Burj Al Arab explains.

“Community engagement is a very important aspect of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) as without local and regional support for sea turtles, little will be done to further protect them. With this in mind, the DTRP opens up all of their bi-weekly educational talks to the public to help educate and raise awareness. All releases involve the local community, schools and hotel guests,” he says.

Social Media CSR
One of the most popular tools for CSR exposure is social media. Willing is in no doubt about the power of social media regarding CSR, calling it “an incredible tool”.

“One of our most popular Facebook posts this year was a photo of the first turtle nest of the season,” she reveals. “It’s a great way to share the success of our community initiatives and raise awareness for important causes. Ultimately it promotes the hotel and makes guests and associates feel good about who they are staying or working with.”

Concurring, Hamdani says social media is “playing a vital role” as most of the visits to the hotel’s compost machine were by social media contacts.

“It is a helpful tool to generate awareness and we received calls from abroad to know about our projects,” he adds.

And Thomson has noted a difference regarding which platforms work for different groups. “For example, Facebook is more for our guests/potential guests; Twitter for our influencers in the media and partners, and Instagram for our guests enjoying activities in real time,” he explains.

But social media is only part of the picture when it comes to raising awareness of CSR initiatives. “Traditional media outlets such as print, television and radio along with social media are still very important to get messages out and raise awareness,” Thomson continues.

“All media that are visiting any of our resorts are encouraged to join in on the activities and a lot of our returning guests also understand the ethos behind the brand and our projects as well, so word-of-mouth on these activities is also very important.”

For Baverstock, the statistics on turtle rescue provide a good indication on how well the message is getting out, but there is also a need to keep people informed and interested, he argues.

“Before 2006 we were receiving around 30 turtles on average per year through the project, and that year we started our educational outreach program and promoting the project through local and international media. The response has been overwhelming; increased numbers of turtles have been received. We think this is not due to an increase in injuries but an increase in awareness,” he says.

The hard work has paid off and media attention from Sky News, BBC and National Geographic has been positive. The tagging programme has also captured the public’s imagination.

“All of the transmitter data is publicly available at www.seaturtle.org, which provides a powerful educational tool, free to the public,” he adds.

However, despite the potential savings and positive PR, there can be no doubt that the properties and hoteliers behind the most successful CSR strategies are passionate about making a difference in their communities and the environment.

As Baverstock states, “engagement of the community is extremely important”, adding “we work extremely hard to do the best possible job for the sea turtles as they are threatened throughout the world”.

As Thomson rightly states, “there is no monetary value that can be placed on seeing a child smile after receiving a scholarship, or a guest who has just had an indigenous experience that helps the local community”.

CSR is certainly a situation where everyone wins, Hyatt Thrive, is Hyatt’s CSR platform, and as Arabella Willing summarises neatly, it is “rooted in our belief that for our business to thrive, our people, communities and planet must also thrive”.

CASE STUDY 1
Hyatt Abu Dhabi’s environmental preservation programme

Objective
To increase awareness about environmental preservation and conservation of endangered species.

Strategy
The hotel invited 126 Grade one students from Raha International School for a day on the beach to learn about turtle conservation. School teachers and the Park Hyatt green team led the children through four different activities. They learned to identify different shells and seaweeds during a nature trail, and completed an obstacle course designed to represent the challenges a turtle faces during its lifetime. They pretended to be nesting turtles and were given a water balloon ‘egg’ to safely transport through the obstacle course. At the beginning of each obstacle, the children learned how it might affect turtles in real life. To complete the course the children crawled under fishing nets, through a trench filled with plastic bottles, and around sunbeds, all the while escaping the clutches of a hungry crow and eventually digging a nest for their precious egg.

Results
The children came away having had an exhilarating experience with the turtles and vowed to pick up their rubbish from the beach.

CASE STUDY 2
Anantara’s Elephant Polo Cup

Objective
To raise money for charity and ensure the ongoing safety of street elephants.

Strategy
Anantara has placed domestic elephants at the centre of their fundraising efforts with the creation of the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. Funds raised have helped the Thai Elephant Therapy Project (TETP) — created in conjunction with Chiang Mai University and the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre— provide autistic children with an opportunity to develop their social interaction and emotional skills by using elephants as a working partner with occupational therapists.

Results
The tournament has raised more than US $900,000, which has been donated to projects helping the plight of elephants, including the first elephant hospital in Krabi; and research and tree planting to build elephant corridors in KuiBuri.

CASE STUDY 3
Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman’s Go Green painting competition

Objective
To reach families across Northern Emirates to promote recycling.

Strategy
In 2013, Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman organised a Go Green Painting competition for 100,000 students in Northern Emirates’ schools, in partnership with the Ministry of Education Dubai. It allowed free participation for all children in Grades two, three, four, and five. All entries were part of the theme ‘Go Green: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. Prizes included family trips to Turkey, Euro Disney Paris, and vouchers. The competition concluded with a grand award ceremony where 100 winners were invited with their parents, siblings, principals, teachers and sponsors.

Results
The competition received more than 25,200 paintings by students, which represented an engagement with the same number of families in the Northern Emirates to work together on the Go Green concept.

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