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Travel Tackles CSR: An Industry Unites to Effect Change

By Tom Watson on November 1, 2007No Comment

An Industry Unites to Effect Change by Elisabeth Anderson

“The travel industry’s power is twofold: it is both a vehicle for enlightenment – it enables travelers to experience the world and learn from what they see – and a potentially powerful agent of global change,” Klara Glowczewska said.  “The Conde Nast Traveler World Savers Partnership is dedicated to the proposition that there is much to do and much to learn – and that we as an industry can make a difference.”

It sure can.  The business of travel is booming.  With a collective revenue that’s likely to reach the $7 trillion mark this year, the industry certainly has the means to effect real change.  The Congress, one component of a three-part World Savers Partnership, is emblematic of an attempt to build structure around industry players’ socially-minded activities.   

This forum was a key piece of Traveler’s nascent effort to rally readers, nonprofit social activists, and more than 200 executives whose nametags read Ritz Carlton, Fairmont and the like behind initiatives that can positively affect the communities in which people travel – a tall order, since this essentially makes the whole world a project.  To rein it in, the Congress spotlighted two areas for potential impact, the environment (how should developers approach natural habitats?) and economic development (what can be done to decrease revenue outflow, such as in Thailand, where 70% of the dollars spent by tourists stream out of the country?). 

The even broader issue of social sustainability was infused throughout the day-long Congress. Featured speaker Richard Holbrooke, President & CEO of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria set the tone, calling upon the industry to mobilize against diseases like AIDS – for which 90% of those infected are not aware of their status.  Beyond a matter of conscience, he explained, paying attention and taking action can impact the bottom line.  He made an example of Botswana, a country that “could be the Switzerland of Africa,” with its 1.5-2 million highly educated citizens, and its gold and diamond reserves.  But instead of focusing on its infrastructure and business development, the nation is plagued with a 31% AIDS infection rate.

What to do?  Kate Roberts of the NGO Population Services International (PSI) presented simple and business-friendly tactics for change, with a focus on disease prevention and children’s health.  Roberts represented another of the three pieces of the Partnership, The Conde Nast Traveler Five & Alive Fund.  In partnership with PSI, one of the largest international nonprofit agencies addressing problems of global health, the magazine created the Fund to help provide young children and their parents in more than 30 countries with access to the information, products, and services they need to live healthy lives. 

Harnessing the power of the industry, as well as readers, to help save the lives of children five and under, Roberts and her team hope to forge robust cause marketing partnerships.  She indicated that just $10 provides access to a long-lasting insecticide-treated malaria net for an African mother and child for three years, and $25 can buy life-saving antibiotics to treat pneumonia and save more than 100 children’s lives.  Companies, she said, can cover supply costs for thousands of these by doing customer promotions, e.g. having hotel guests donate a few dollars upon check-in or having in-room water bottles for which proceeds benefit the Fund.  It’s a painless way, Roberts noted, to positively impact not just impoverished children and communities but also corporate image, brand recognition, and customer loyalty.  850 million international travelers are paying attention. 

The third piece of Traveler’s CSR platform, the World Savers Awards, honored best practices.  Recognizing those who are already making a difference in education, health, poverty relief, cultural and environmental preservation, and wildlife conservation, the Awards seek to inspire the bigger industry to expand its social responsibility programs on local and global scales.  Honorees ranged from mega-chains like Marriott, recognized for its “Spirit to Serve” that engages paid volunteers in a diverse set of local-based service projects; to small ventures like Jungle Bay Resort and Spa on the Caribbean island of Dominica, which epitomizes sustainable tourism through its use of local labor, materials, and foodstuffs.  The hotel also offers micro-loans to local entrepreneurs, funds scholarships, and supports an island orphanage.

More than a day-long reality trip, the Congress and broader Partnership opened the floodgates for continued, and continuous, action.  Its key message was reminiscent of one this reporter detailed earlier this year, from the Rapaport International Diamond Conference.  Two conferences in one year does not, necessarily, a trend make; still, it’s notable that these gatherings reveal the desire of diverse players in decentralized industries to align shared products with shared philanthropic priorities.  Purveyors of tenable luxuries, whether they be diamonds or destinations, are going the distance.  

To learn more about sustainability and socially responsible travel, visit makeadifference.cntraveler.com.

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