Mark Willis, area vice president, Middle East and Turkey at the Rezidor Hotel Group outlines why CSR and a commitment to the environment is more crucial than ever.
In business circles and beyond, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a one of those buzzwords that gets bandied about on a regular basis. What started out as charitable activities by profitable businesses just 40 years ago, has now evolved into a full-blown programme worldwide, including in the hospitality industry. While fundraising is noble, CSR is far deeper than the annual blood donation drive. When implemented effectively, this concept has the potential to improve any business’ triple bottom line, i.e. people, planet and profit.
It is no secret that hospitality is an industry with great potential. While there are numerous studies quantifying growth prospects, statistics from the tourism industry, a sector with which we are inextricably linked, stands out. According to the World Tourism Organisation, tourism accounts for almost 10% of global Gross Domestic Product, generates more than $1.5 trillion in trade income or 30% of the world’s services exports and provides one in eleven jobs worldwide. It is also no secret that the competition in the hospitality industry – for guests, for talent, for revenues – is fierce. The only way to survive is to make sure that you are working in a way that is responsible to your guests, to your employees and beyond.
For the cynics, CSR is a sometimes perceived as a crass attempt to gain goodwill, an opinion that is a misperception. Take CSR initiatives related to the environment, for example. Constructing buildings that are responsible in their energy and water usage often get a bad rap for being too expensive, with superficial benefits to the environment. But with simple adjustments in our operations, including retrofitting all lights to LED bulbs, we achieved 11% in energy savings in 2014 when compared to 2011. For people in the Middle East this might seem like a deceptively modest reduction, however, when you consider the savings in utilities payments, the decrease in operational costs in the management of hotels is significant. Similarly, introducing measures to save water, such as the new spray efficient valve that cuts down water usage by more than 50% during dishwashing, reduces the operational costs for hotel owners and operators alike, leading to a positive return on upfront investments for these adjustments.
Fundamentally, businesses do not work in a vacuum, and the environment is a key facet of how you run operations. We are living in a world with finite resources, so making do with this status quo is the most responsible way to work. The flipside has serious consequences. One might argue that the recent Volkswagen scandal is a result of gross misconduct of company governance, which is true. However, this carelessness will not only have an impact on the ozone layer, but has also led to wiping off a third of its share price and a plummeting of public perception of the brand into the negative territory, at the time of writing this column. And who knows what tomorrow might bring?
Whether it be your guests, or employees, never underestimate the power of perception. To manage this, CSR as a concept can help. For hoteliers, no matter the age, brand or location, service to guests is key. A holistic view of service will include the safety of guests, hence the properly stowed fire extinguishers, first aid kits and so on. And while having things like Automatic Electronic Defibrillators on demand in the event that anyone has a heart attack is key, having guests participate in a unique way will not only help in raising brand awareness but maybe even brand loyalty. One example of this is The Box Appeal, our annual CSR initiative, where people fill up boxes with essentials for the underprivileged. What started out as an initiative from volunteers in the Radisson Blu Dubai Media City in 2008, has grown to a region-wide campaign that has contributed nearly 20,000 boxes from volunteers of all ages. Every year, we have participation from numerous schools, charities and businesses, sometimes months ahead of schedule. It’s impossible to quantify if this has resulted in sales, but anecdotally, I can confirm that we are now seen as a responsible, ethical hospitality group with heart. And this quality, these values have allowed us to recruit and retain some of the brightest minds into our group.
A truly effective CSR programme is something that balances the tangible (capital, costs and revenues) with the intangible (perception, goodwill and reputation). Building an intuition that manages this will be based on developing an intuition that that looks at something… the environment, people, whatever… and turning it into an opportunity will be crucial in helping hoteliers sustain their business, and will ultimately take a group from being good, to being better.