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What Did We Learn from the World Savers Congress?

Conde Nast Traveler held their 3rd Annual World Savers Congress this week in NYC. The editors of Conde Nast Traveler hosted the travel forum for travel providers, and included a few philanthropic celebrities and consumer companies, who came together to dialogue about sustainability, responsible tourism, and corporate social responsibility. Although it’s really an industry forum, we wanted to highlight some noteworthy takeaways from the event so that we can all become smarter and more conscious travelers.

Corporate Social Responsibility

The way companies look at corporate social responsibility has evolved from philanthropy to real integration into business practices, according to panelist Kara Hartnett Hurst, Managing Director of Business for Social Responsibility. It’s now less about giving away the money you’ve made, and more about how you made it in the first place. It’s also becoming more of a leading factor that consumers are considering when deciding whom to do business with.

Increasingly, guests want to actively participate in a company’s CSR initiatives. Raymond Bickson, CEO of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, says that some of his lodges in India have adopted schools, and offer excursions where travelers can go and read to the children there.

Yet, the average consumer may not know about the CSR initiatives that many travel companies have implemented. This may be a missed business opportunity because if they know the initiatives, they would want to be involved. Everyone’s consciousness has been raised and guests now come aware and want to participate.

Local Benefit – Reaching and Empowering the Community

Should hotels and travel businesses be involved in local communities? And if they should, what are the most effective means of establishing genuinely sustainable programs?

Panelists agreed that without support and employment of the community, you cannot have a sustainable business in the long term. “We preserve the thing that makes the destination attractive to our guests…the community is an intrinsic part of our company,” said Luis Bosoms of Grupo Plan. Going even further, Intrepid Travel’s CEO Darrell Wade said “protecting the environment isn’t just good business, it’s our business.”

Tensie Whelan, the president of Rainforence Alliance claimed, “if you abuse population where you business is located, you won’t survive. On the other hand, by engaging locals, it empowers them, improves lives.”

The Committed Consumer

As social responsibility becomes more of a focus, companies are finding new ways to engage travelers in their programs. How can they best spread the message?

Panelists agreed that travelers all seem to care more about corporate social responsibility now than they did in years past. According to a recent study by Carlson Hotels, 76 percent of travelers said that a hotel’s degree of environmental friendliness influenced their decision of where to stay. Some are willing to pay a premium to companies with a high CSR involvement; some simply expect that their companies will be good corporate citizens.

All agreed that new social media–such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs–is key. Companies are advised to participate in all of these, wherever conversations are happening. “The conversation is happening with you or without you, so you may as well participate and add to it.”

The Economics of Doing Good

How is the current economic climate affecting businesses’ commitment to social responsibility?

The consensus of the panelists was that a commitment to corporate social responsibility makes good business sense –reflected both in profits and in consumer and employee loyalty. People are buying less, but are focusing their purchases on things they can emotionally connect to, and that has played in our favor, according to Blake Mycoskie, CEO of TOMS Shoes.

Two More Thoughts…

Accor’s Hélène Roques, winner for health initiatives:
“We have learned three key lessons from our work: 1) There’s no need to wait for national regulation to make conservation mandatory. If we reduce waste, we reduce our own costs. 2) Involve employees in sustainable practices. Offer them a way to contribute and save their planet, and you will see their passion for their communities. 3) Give opportunity to guests to contribute to social programs, you will see how the trend of sustainability will accelerate, becoming more important even in this crisis. Multiply effects of these practices with the participation of guests&It’s in our interests and out moral obligation to include the planet in our business plans.”

Timberland President and CEO Jeffrey B. Swartz told the travel industry leaders in attendance, “You can create in people an aspiration – show them another world they can be transported to, where they can feel good. Travel liberates peoples’ imaginations and gives them a change to soar. You have power. Use it responsibly. Please continue to use the power audaciously.”

For more on the World Savers Congress, visit Conde Nast Traveler.

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