Hotels are stepping up their efforts to give back to local communities in response to increasing pressure from travelers, looking beyond environmental commitments when it comes to doing good.
From collaborations with local minority-owned and female-owned businesses in the U.S. to donating bedding to homeless shelters in the Nordics, social-value initiatives are moving up the agenda.
“Silence is no longer an option. Employees and guests want to know where the leadership of these companies stand on social issues, while longer-term institutional investors are demanding more socially conscious investments,” says JLL’s Global CEO of Hotels & Hospitality, Gilda Perez-Alvarado.
A recent survey of travelers found that 58% want their trip to benefit the local economy. While short of the 81% of global travelers saying that environmentally sustainable travel is important, according to a Booking.com 2022 report, it highlights a broader shift in the mentality of guests.
With almost half of hotel guests now aged between 18 and 36 – a demographic more likely to scrutinize corporate ethics, “it’s clear that hotels need to do more than ditch plastic straws to attract today’s responsible traveler,” Perez-Alvarado says.
Where vacations meet values
“Previous efforts in the sector have focused on reducing the environmental impact of hotels, who are the highest consumers of energy relative to all other types of commercial real estate,” says Jessica Jahns, Head of Pan-EMEA Hotels & Hospitality Research. “But that’s evolving fast as consumer consciousness rises.”
Many tourists are already traveling with intent.
“Hotels are starting to cater for the more socially minded guest by sourcing from small local businesses, seeking out local guides, curating authentic, off-the-beaten-track activities and championing community projects,” says Perez-Alvarado.
In Marrakech, boutique hotel Peacock Pavilions supports Project Soar, providing education and leadership training to teen girls, while hotel Playa Viva in Mexico constructed a well for families in need of clean water. Staff also work with leaders and stakeholders within three nearby communities to improve education, health and economic development.
It’s not just independent hotels that are growing a conscience. Big brands are also recognizing the value of social action.
‘Hyatt Loves Local’ sees the global hotel chain supporting local businesses at more than 100 of their resorts worldwide, offering guests unique experiences, intrinsically linked to the cultural and historic heritage of the area. Guests can also take part in volunteering opportunities, such as helping out at animal rescue shelters, local clean ups or conservation efforts.
While hotels traditionally focused on delighting guests, the pandemic shone a spotlight on the experiences of hotel staff.
At its height, the World Travel & Tourism Council reported that up to one million hospitality and tourism jobs were lost per day, with many leaving the industry for good.
As Perez-Alvarado points out, “most of those job losses were women, so in terms of the impact that has on society, it’s pretty massive.”
Now, with demand for lodging surging, hotels are struggling with skills shortages as many hospitality workers are unwilling to return given low wages, heavy workloads, concerns over childcare and feelings of burnout.
“Increasingly hotel operators need to focus on a holistic employee recruitment, training and retention experience, as well as paying the minimum living wage,” suggests Jahns.
With environmental and social impact under evermore scrutiny, investors, lenders and operators are starting to come together to look at ESG as an integral part of their risk management.
In the face of chronic labor shortages, embedding social practices can attract talent and global travelers, helping to preserve the value of the hotel asset.
“From promoting gender equality to race or disability campaigns, expect to see more celebrations of diversity and inclusion,” says Perez-Alvarado, who recently took part in global hotel group Hilton’s Hispanic Heritage Month discussion.
“People are what drives this industry, so ultimately the winners will be those with long-term strategies that put people at the heart – be it guests, community or staff,” she concludes.