Is your company and industry doing enough to fulfill its social responsibilities?
Obviously, we can all do more. It’s not just a responsibility—for us it’s a business imperative. When we work to make our communities more vibrant, beautiful and prosperous, we’re investing in making them more attractive to our visitors and giving them a reason to travel. Of course social responsibility is not just about investing in places—it’s also about investing in our people.
A guiding principle at our company is when we take care of our associates, they take care of our customers. When we provide a community’s young people with education and training, we enhance the quality of the labor pool. And when we do our part to make entire communities or countries more prosperous, we broaden and deepen a global middle class who can afford to buy the services we sell.
Community service initiatives are laboratories for leadership. They help identify and develop promising leaders, build teamwork, and improve loyalty. And obviously, when our companies demonstrate social responsibility, we add to our industry’s reservoir of goodwill from governments, customers, and the general public.
Real and effective social responsibility is shared by the entire company. Although we set policies for Marriott’s “Spirit to serve our communities” program, our leaders worldwide are strongly encouraged to get involved on a personal level in their communities.
Knowing what a community needs is critical to social responsibility. Just swooping in and offering some global cookie-cutter program and acting as though we know bestjust doesn’t work. Our communities know best what they need—and how to achieve it.
In 47 cities—worldwide, our general managers form business councils representing all of the brands in their market. One top priority is to pool their capital and human resources to serve the needs of their communities.
Of course, there are many needs, and we can’t meet them all. So, we try to leverage our core expertise. That might mean offering ballroom space for charitable fundraisers, or donating surplus furniture to housing programs.
It also means tapping the experience of our leaders. For instance, 50 percent of Marriott’s managers come from the hourly ranks, and those people personally know how rewarding it is to climb the economic ladder. And those same leaders have helped to bring thousands of chronically unemployed people into the work force. Our leaders are the spirit behind a program we call “pathways to independence” —where people learn to find and keep good jobs.
In our pathways program, we match participants with mentors, train them, and help them with solutions to problems that get in the way of work-like childcare and transportation. When they complete the program, they’re guaranteed a job offer.
Environmental protection is another example of social responsibility. In environmentally fragile areas, we might support the community and its tourism-reliant economy by protecting endangered species. For example, at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort nearly 2,500 guests and locals gathered at sunset to release 10,000 baby turtles into the ocean—helping to raise awareness about the plight of these creatures.
Sometimes meeting local needs means building a roof over someone’s head. At a recent Habitat for Humanity project in Costa Rica, associates and top executives from Marriott worked side by side to help build several homes for local families. We’re doing the same in Washington, D.C., and many other cities.
We also need to invest in our communities by investing in our people and improving their lives. Travel and tourism is a 24/7 business, so we help our people deal with this. Every parent knows childcare can be a challenge, but when you’re working the overnight shift at a hotel, it can be almost impossible. That’s why we offer several resources to help families. One example is our associate resource line, which provides access to local services for help with family, legal, and other issues. We also coordinate closely with our people to find flexible and creative solutions to childcare needs. At our Desert Springs resort in California, for instance, six housekeepers with 11 children formed a “childcare cooperative” where they take turns caring for each other’s kids. The property helps coordinate their work schedules—and it works!
Now, all of these ideas are fine, but meaningless if we don’t address our industry’s challenges. We need to work together to get people traveling again.
Travel and tourism’s “perfect storm” has created great challenges. Yet, in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. The events of the last three years have significantly raised awareness about the vital importance of travel and tourism.
Our industry has top-of-mind awareness among world leaders. We must continue to educate our leaders about the tremendous value of our industry. We need to be active champions for our industry and continually ask, “Are we doing enough to make travel and tourism work for everyone?” We are doing a lot, but I hope we never allow ourselves to believe it’s enough in social responsibility, as in leadership, success is never final.