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Giving Back Means Getting Back

Hotels are finding that being a good neighbor improves the bottom line.

Monday, January 18, 2010
David Wilkening
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Paul Leone, president of The Breakers in Palm Beach, keeps a lot of numbers in his head: 314 hours spent donating 2,394 pounds of food…309.8 hours spent building houses for Habitat for Humanity…unknown hours spent collecting 481 pounds of food for the Safe Harbour Animal Sanctuary & Hospital.

Those are only a small sample of the 1,800 Breakers team members’ contributions to charitable and civic efforts.

“Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been deeply embedded in our company culture long before it became a popular corporate mission,” says Leone of the historical Breakers, which was founded in 1896 by millionaire rail-builder Henry Flagler.

There’s been a lot of talk about social networking on sites such as Facebook to promote hotel business, but CSR or getting more involved in the community has a far longer history. And hoteliers are increasingly finding it is a not-so-secret weapon for economically strapped hotels to draw new business.

“Sometimes, the most obvious ways to get business are overlooked. Being a good neighbor and a good community member is what an independent hotel can do most naturally and cost-effectively,” says marketing hotel consultant Brenda Fields.

“Traditional and social communication, community relations and working with local charities are great ways to build awareness, get involved locally…and increase sales,” says Gini Dietrich, founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich Inc., a company that specializes in improving communications.

Getting involved in the local community does not always mean strictly charitable events, such as The Breakers’ huge variety of programs that range from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County to the American Federation for Suicide Prevention.

Several hotels in Baltimore are finding that upgrading their restaurants has drawn an appetite for locals who add to the facility’s bottom line.

“Hoteliers say their primary loyalty lies with their hotel guests but many are also using innovative marketing strategies to not only get hotel guests to dine on their premises but to lure diners from the community at large,” says the Baltimore Business Journal.

Hotels in Baltimore are bringing in world-famous chefs to upgrade their restaurants.

On average, only 20 percent of guests at luxury hotels typically dine at on-site restaurants, but some eateries are doing far better. One report is that that almost half of Hotel Monaco guests in Baltimore dine at its B&O American Brasserie.

Some Baltimore hotels are offering a combination of internal cross-promotions and community outreach to increase sales. The Doubletree at the Colonnade, for example, offers restaurant patrons who dine after a certain hour of the evening an overnight stay at the hotel for $69, which is more than two-thirds off the regular price for a room. But the hotel is also looking to local community groups and non-profits with charitable donations equivalent to five percent of expenditures when area church or synagogue groups dine at the restaurant.

In addition to dining, however, hotels such as the Tremont Plaza Hotel in Baltimore are making sure they have a presence at other, well-attended community events.

The Tremont served free cider and cookies from its restaurant to passersby during the traditional lighting of the Washington Monument. The hotel also sponsored a holiday lunch with the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc.

Consultant Fields points out that many hotels react as good citizens during times of crisis, such as the luxury hotels in New York City that offered meals 24 hours a day to emergency workers after 9-11.

“But outside of a crisis, there are many opportunities to establish good will in the local community,” she says.

Among these are supporting fund raising for schools, police and fire departments, offering training programs or language programs to its employees, and organizing community events, she says.

These do not necessarily cost a lot of money, either.

“Many of these initiatives can be supported with ‘sweat equity’ and little cash outlay,” she says.

She believes socially responsible initiatives can particularly benefit independent hotels.

“The independent hotel certainly has a vested interest in creating and participating in a community that is sound economically, socially and culturally,” she says, adding that chains are not as dependent on the strength of the community because they can pull out in hard times.

“By integrating itself in all aspects of the community, and by being a good neighbor, the independent hotel will have a strong competitive advantage over its national competitors in all market segments, i.e., weddings, social functions, business meetings and corporate and leisure business,” she says.

Partnering with local charities has many advantages, says Dietrich, but she suggests that the type of charity should make sense as a hotel tie-in.

She cites the example of presenting a potluck fundraiser where everyone can bring a potluck dish and contribute $20, for example. “All money raised goes to charity and you can have tours of your location and staff around to talk about what it is that you do,” she says, adding that such events should be tied into programs that promote a hotel.

She also suggests partnering with a restaurant to host a private event.

“You invite your top 20 customers and ask them each to bring a friend. The restaurant provides new menu items to test and gets feedback and you provide information about your franchise…and create 20 new customers,” she says.

Consultant Andrew Freeman urges “Guest Who’s Coming to Dinner” events that offer celebrity yoga instructors, chefs, actors, designers and bartenders who regularly make appearances.

“Guest experts are great for sales and public relations,” he says.

Leone, who himself has received repeated awards for good citizenship, says guests, suppliers and even hotel employees benefit immensely from social responsibility programs.

Leone says civic betterment programs are focused on the multi-generational needs of the local area.

“Our company’s involvement not only supports our community but also fosters greater teamwork, employee retention and an increased emotional connection with our team members,” he says.
David Wilkening    David Wilkening
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: David Wilkening is a writer specializing in travel and business-real estate writing. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and dot coms. He never met a trip he didn't like. He is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit, Orlando and Washington, DC, where he was a writer and editor covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from politics to feature stories.
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RE: Giving Back Means Getting Back article link
Having worked with Cone Communications, the leading cause marketing agency, during my days as National Marketing Director of Whole Foods Market, I suggest to hotel managers to proceed with caution. Cause marketing can be tricky, particularly among a public that has grown jaded and cynical. Yes - many well-implemented cause marketing campaigns have led to a short-term increase in sales. But cause marketing does not automatically translate into bottom-line action, sustainable brand loyalty, and conversion. Being a "good neighbor" is good business - but it won't necessarily impact sales. Effective cause marketing requires: brand alignment, transparency, creativity, and tangibility.

Kirsten Osolind




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