Let me be up front in stating this is not an actual offer from Ritz-Carlton Hotels to save $100 on your hotel stay. This post is to raise discussion on how to kick-start an actual Ritz-Carlton voluntourism program that apparently gets few participants.
Voluntourism has been on my mind recently. This piece is primarily about voluntourism and not Ritz-Carlton hotels.
When I searched hotel voluntourism I found a Conde Nast Traveler article about a Ritz-Carlton Hotels program. Ritz-Carlton hotels in no way had any input in this content. That is my opening disclaimer to inform readers that this is my Loyalty Traveler article weaving together some thoughts on voluntourism, hotels and incentives for an existing Ritz-Carlton Hotels program I became aware of just this week. After reading a piece describing voluntourism projects at two Ritz-Carlton locations, I’d like to solicit suggestions on how Ritz-Carlton and other hotels might incentivize their guests participation in voluntourism projects for communities around the world.
Monterey Volunteer Soup Kitchen
Yesterday I rode a bicycle past the food kitchen in Monterey temporarily set up across Del Monte Avenue from the Naval Postgraduate School. There were around twenty men and one woman dining and two or three servers dishing out food from large silver colored pots set up on a table next to the bike path in the paved lot space that formerly served as the main entrance road to the tiny in-town naval base. Now the paved lot is just an empty parking lot space after 9-11 when tightened security measures changed the landscape of Monterey, home to two of the country’s major military schools with NPS and the Army’s Defense Language Institute. Monterey is a place to come and learn languages. I nickname this town “Spyland”.
A man with a long white beard in well-worn camouflage clothing started to walk across the bike path to discard his used paper plate in the trash can, and in somewhat of an afterthought he looked up to see my sister, her son and me approaching on bicycles. He took a step backward off the bike path. The smell of hot food filled my nose as I rode past the outdoor kitchen on one of Monterey’s warmest days of summer, in the mid-70s, under the eucalyptus trees and one sand dune away from the Pacific Ocean of Monterey Bay.
“Down here it’s just winners and losers, and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line.”
Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen
My family has been in town visiting the past few days. We ate a couple meals a day in local restaurants. Restaurant dining for a family is easily a $200 per day travel expense in a heavily touristed town like Monterey.
Here is food for thought from a TBEX Toronto seminar I attended given by Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures. The actual business of G Adventures is something I have little knowledge about. Looks like they organize small group tours to places. More to the point for this article is Bruce’s talk about the evolving role of a global traveler.
Bruce Poon Tip was a motivational speaker to me.
Here are some insights from his seminar.
- The United Nations World Travel Organization predicts international tourism will reach 1.6 billion travelers in 2020.
- Of each $100 USD spent on a vacation by a tourist from a developed country, only about $5 stays in the economy of a developing-country destination. UNEP, 2008 data. (My comment: Maldives, Thailand, Bali, Mauritius, anyone?).
- If the world today were a village of 100 people:
- 47 people would struggle to survive on $2 a day.
- 18 people would have to live on $1 a day.
- 50% of the world’s wealth would belong to just 2 people.
- 1% of the world’s wealth would be shared by 50 people.
- Tourism will account for 10% of the global GDP in the next 10 years, an estimated $10 trillion.
Bruce showed a video with a dancer on a hillside at a music concert. Wildly gesticulating in a dance of one made the guy look kind of like a loner nut. Then the first follower joins the lone dancer. The leader embraces the follower as an equal. Suddenly the dance is not about the lone nut, but about the pair. It takes a lot of guts to be the first follower who transforms the lone nut into a leader. If the first leader is the flame, the first follower is the spark that makes a fire.
The second follower creates a group and the addition of more followers are the people who make a difference more than the leader. A leader can be a guide and a model for action, but without followers that person is a loner, a nut, an anomaly, and not a movement. The second person to follow the leader is the truly brave one who risks ridicule when emulating the loner. The third person is vital in creating a small group movement. And when there is a small group who have joined the leader, then the risk of joining the group is greatly reduced and suddenly a movement can evolve as more people rush into to join the group. And now there is a movement.
Bruce asked travel bloggers in the room at TBEX Toronto if their work is creating a movement to better the world?
Ritz Carlton Give Back Getaways program
In 2008 Ritz-Carlton launched a voluntourism program for guests that has attracted about 4,000 guest participants in five years. This is a small number considering the hotel has about 25,000 room nights every night around the world.
The Conde Naste Traveler article reports on two Ritz-Carlton voluntourism experiences with Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia and working at a food bank and Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park working at a park to restore plants following Hurricane Sandy.
The issue seemed to be that hotels offering this kind of opportunity find it easier to work with travel groups like corporate conferences where press opportunities to promote the travel group’s charitable work creates more incentive for participants.
Voluntourism at resort hotels where tasks are perhaps more enticing projects like releasing sea turtles into the ocean are more popular than working a food bank. My sister told me she has participated in a hotel sponsored project in Mexico releasing sea turtles.
Bottom line is there seemed to be difficulty in attracting hotel guests who want to participate in voluntourism projects. These programs gain more participation from the hotel’s employee volunteers and travel groups.
Are Room Rate Discounts or Bonus Loyalty Points incentive for You?
My first thought after reading the CN Traveler piece is I wouldn’t want to spend my time volunteering on community projects when I am paying full-rate staying at a hotel.
I can always volunteer my time for projects in my own community. I am sure that Monterey Soup Kitchen by the bike path could use volunteers. Sierra Club Ventana Chapter has projects every week for working on trail clearing in Monterey County.
Give me a $75 discount on a $300 per night room when I am staying several nights in San Francisco or 10,000 bonus points on a $400 paid hotel stay. I think that is incentive for attracting hotel guests to do charitable work in hotel sponsored community projects.
Would $100 off your $400 per night hotel bill or 10,000 hotel loyalty points in exchange for three or four hours volunteer work motivate you to donate your time when paying to stay at a luxury market segment hotel or an extended stay at a lower priced hotel?
Would you work half a day at a soup kitchen, pick garbage off a beach, help clear a hiking trail at a ski resort in summer if you could earn bonus points or get a room rate discount at a hotel?
Incentivizing hotel guests for voluntourism projects meeting real community needs in less than glamorous activities than releasing sea turtles into the ocean with attractive room rate discounts or bonus points seems like a win-win for hotels in the local community and their visiting hotel guests.
Have you participated in voluntourism projects? Do you know of hotels that offer voluntourism project opportunities for guests?
Help leaders and followers create a movement.
If you are in the hotel industry offering voluntourism projects, let me help you create a movement. I’d love to promote ideas and opportunities for travelers to give back and better the world one community at a time.