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Being a Good Neighbor

After organizing and executing the 32nd annual Sprint Four the Cure 5-kilometer run and walk in September to benefit cancer research, the Four Seasons Hotel Washington will spend most of November planning for its yearly “Thanksgiving on the Mayflower,” which serves a traditional holiday meal to servicemen and women in the capital. Once the Thanksgiving event wraps, the luxury property will dive into preparations for the Georgetown Jingle, a family-friendly soiree that benefits the Georgetown University Hospital’s pediatric oncology programs.

For Christian Clerc, regional vice president and general manager of the hotel, hosting events to benefit the community is an important part of his job description. “When we do these events two or three times a year, the whole team comes together for something that is not directly related to what we do on a day-to-day basis at the hotel. I think it brings out our best.”

Service projects and fundraising events offer hotels a way to engage their communities and rally team spirit within their organizations. But outreach efforts also help build a positive brand image and foster goodwill among businesses and residents within local neighborhoods. “Community events are a micro part of the macro marketing equation—they work in tandem,” says Nancy Friedman, president of Nancy J. Friedman Public Relations, a company that specializes in marketing and public relations for hotel clients. “So much of a hotel’s business comes directly from the neighborhood that it makes sense for the hotel to be a good community citizen. If the property is well integrated into the community, it will be the go-to place for meetings, special occasions, and referrals.”

While the Four Seasons Hotel Washington hosts several different types of community-oriented events each year, including a partnership and mentorship program with the local SEED School, the hotel’s main efforts are focused on raising funds for cancer research—a goal that all Four Seasons properties, at the insistence of founder Isadore Sharp, share across the board.

Money raised through benefit events at Four Seasons hotels around the world stays within each hotel’s local community. The Four Seasons Washington donates funds to the Cancer Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University Hospital. Through three events—Sprint Four the Cure, the Georgetown Jingle, and the Drive Four the Cure Golf Classic—Clerc estimates that the hotel helps donate approximately $500,000 each year to area cancer research.

“The fact that the funds stay here locally means a lot to our team in Washington,” Clerc says. “I think there is a very direct connection between the effort of fundraising and the results.”

CREATING A CONNECTION
Most hotels that put outreach plans into action have a desire to establish themselves as members of the local community. And oftentimes the byproducts of helping that community and neighborhood thrive are extra incentives for guests to come and stay at the hotel.

Fairfield Inn and Suites, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has a longstanding relationship with Habitat for Humanity, which began in 1995. Fairfield hotels across the country are encouraged to participate in community building projects that help provide homes for local residents in need.

“Partnering with Habitat gave us an opportunity to give back to local communities,” says Shruti Buckley, vice president and global brand manager for Fairfield Inn and Suites. “People actually participate in building their homes, and we work alongside them. For us, our brand is all about making personal, one-on-one connections.”

In 2004, Fairfield, a division of Marriott International, branded their partnership with Habitat for Humanity as “Hospitality at Home.” Buckley explains that branding their work with the nonprofit housing organization made it a more tangible concept for associates and general managers.

Every year at the brand’s general managers’ conference, the attendees participate in a build within the host city. This gives general managers the opportunity to experience Habitat for Humanity first hand and bring a similar project back to their own cities. Last year, the staffs of 150 Fairfield hotels built more than 150 homes for those in need. This year, Buckley hopes that 250 hotels will participate.

“A lot of our Fairfield hotels are in smaller communities, and it is really exciting for us to make such an impact,” Buckley says.
For Clerc, it is important that associates at the Four Seasons Washington interact with the local community through outreach efforts. He believes serving area residents is an extension of working in the hospitality industry.

“We want our employees to have a personal connection to our guests and residents in the community,” he says. “It isn’t about just getting a paycheck. For a lot of people, it’s about making a difference in what you do every day.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
For Hilton Worldwide, the future is firmly rooted in giving young people the opportunities to grow and thrive. In June, the company announced a three-year, $3 million partnership with the International Youth Foundation that will provide young people around the world with the education and training they need to pursue career paths within the hospitality industry.

Hilton Worldwide’s network of properties will host events, provide internships, and create mentorship programs for young people in local communities as part of the brand-wide initiative.

“We have a saying that you can’t have a successful business in a failed world. If the communities around our properties aren’t thriving, they won’t be destinations for our business and leisure guests,” says Jennifer Silberman, vice president of corporate responsibility for Hilton Worldwide. “Our hotels depend on strong communities to be successful, and working with young people in the community is one way to help achieve that.”

In conjunction with the partnership, the Hilton Woodcliff Lake, located in Bergen County, N.J., hosted an event during International Youth Week called “Bright Blue Futures at Hilton Woodcliff Lake.” The hotel teamed up with an area women’s shelter and invited children and their mothers to the property for a fun-filled day of activities such as swimming and face painting.

“The highlight of the event for us was when our team members stood up and shared their backgrounds and how they’ve come up through the industry,” says Rosa Mondeja, human resources director for the Hilton Woodcliff Lake. “It was really special for the kids to hear that there is hope, that they do have a bright future ahead of themselves.”

Other Hilton properties around the world also participated in International Youth Week by hosting similar events or sponsoring mentoring programs and fundraisers.

“By focusing on young people, we are supporting the future of our business and communities,” Siberman says. “But, it also makes good business sense and supports the long-term sustainability of our industry by bolstering our talent pipeline and ensuring our communities are safe and strong.”

FOSTERING TEAM SPIRIT
Community service events not only benefit local residents, but they also directly impact hotel employees. Most hotel managers understand how important these programs are in regards to teambuilding and creating a strong, united work environment.
“Building with Habitat for Humanity is one of the few opportunities that gives our associates a chance to come together as a team to benefit the community and a local family,” Buckley says.

Fairfield had 1,500 associates participate in builds last year. The brand also gives associates other opportunities to help their Hospitality at Home program by allowing employees to work selling gently used building and home supplies in Habitat ReStores, donate products, or participate in other sponsored charity events.

At the Four Seasons Washington, Clerc believes that the hotel attracts and retains employees due in part to its outreach efforts.
“As an employer, it is important that our employees realize that there is substance here,” he says. “It really gives a unique dimension to what we do.”

GATHERING GOODWILL
From a brand and marketing standpoint, community service programs only bolster a hotel’s goodwill within the community. Outreach efforts help hotels make important business contacts, bring in business through word-of-mouth praise, and give public relations executives something to sing about.

“When people realize that you’re being genuine, there’s tremendous loyalty that comes out of that,” Clerc says. “People like doing business with a company that has strong values and principles.”

Although the brand benefits are a bonus, most hotels that host service programs do so because they have a desire to pitch in and help fulfill a need within their communities.

“The community is our family,” says Scott Beck, general manager at the Hilton Woodcliff Lake. “It’s very important for us to take on a very active role and partner with a lot of our corporate clients.”

“So many people talk about community outreach and corporate responsibility, but at the end of the day, it is really about what it means to you as a company and an organization,” Clerc adds. “We do this because it is important to us. The biggest reward is seeing the results.”

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