ichael Seltzer, former Vista
volunteer, former Ford Foundation giver-of-grants, has these words
for "old-fashioned" companies that want to do good deeds
anonymously: "Get over it."
Housed in the Manhattan offices of The Conference Board, a
nonprofit business group whose mission is to "help business and
society," Seltzer created a travel-focused auxiliary organization
called Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel (BEST).
BEST is guided by a steering committee that includes
representatives from American Express, Marriott Corp., the World
Travel and Tourism Council, the International Hotel and
Association and National Geographic Traveler. Its goal is to
shine a spotlight on enterprises that run programs that support
their communities and educate travelers yet deliver on what he
calls "the triple bottom line" of increased market share, expanded
brand recognition and improved employee morale.
"I started thinking about doing something like this when I was
with the Ford Foundation," he said. "The Ford Foundation gives
money, but The Conference Board provides information and education.
I wanted to run a travel program to talk about best practices."
Much of The Conference Board's work is hardcore economic
analysis -- these are the folks who bring you the Leading Economic
Indicators, the Consumer Confidence Index and other information
that guides worldwide institutional investment -- and Seltzer knew
he needed to create something that was firmly rooted in the
business world, but that also fulfilled the board's educational
agenda and his personal goal of encouraging sustainable travel.
Seltzer set out to identify programs that demonstrated that
corporate policy and civic betterment not only are compatible,
they're complementary. He looked for progressive business practices
as well as what he calls "strategic philanthropy."
"Amex is really good at strategic philanthropy. Look at the
World Monuments Fund -- it not only receives recognition for the
financial support, but it's preserving sites where it sends people
He also looks for programs that are educational (though not
necessarily academic). "We found some people who run tours on the
history of Latin music in the Bronx, from mambo to hip-hop. It's
terrific, and meets our criteria. We're looking for people who
bring tourism to low-income areas that are rich in cultural or
By creating and distributing dossiers on companies with inspired
programs (called "BEST Practices"), Seltzer hopes to prompt
executives to look at their own businesses and see how they can do
well by doing good. Among the companies featured on the
organization's Web site (www.sustainabletravel.org) are Aspen Skiing
Co., Great Canadian Railtour Co. and Lindblad Expeditions.
When Seltzer was a Vista volunteer in the late 1960s, he saw
that the native Hawaiian schoolchildren he worked with were
dispirited, and he worked to improve their self-esteem. His mission
today is not that different -- he's out to show a battered industry
its best side, and in doing so, help restore the spirit of both
companies and the people they serve.