Ritz-Carlton, which has run philanthropic tourism
programs for guests at some of its hotels for as long as seven years, will roll
out a slate of socially responsible
activities for guests at all 92 of its hotels by the end of the year.
Marriott International’s luxury chain said it was
responding to more business groups looking to do good while on the road.
The Marriott division, which employs what it calls its
Impact Experiences program at almost half of its worldwide hotels, is working with
local groups to add ecological or social programs at the rest of its hotels in
the next six months, according to Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Allison Sitch.
Ritz-Carlton first launched “voluntourism” programs at some of its properties
as part of what was called its Meaningful Meetings initiative in early 2009.
Impact Experiences will enable Ritz-Carlton guests to
work with organizations that specialize in one of three causes: environmental
sustainability; alleviation of hunger; and improving the well-being of
While some of the programs will be geared toward
individual guests, the bulk will target group travelers, specifically the
corporate market. Sitch said hotel management handles all logistics so that
guests merely need to make themselves available for the work.
“This particular rallying cry is around group because it
enables us to make a much bigger impact,” Sitch said. “That really is such a
consideration for meeting planners today.”
While many of the first programs Ritz-Carlton launched
were on the West Coast, some notable programs that have been added since then
include work at an organic farm near Arizona’s Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain;
restoration of rainforest and trails near Maui’s Ritz-Carlton Kapalua; and
building nests for rare bird species in the Futian Mangrove Natural Reserve
Area near the Ritz-Carlton in Shenzhen, China.
As is the case with eco-travel and voluntourism in
general, tracking the impact of such programs is difficult. While Marriott each
year releases a sustainability report tracking items such as property-level
energy and water savings or employee volunteer hours, it does not break out
figures on volunteer hours or environmental impact tied to the Ritz-Carlton
Guests from the Ritz-Carlton Club Aspen Highlands do highway work near the resort.
Irene Lane, owner of Virginia-based Greenloons, which
specializes in setting up eco-tourism excursions, said that while the efforts
are admirable, the lack of data is a potential shortcoming of such programs.
“It’s important to always release the results,” Lane
said. “How do you measure the impact you purport to make? That seems to be
Still, Lane noted that Ritz-Carlton’s expansion of its
program dovetails with two travel trends: a larger number of either higher-end
individual or corporate travelers looking to make a difference on an environmental
or social front and the propensity of such tourists to seek relatively safe
environments in which to do the work.
For example, Lane said threats such as the Ebola virus in
Africa and, more recently, the Zika virus in South and Central America and
Mexico, have pushed more of her clients toward destinations such as Australia
or U.S. national parks.
Or, for example, if a client insists on going to Africa,
the destination is more likely to be South Africa than Kenya.
Location notwithstanding, Sitch said the guests fully
expect an immersive experience.
“All of the setup is done for them, but this is not a
smoke-and-mirrors plan,” she said. “People have to roll up their sleeves and
make a difference.”