When we think of socially responsible hotels, examples of environmental stewardship typically come to mind. But in today's increasingly competitive business landscape, corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts can - and should - go beyond the typical green initiatives that have become expected practice in the hospitality industry.
The Movement Hotel in Amsterdam is one example that is breaking the mould. At first glance, it appears to have an enticing albeit familiar offering. The hotel comprises a total of 16 double rooms, it is possible to book meeting rooms for inspiration sessions and they offer various activities including an escape room, boxing classes and musical performances. There is even a Turkish hamam being planned.
So what makes it different? The pop-up hotel is set in part of the former prison of Bijlmerbajes and is entirely run by asylum seekers.
“Employment is the most effective way to reintegrate refugees”
After a successful crowdfunding campaign in July, the hotel recently opened its prison doors and is giving guests a once in a lifetime experience to explore and stay at the notorious Bijlmerbajes prison before it gets demolished. Meanwhile, refugees are being trained to run the hotel and are being a given a chance to integrate into their adoptive communities by joining the workforce.
The refugees who work in the hotel are all legally eligible for employment in the Netherlands and the project will train them in a variety of hospitality occupations such as baristas, reception clerks and guest relations. Customers can also have lunch at the A Beautiful Mess restaurant, which is operated by The Refugee Company.
“It has been proven that employment is the most effective and best way to reintegrate refugees," says Nina Schmitz, Director of the Movement on the Ground Foundation behind the project. "This is the heart and core of this project – empowering people to reintegrate back into the society by giving them the right training and experience from respected partners that will enable them to run the hotel and get back into the workforce.”
Currently, there are approximately 600 refugees living in the former Bijlmerbajes prison - now run by the local refugee organisation AZC after closing as a prison in 2016 - who are waiting to begin their lives in the Netherlands. In fact, when it first opened as a prison in 1978, Bijlmerbajes had been designed as a humane detention centre without barred windows and secured cell doors, a useful detail for the transition into a welcoming hotel.
The Movement on the Ground foundation took an interest in the site after managing projects at refugee camps throughout Europe including supply donations, design improvements and solar panel installations. Turning part of the complex into a hotel that is run by refugees was a proposal dreamt up by foundation founder Charlie Macgregor in Lesvos, Greece, during the summer of 2015 as MacGregor and friends pitched in to help refugees from war torn Syria that were arriving by the boatload each day.
Their previous success with Amsterdam community project the Student Hotel lead to a vision for a hotel run by refugees where all profits from the business were put back into training facilities for the staff and that involved initiatives like communal spaces carefully curated with work by refugee artists. As of this month, the doors of the Movement Hotel are finally open to guests.
“We hope to show that big business can play a big role in resettling refugees,” MacGregor says. “Especially hotel companies. We don’t want refugees to remain cut-off, unhappy and angry. It’s better for everyone if they are settled and successful.”
Mews are proud to be able to contribute to the project by integrating our Commander PMS platform, Distributor booking engine and Merchant payment system into the unique property. Our excitement at being able to help the initiative got us thinking about the importance of the role of CSR within the hospitality industry in general.
Many hospitality businesses, including Sandals and Starwood Hotels, have developed CSR programs and strategies in an attempt to boost customer loyalty, conserve environments, reduce social problems and contribute to the development of communities. Several initiatives include the adoption of linen exchange programs, the use of environmentally friendly cleaning agents and energy conservation through the installation of energy saving devices. Starwood has even rolled out an entire brand of hotels with its new eco-friendly Element Hotels that contribute to sustainability through the implementation of the 3Rs practice of reduce, reuse and recycle.
Studies have found that consumers are willing to pay a premium of up to 15 per cent for green and sustainable hotels that use local and/or non-genetically modified or organic ingredients. Interestingly, customers aware of a company’s CSR initiatives are even more likely to “forgive” the firm for a minor service failure!
Social efforts can range across a broad spectrum - the Fairmont Hotel’s attempts to rescue guests stranded during Hurricane Katrina are a more dramatic case in point while, in 2014, Marriott launched its #LoveTravels campaign supporting LGBT rights and advocates along with NBA player Jason Collins.
Nonetheless, a key challenge for hotels and restaurants is to manage customer demands without compromising the service quality as customers often relate sustainability with a reduction of cleanliness or comfort. Therefore, successful sustainability management needs customers’ involvement. For example, the Crowne Plaza hotel in Copenhagen encouraged its guests to produce electricity for the hotel by using it’s special exercise bikes housed in its gym. With 15 minutes of cycling, guests could generate 10 watt-hours of electricity as well as win a free meal voucher at the hotel.
In short, considerable reputation capital has been built by hotels through philanthropic activities. From large chains to small boutique hotels, there is a growing trend for ‘responsible travel’ and hotels are increasingly doing their part. So if you are planning a trip to Amsterdam soon, make sure to check out the Movement Hotel or check out this great list of socially responsible not-for-profit hotels across the world that are ploughing revenue back into their local communities.
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