By: Ann Ruppenstein
It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of bad news as the world continues to face challenges amidst an ongoing pandemic. This week, we’re sharing some uplifting stories of how the travel industry is making a positive difference around the globe.
To support the communities neighbouring its 16 boutique lodges, camps and hotels in Kenya and Tanzania, the Elewana Collection’s charitable arm, Land & Life Foundation, launched a new fund — the Pamoja Fund — specifically to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The inspiration behind it was our communities who live alongside wildlife — the men, women, children, young and old, who motivate and inspire us every day in our work,” Carol Ng’ang’a, acting GM for the Land & Life Foundation, based in Nairobi, Kenya, tells Travel Courier. “As you may already know, Pamoja is Swahili for ‘together,’ borrowing from Elewana’s philosophy of being in harmony with nature and communities. We want to ensure that our communities know that they are valued and are at the centre of our work and we will stand in solidarity with them during these challenging times.”
As a result of the global pandemic, tourism shut down and drastically affected these communities who rely heavily on the travel industry.
“Our communities rely on tourism and pastoralism for their livelihood. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has disrupted both,” Ng’ang’a explains. “They are experiencing closure of markets for their livestock, job losses — camps & lodges, national parks, and protected areas have drastically reduced the number of staff who provide additional eyes and ears on the ground. All this is happening against a rise in the cost of living.”
A key focus for the Land & Life Foundation is to protect the local environment through the power of conservation and responsible tourism. Since the revenue for conservation was also impacted through a loss of funds to support wildlife protection, the Foundation launched this effort to support those affected in the areas where they operate.
“With resources drying up, new threats emerge — those of poaching and human-wildlife conflict,” Ng’ang’a says. “We recognize that communities will be motivated to conserve if they receive tangible benefits from tourism. Therefore, our support is crucial now more than ever because if our communities thrive, wildlife will thrive.”
In the last two months, $3,577 was raised through contributions and donations, which have already made a difference:
A total of US$715 was given to Shanga, a social enterprise based in Arusha, Tanzania, that employs Tanzanians with disabilities, to purchase 24 care packages, containing staple food items and sanitizing supplies for the Shanga employee and their families.
Crop Protection at Randilen Wildlife Management Area (RWMA)
Directly bordering the Tarangire National Park, RWMA is a key dispersal area that offers a safe space for wildlife with more than 1,000 elephants using this migratory corridor. A month and a half worth of fuel was purchased, which will sustain the patrol vehicles that the rangers use to keep wildlife and communities safe.
Soup Kitchen at Elewana The Manor, Ngorongoro
The funds were used to purchase food to provide 715 meals for children at Mwema orphanage and Dageno Girls Center.
Kenya Wildlife Trust’s COVID-response initiative
In Kitirua Conservancy, the money was used to purchase reusable masks and soap for approximately 30 families, almost 300 people.
Aitong Health Centre
Land & Life Foundation and Aitong Health Centre have partnered for the past nine years and the US$715 is being used to give the facility much-needed repairs for the health and safety of their staff and patients.
“Additionally, over and above providing funds, we have also partnered with organizations in the industry to create COVID awareness and sensitization in our communities touching on issues around prevention and hygiene,” she adds. “We also see Pamoja as just the beginning. With our friends and supporters by our side, we are confident that we will do more to help our communities navigate the new normal.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Sandals Foundation, the non-profit organization for Sandals Resorts International, launched many initiatives to help make a difference in the Caribbean.
“We are very thankful that the rate of infection and health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has not been as severe in the Caribbean. Still, families have faced challenges,” Heidi Clarke, executive director for The Sandals Foundation, tells Travel Courier. “Many breadwinners have lost their source of income, others are facing reduced salaries. It is our mandate as a Foundation to help our communities remain resilient and hopeful towards the future.”
For example, The Sandals Foundation donated funds to purchase 40 ventilators for local hospitals in Jamaica (in partnership with the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica) and new hand-washing stations are being built at infant and primary schools schools in Jamaica and Antigua with the support from partners like Rotary Antigua and Love, Tito’s – the philanthropic arm of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Schools will also be provided with automatic hand soap dispensers, start-up hand soap and paper towels, signage to encourage proper hand-washing, and hand held thermometers.
“We are grateful to have a strong network of team members who keep a steady pulse on the needs that arise in the communities and volunteer to make a difference,” Clarke says. “Together, with our very loyal partners, guests, travel agents and well-wishers, we were able to respond to the evolving social and economic needs.”
As part of efforts to strengthen its outreach to Caribbean communities, in August, the Foundation launched its ‘Lessons Alive’ campaign to raise funds for purchasing supplies and resources to help vulnerable families facing back-to-school expenses.
The campaign will also aid Caribbean schools acquire resources as they reconfigure their operations to meet the newly required safety and sanitation measures to commence the 2020/2021 academic year. Donations to the ‘Lessons Alive’ campaign can be made through the Sandals Foundation website at www.sandalsfoundation.org/donation under the ‘Education’ tab, with 100% of every dollar going directly to supporting education and back-to-school needs.
“Now, as our islands reopen for business, we will continue to do our part to ensure the strength and security of the Caribbean family is maintained,” Clarke says.
Beyond those examples, here’s an overview of some of the other initiatives that are having a positive impact during this time:
Throughout the pandemic, IHG also took part in community-focused pandemic response efforts.
“Our broad response efforts range from repurposing hotels to provide accommodation to frontline workers, military personnel and vulnerable members of society; supporting local communities through charity partnerships; making food donations to support frontline workers and vulnerable members in the community; and working with industry partners to advocate for our owners at the highest levels of government,” Michelle Dias PR Manager, InterContinental Hotels Group, tells Travel Courier.
At the corporate level, this included the launch of a global effort to support food bank and food provision charities across 70 countries (including No Kid Hungry in the US, and the Canadian Food Bank), as well as a recently concluded effort with #FirstRespondersFirst, which helped provide free accommodation at hotels across the United States for frontline COVID-19 first responders.
In addition, Dias points out that there have been some amazing examples from IHG-branded hotels across the Canada.
“The InterContinental Toronto Centre has done several donations throughout the pandemic, including donations of Byredo amenities to Dixon Hall,” she says. “This includes over 2,200 shampoos, conditioners and shower gels. Plus, 1,100 shaving and dental kits. The team has also given to the Canadian Centre for Men and Families as part of a Father’s day drive.”
Meanwhile, The Holiday Inn Express St-Jean Sur Richelieu supported a non-for-profit called ‘J’ai faim a tout les jours.’
“They have been donating gently-used linen to the charity. Some of this linen was passed onto a family whose house was recently ravaged by a fire,” she explains.
Earlier in the pandemic, the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville also hosted vulnerable groups at the hotel.
“The property team has also been going over and above to support these guests as they transition into and out of the hotel and into new homes,” she says. “They have even been doing surprise birthday party celebrations to make guests feel at home.”
Over at Preferred Hotels & Resorts, the world’s largest independent hotel brand, representing more than 750 independent hotels, resorts, residences, and hotel groups across 85 countries, many of its member hotels made a positive impact around the world.
“When it comes to extending a gentle, helping hand to less fortunate residents, a few of our hotels went above and beyond, showing that they value the health and wellbeing of everyone within their community, not just paying guests,” Michelle Woodley, President, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, tells Travel Courier. “For example, The Hari Hotel London comforted local residents by offering to collect and deliver groceries or other urgent supplies, post outgoing mail, and even spend five minutes on a phone call to check in on their wellbeing and give those who lived alone a friendly voice.”
Meanwhile, in Anchorage, Alaska, Hotel Captain Cook supported a local homeless shelter that housed more than one hundred homeless youth by donating rollaway beds, bedding, and toiletries to ensure the children would be comfortable.
In India, The Leela Palaces Hotels & Resorts properties collaborated with local authorities to provide care packages consisting of daily food provisions and personal hygiene products for more than 200 underprivileged families whose incomes were severely impacted by pandemic-fuelled unemployment.
“Many of our hotels also extended special programs to provide relief for the essential personnel dedicated to fighting COVID-19, giving back and saying thanks for how they were supporting local residents,” Woodley adds. “For example, for one month during a temporary period when it closed its doors to members of the public, Sophy Hyde Park in Chicago opened its doors to staff of the University of Chicago Medical Center – free of charge. Just one mile from the hospital, the hotel was a welcome respite for workers where they could get a good night’s sleep while away from their families.”
In Ireland, The K Club supported and housed healthcare workers who had been separated from their families for a period of time or housed people who had fallen ill.
Beyond these initiatives, as a way to extend support from the corporate side, Preferred Hotels & Resorts invites its associates to take two paid days a year to volunteer and give back to local communities, an effort within its GIFTTS corporate responsibility program.
“We are proud that many of our associates take advantage of this time, with some putting efforts towards supporting existing programs implemented by our member hotels, and others utilizing this time to create team-building activities with internal associates or even our external clients for a collaborative approach to philanthropy and sustainability,” she says. “The travel industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic so it was an incredible display of selflessness that our member hotels extended themselves to make a difference in these ways at a time when their businesses were also experiencing a major negative impact. We believe that even in the darkest moments, people will always look to travel for inspiration. We are incredibly proud of our member hotels for demonstrating that hospitality is more than an expected gesture during a business transaction but rather a genuine demonstration of selfless care and concern that we champion and extend to everyone, all of the time.”