by Geraldine Gatehouse | February 17, 2012
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is an acknowledged leader in the areas of sustainability and social responsibility. Now, effective January 2012 , the luxury hotel brand has gone one step further in making it simple for planners and guests alike to make direct, personal contributions. Activities supporting local communities, charities, and other nonprofit endeavors are now available through Fairmont’s Meetings That Matter concept.

With the introduction of its new program, Fairmont is partnering with its meeting and conference clients as they look for ways to give back to the destinations and communities where their events are held. Whether it’s cleaning up local waterways, assisting local shelters, or building homes for Habitat for Humanity, every Fairmont now offers a powerful way for groups to give back. These activities are gaining a reputation for fostering stronger ties among colleagues and attendees, who can work together to leave positive impressions on their destinations while also creating lasting memories.

Meetings and conferences can have a positive impact beyond the meeting room, and Meetings That Matter is a creative way to introduce community give-back options to planners. The program also has a charitable donation component that Fairmont has extended through 2012. Planners booking a new meeting with a minimum of 50 room nights may donate 10 percent of the room revenue generated by the event to a charitable organization. Planners can determine the charity of choice, whether it is a cause that resonates most strongly with attendees, a local organization in need, or one of Fairmont’s partners, which include the National Geographic Society, WWF, and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. To learn more, planners can visit Meetings that Matter.

Additional opportunities for groups to give back include:

Helping People
In every community, there are people who need extra help performing simple tasks that others may take for granted. A number of Fairmont properties have found ways to lend a helping hand to people with daily challenges. The Special Commune is a not-for-profit organization in China whose mission is to empower intellectually challenged youth to be part of its community. Through internships on its organic farm, students learn both job and life skills that allow them to live independently. At Fairmont Beijing, a group outing to Special Commune can be designed as either a half- or full-day program, including a visit to the farm to meet with the students and contribute to a current project. In Kenya, Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club can arrange donation drives of clothes, books, bedding, and food for the Likii Special School for the Mentally Handicapped.

Many Fairmont properties offer half- and full-day programs assisting local food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens. With the King Arthur Bread Baking program at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, attendees bake bread for a local shelter via the King Arthur Baking Education Center. Half-day Habitat for Humanity programs are also popular and are available at a number of Fairmont properties, with attendees completing landscaping, painting, and other minor housework projects to prepare homes for new families.

Lending a Hand to the Environment
At the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver groups can get involved with the Ivy Busters program, where attendees go to historic Stanley Park and help remove the rapidly spreading English ivy that threatens to smother native vegetation and compromise natural shelter and food sources for wildlife. For a quick onsite activity at Kenya’s Fairmont Mara Safari Club, the Tree Planting Exercise lets attendees plant a tree within the club as way of reducing their personal carbon footprints. Other Park Clean-ups can involve activities like trail maintenance and tree planting in famed public spaces like Central Park in New York, Mount Royal in Montreal, Grant Park in Chicago, Banff National Park in Alberta, and more.

The Adopt-A-River Scheme is an innovative and educational two-hour clean-up event along the foreshore of the River Thames just across from The Savoy, A Fairmont Hotel. Together with a team from the conservation charity Thames21, attendees help identify the wildlife and any historical artifacts that might be found in addition to clearing rubbish. Other Beach & River Clean Up programs are available from Singapore to Hamburg to Mexico to the United Arab Emirates and beyond.

For animal lovers, the Fairmont Acapulco Princess and the Fairmont Pierre Marques offer a half-day Turtle Release program where groups can help the golfina turtle during its nesting season by protecting its habitat, located on the beach in front of the hotel. The Turtle Scrub at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & the Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda lets attendees get to know some of Bermuda’s greenest residents: the giant sea turtles at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo. Participants get in the tank with the turtles and scrub them clean with the help of the aquarium’s turtle experts. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers the Upper Corral Creek Basin Westslope Cutthroat Trout Restoration in Banff National Park, which helps recover this local species. Volunteer opportunities include helping to catch and release cutthroat trout for DNA sampling, GIS mapping of the creek basin, and angling to assist in the removal of non-native brook trout.

Fostering Happy, Healthy Kids & Communities
Many groups find that working with local children is especially rewarding and gives attendees a unique way to give back while also fostering camaraderie and teamwork. The Shanghai Sunrise Library Program uses donations to fund the purchase of library books for needy migrant schools, offering students a well-stocked library with age-appropriate books. Groups at Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai can spend a half-day visiting one of the local migrant schools, cataloging the new library books they purchased while also engaging in reading sessions with the children.

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport partners with the Richmond Schoolyard Society for the Kids + gardens + healthy food = stronger communities program on a half-day group activity designed to bring children and attendees into their “outdoor classroom,” where they connect with the earth and their community. The Fairmont Orchid’s Hawaii Island School Garden Network works with the Peace Committee to assist in the creation and/or maintenance, tilling, planting, and upkeep in a number of school gardens in the Hamakua District. Fairmont Pittsburgh partners with Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible urban food production through educational workshops, the development of urban farms, adult and teen internship programs, and its unique Edible Schoolyard program. Groups can underwrite printing costs and assemble educational “veggie packets” to be given to low-income families and students throughout the local community.

For an on-site, hands-on activity, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Higher Ground Biker Build-Off program lets attendees build a bike, race it, and raise a deserving child's spirits. Teams work to acquire the bike parts they need to construct a masterpiece. When a champion has been declared, teams donate their creations. Teddy Bear Making at Fairmont Le Château Montebello in Québec gives attendees materials to build, stuff, and decorate teddy bears by hand. Prizes are given away for the best and most creative bears, but all are donated to Leucan, an association for children with cancer. During Ramadan, Fairmont Heliopolis & Towers offers a half-day program that focuses on entertaining 150 orphan children at the property, creating a fun atmosphere that includes dancing, singing, gifts, and Egyptian food, and drinks.

One of the challenges for planners is finding the right type of CSR in which to engage attendees. For industry professionals looking for ways to make a difference, and to offer these often life-changing experiences to their clients, any of the above programs make the job that much easier.

Quote of the Month

Tug on anything in nature and you will find it connected to everything else.—John Muir

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent planner, speaker, and instructor, with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in southern California, a member of Meeting Professionals International, a Site Classic 2012 committee member, a 2012 Site Southern California board advisor, and a member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at [email protected]

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Her Twitter address is @ggbrit.