At the heart of Responsible Tourism is the idea that tourism businesses look at the social, environmental and economic issues in the place or places that they do business and ask themselves whether they can address any of them, to make a better pace for people to live in or visit. In that order…The Responsible Tourism agenda is broad, and in a typical year, we would have some 20 sessions over three days at WTM London. This year we have just eight live sessions, details below. We have a few pre-recorded on-demand sessions on China, animal welfare and the differently-abled in tourism.
We have had several panels on travel for those with disabilities over the years of the Responsible Tourism programme at WTM, often focused on the value of this market and with the emphasis on wheelchair users. This is a significant market, and the point is well made that we have a responsibility to make travel, accommodation, tours and attractions wheelchair accessible; this also benefits parents with children in prams and pushchairs too.
Back in 2016 Lemon Tree Hotels won Gold in the World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM London for their commitment to barrier-free employment – they were also overall winners that year. In January I needed to overnight close to Delhi airport and found that I had been booked into the Red Fox Hotel, one of Lemon Tree’s. I am always apprehensive encountering one of the Responsible Tourism Award winners for the first time, I need not have been. I was met at the door by a young man who smiled, took my bag and ushered me to reception. Aircrew arrived behind me, and the bags got scrambled. It was only then that I realised that he was profoundly deaf. On the corridor, as I went to my room, I noticed the small shelves with paper and pencils every 20m along and understood the lengths that Lemon Tree had gone to, to create an environment in which he could work.
The interview I did with Aradhana Lal, Vice President – Brand, Communications & Sustainability Initiatives for Lemon Tree enabled me to understand the principles behind their approach. Their barrier-free employment strategy is at the heart of their CSR programme., but not of their marketing strategy. Patu Keswani, Chairman & Managing Director of Lemon Tree Hotels challenged his managers to find ways to employ the differently-abled and disadvantaged Indians because “the brand should stand for more than ‘just profit’.” Lemon Tree is a large, successful and growing company encompassing several brands, 8,000 rooms in 91 hotels across 49 destinations; and it is committed to barrier-free employment.
The commitment to employing ODIs, Opportunity Deprived Indians, is clearly stated on the website – if you look for it, you have to hunt for it.
“We believe that persons with disabilities (which can be physical, social or economic disabilities leading to an opportunity deprivation) must be provided the same opportunities as others to realize their full potential and live with dignity. By creating a supportive environment in the organization that allows them to deliver their best, we are able to play a part, however small, in social inclusiveness, opportunity/livelihood creation and therefore nation building.”
They have not compromised on service quality. They have demonstrated that by engaging managers and staff through the teams which deliver service, they can successfully employ: the speech and hearing impaired; the orthopedically handicapped; acid attack survivors; those with Down’s Syndrome and autism; those from below the poverty line; widows and abandoned or abused women; orphans and abandoned girls; and transgender people.
Their initiative started in 2007. By May 2018, approximately 21% of their employees were Indians who are opportunity deprived in some way.
The interview with Aradhana Lal is available on demand during the Virtual WTM 10 & 11 November – it tells about the programme, explains how it was developed and discusses replication within and beyond the sector.
There is a brief account of their work on barrier-free employment here click on the CSR tab.
You may also be interested in the depth and breadth of their efforts Rest-Assured programme to ensure a COVID-19 secure environment for staff and guests.
The Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London this year can be found here The focus is on solutions.
The theme is: How can we make tourism better for communities, travellers and our sector?
4th November 11:30-13:30: the World Responsible Tourism Awards, a keynote from Sir Tim Smit of the Eden Project, and interviews with Wolfgang Neumann, Martin Brackenbury, Justin Francis and JoAnna Haugen on the importance of narrative.
11th November: 4 live panels Resilience & Covid 19; Build Back Better; Tourism and Biodiversity, Friend or Foe? And Decarbonising Aviation.
12th November: 4 live panels Responsible Tourism in India; Racism in Tourism; Certification and Consumer Choice & Can we make tourism better – a manifesto for change.