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FEATURE ARTICLE 1
A New Strategy for Business VolunTourism?
Corporate Meetings & Incentive Travel options create an atmosphere for learning and engagement amongst colleagues and team members. Business VolunTourism delivers significant benefits to a growing list of forward-thinking practitioners as a corporate strategy. This is an example of one that caught my attention.
In February of this year, I discovered an article describing the VolunTourism efforts of Unilever Corporation at an annual convention held in Las Vegas. The following words are the first two paragraphs from a press release:
Here is a company, Unilever, that has demonstrated, historically, the importance of giving back; but this giving back has traditionally occurred in those venues in which the company has a presence. Why the shift? What could possibly motivate Unilever to engage in this practice in a destination in which they do not have a major corporate footprint?
I placed a call to Unilever's corporate public relations department to get their feedback. Sabrina Glavan responded to my query and had the following facts to share with me:
- Unilever spent roughly $150,000 on all three projects inclusively
- A busing company provided round-trip transportation for participants to and from the hotel
- All coordination was conducted in-house by the Community Relations Team, specifically, Laura McCafferty
- 2600 hours of voluntary service were logged by the 600 participants
Of particular interest to me, was the purpose behind the activity, from the "business-side of the table."
Sabrina said that the sales people that attended the conference were part of a restructuring move by the company. This was, in many instances, the first time that the sales executives had ever met one another. Emails may have been the only thing exchanged between them prior to this trip to Las Vegas.
One of the primary purposes of the experience, therefore, was to introduce and engage sales teams that had not previously collaborated. When you think of Las Vegas, you realize that the Unilever Team could have chosen something else from a myriad of selections available there.
Making this type of decision to forego the traditional mixers and social activities definitely is an executive decision. Regardless of the desire to do something of this nature at the employee level, spending $150,000 is clearly a decision made at the top. Art Drogue (quoted in the section above), Sr. Vice President Customer Development, had a significant say in the development of this particular initiative. I was unable to reach him for comment, but Sabrina confirmed that he was the leader in organizing this effort from the executive side along with the support and on-site coordination of Laura McCafferty.
A New Strategy?!?
For the last six years I have been investigating the various programs and types of projects in which corporations engage as formal examples of Business VolunTourism. Generally, corporate meetings and incentives will rely on meeting professionals - either in-house or through destination management companies or other independent entities - to develop and coordinate VolunTourism activities in a given destination.
This is by far the most comprehensive program that I have discovered in which the corporation utilized a combination of meeting professionals and in-house Community Relations to conduct what would normally be an outsourced activity. (Of course, this could be a result of lack of disclosure by companies as to the amount of in-house influence that occurs in developing and implementing these projects. Or it could also be an element that writers did not deem worthy of "ink".)
I still consider it to be significant.
Whether it has been occurring or not simply means that the word "new" can be deleted and strategy can be upheld - for this is indeed a strategy.
When a company engages its employees in practice that resonates with an existing policy of civic engagement and corporate social responsibility, and does so "on the road," this is furthering the business ideals beyond the confines of "home" destinations. VolunTourism becomes a business strategy, not simply a "feel good" activity.
Business VolunTourism is what a company makes of it. It can be a strategy. It can be a social engagement activity for meeting participants or incentive travelers. It can be an element of corporate social responsibility. It can be something to pass away the time.
Whatever a company determines is the primary reason behind its Business VolunTourism, the manner by which it communicates this determination will ultimately signal just how valuable of a commodity it will be. The more it is seen as an investment, both internally and externally, the greater will be the return on that investment.
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