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VT Cast #29: Ritz Carlton & VolunTourism


How has Ritz Carlton created its VolunTourism Initiative? Why are they branching into this arena? What are some of the challenges to keep in mind when developing such initiatives? These questions and more will be addressed during this episode of The VolunTourist.

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Past Webcast - March 25, 2008

Research Forum

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Mark Sherwin, General Manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Tyson's Corner [Bio]; Sue Stephenson, Vice President, Community Footprints, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC [Bio].


[Given the way that Voluntourism, at least in the hotel industry, has been perceived as being associated, primarily, with supporting the recovery in the Gulf Coast & New Orleans, how does your involvement potentially change this perception?]

"Well, I think the way we looked at it was - - even before we even thought of it as a Voluntourism activity - - it was all about how can we become a more integrated member of our community - - a community in which our ladies and gentlemen who work here, they live, they work, and how can we give back to the community that has supported us over the years. So as we looked for opportunities to become integrated into the community, this particular opportunity came up.

At the same time Sue (Stephenson) and the Ritz-Carlton Corporate environment was also looking at this on a much more macro-level. So because we have, and I can certainly let Sue speak to it in more detail, because we have so many different types of hotels in such diverse locations, you really have to tailor the activity to what's relevant to the guests and the people who live in those communities, as well as the hotel and what the ladies and gentlemen of those hotels are passionate about.

And that's where we came up with the partnership with the Rainbow Center which allowed us to be passionate about helping children. The concept of the horseback riding was indigenous to suburban Virginia, which is also known as 'hunt country.' And so it really was a natural extension of who and what we are and where we're located in Virginia." Mark Sherwin

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[Sue, is that something that you're looking forward to seeing unfold over time is this different relationship that will be created between team members and guests? Is that something that you are really looking forward to following over time?]

"Yes, I think it's going to be fascinating to follow, because our instincts are that it's going to be incredibly positive; we'll create a lasting impression for everyone involved. But it is a new experience, this aspect of our Community Footprints' journey. So to me, it's the most exciting part of this program. And, not just for the guests and the employees, but also the partner organizations - - because one of the guiding principles we set up at the beginning was that it had to be positive for everybody involved. So the partner organization that we're partnering with, this has to be a very positive experience and benefit them and the causes they're representing in every way. But also that element with the guest and the employee; but also the opportunity to introduce guests to causes out there that they would not previously have known about that maybe they will develop themselves a longer, broader connection with and a greater interest in exploring further ways that they can benefit that organization.

I had a very interesting call yesterday with a lady who called me to say that she had just stayed at our property in Key Biscayne and had read the article in the USA Today. She said that she lived in a very affluent part of - - I think she was actually calling from New York, but she said that to her, one of the benefits she saw was enabling parents to expose their children to projects where people are not as fortunate, really to help open their eyes up, to educate, and help to engage them in community efforts.

So, that's something that we had thought about. It was great to hear it from a, directly from a customer, and great for her to take the time to contact me yesterday. But it reinforced what we think people will say; but, again, that longer - - that ability to develop a longer - - experience. So, although these are only half-day programs, we think for the guest it will develop more engagement and more interest in these tremendous programs that are out there." Sue Stephenson

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Guest Bios

Mark Sherwin, General Manager for The Ritz-Carlton, Tyson's Corner


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

A veteran in the world of luxury hotels, Mark Sherwin is General Manager for The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner. Mr. Sherwin comes from the corporate headquarters of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, where he has served as regional vice president of sales and marketing for the Northeast and Midwest region since July of 2001.

Sherwin brings an extensive background in sales and marketing and operations to the hotel. Prior positions include serving as vice president for sales strategy for Marriott Lodging in Washington, D.C., and director of sales and marketing for several Marriott Hotels and Resorts located throughout the U.S. Sherwin’s hotel managerial experience includes: area general manager for Marriott Lodging in Atlanta, Georgia, Regional Manager for Residence Inn by Marriott across a 5 state region, and resident manager for the JW Marriott at Lenox Mall in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned his B.S. from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and an MBA from Georgia State University’s Robinson School of Business.

Situated comfortably in Northern Virginia's most exclusive business and shopping district, The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner is a Mobil Travel Guide Four-Star, AAA Four Diamond hotel located in McLean, Virginia, adjacent to The Tysons Galleria.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C. of Chevy Chase, Md., ( USA) currently operates 70 hotels in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The Ritz-Carlton is the only service company to have twice earned the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which recognizes outstanding customer service.

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Sue Stephenson, Vice President, Community Footprints, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC

Sue Stephenson, a hotel executive with 25 years experience in the hospitality industry, relocated from England to the United States in 1991 to join The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC. The company, which is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, generates US$3 billion a year in annual revenues and currently has 70 properties across the United States, Caribbean, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

From 2001 to 2006, Sue was the Senior Vice President, Human Resources. In this role, she worked closely with the President & Chief Operating Officer and members of the Corporate Executive Committee as the company undertook a global expansion. Sue provided leadership and strategic direction to a human resources organization that is committed to the delivery of service excellence through innovative and sustainable human resources approaches.

In 2006, Sue assumed the leadership of The Ritz-Carlton social responsibility program, Community Footprints. Reporting to the President and Chief Operating Officer, Sue is charged with expanding the company’s global efforts in hunger and poverty relief, child welfare and environmental conservation through a series of multi-faceted initiatives. In 2007, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company donated over $7.40 million in products, facilities and services to support local community organizations and employees participated in more than 40,000 hours of volunteer service.

Most recently, Sue has been leading the development of a companywide voluntourism effort. In April 1, 2008, “Give Back Getaways” will be launched enabling guests at the seventy Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts around the world to volunteer during part of their stay to improve and assist the local community where they are vacationing. The half-day programs are unique to each destination and offer guests a variety of opportunities including preparing and distributing food to homeless families, helping to protect endangered species of wildlife, renovating facilities at orphanages, and building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Full details of the programs will be available from April 1, 2008 on www.givebackgetaways.com

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