As players in the tourism and hospitality industry, our actions have a significant impact on the socio-economic development of the places we operate in, from the jobs we create to the resources our businesses consume – both natural and social.
Whether yours is a chain hotel, a privately-owned flat or anything in between, engaging your local community is a crucial step towards socio-economic sustainability. By treating local stakeholders as equitable partners, such that your business model protects and supports their livelihoods and wellbeing, you can create important mutual long-term benefits.
Socio-economic sustainability creates thriving societies that are supported by businesses with a firm foothold in the local economy. This section explores how community engagement promotes this goal, what its benefits are and how you can start to engage your own local community.
Four benefits of engaging your local community
1. It strengthens the foundation of your business
Engaging your local community creates a matrix of interdependent, mutually beneficial businesses. Empowering and employing local talent creates jobs and income, and builds out a pool of talent that can in turn support your business in the future. On a large scale, a stronger workforce is an important asset for your business’ long-term sustainability.
2. You’ll stand out to travellers looking for authentic experiences
The majority of travellers (66%) want to have experiences that are representative of the local culture and to leave the places they visit in a better state than when they arrived (59%). In fact, one in four say they’re willing to pay more for activities that ensure they’re giving back to local communities. Offering experiences in your community is a great way to set yourself apart, while shining a light on local businesses. So is prioritising locally made products at your property.
3. It supports your broader sustainability efforts
Treating your local community as your stakeholder also helps facilitate the protection and regeneration of the environment you’re operating in – a goal you certainly can’t achieve in isolation. Consulting or involving members of your local community gives you access to diverse perspectives and expertise, which you can leverage when developing strategies to pursue your broader sustainability goals. Take Playa Viva, a boutique hotel in Mexico, as an example. The resort takes a regenerative approach to business, using only local materials for construction. The hotel also supports healthcare and educational programmes for the local community, and through community engagement plays an important role in the ongoing regeneration of the social and ecological systems in which it’s based.
4. You’ll build trust and strengthen your reputation
The Lemon Tree Hotels group has a policy of hiring 20% of its employees from marginalised groups in its communities. These include differently abled people, transgender people and women ostracised by their communities. This inclusive policy won it an award in 2019 and has contributed to a strong brand image and international visibility. Playing an active part in your community’s development embeds your business in the fabric of society. You’re part of important conversations and decisions, and you can build a strong and trustworthy reputation – an enormous asset to a business in the long term.
How to start engaging your local community
The easiest way to start engaging your local community is to use it to meet your supply and service needs. Inventory the products and amenities at your property and see whether there are local businesses that can supply those to you. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to switch from a wholesale supplier to a community-based initiative. Consider how you can incorporate community-based products or creations into your decor, interior design or guest offering.
Develop an impactful hiring policy
Hiring locally is another way to engage your local community. It’s also an opportunity to address secondary social issues where they exist. For example, are there marginalised groups you could give employment opportunities to? Can your hiring policy start a larger conversation about diversity and inclusion? Remember that your property can also support the personal development of local community members. Pay attention to the opportunities available to local employees versus international employees to enter into management positions. Offering training enables employees to build skills that can help them further their career opportunities.
Empower other local entrepreneurs
Consider the services and experiences booked by your guests outside your property. Understanding the ownership structures of tour operators, restaurants, shops and attractions can help you support other local entrepreneurs. You might consider selling locally made handicrafts in your gift shop, for example, or advertising local tour guides who work and live in the community. Connect with other businesses and organisations in your local tourism and hospitality industry to see whether there’s a way you can better collaborate.
Offer guests opportunities to engage with local culture
Engaging the local community is a great way to create more authentic experiences for your guests. You can provide information on the local ecosystem, heritage and culture, or go one step further and facilitate your guests’ immersion in all of this through excursions into the community or environment. You can also consider:
- Organising meals or cooking workshops at a local’s home
- Organising cultural performances by local artists
- Curating special tours, for example of the local architecture, farms or villages
- Organising visits to festivals and local events
Champion your community
Your property or chain is also a platform that you can use to champion your community. Advertise local businesses, share local art and prioritise raising awareness for community engagement. You can also support your community by investing in it financially – whether through projects, funds or even individuals.
Show travellers what you’re doing
Share your community engagement efforts with travellers on our platform by updating your facilities. This is a great way to showcase your business values and help you stand out from the crowd, especially to travellers who are actively searching for more sustainable, regenerative travel opportunities.
Have you implemented any of these practices to support your surrounding area or community?
Discover our other sustainability guides:
The places we live in and visit as tourists are kept vital by the other species that inhabit them. Working together to protect the wellbeing of animals isn’t just an ethical responsibility – it’s also how we’ll ensure the longevity of the environments we value.
Reducing food waste
About a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Given that food can represent a significant cost, reducing waste has huge savings potential – and a positive impact on your environmental footprint.
Reducing water consumption
Fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce. That’s why we need to start cutting water consumption today – and it’s going to take more than just asking guests to reuse towels. But the environmental and financial upsides are worth the investment.