It's Not Just the Big Guys: Independent Hotels are Doing Their Share to Make a Difference

It's Not Just the Big Guys: Independent Hotels are Doing Their Share to Make a Difference

Larger hotel companies boast foundations and often have funds and programs dedicated to helping worthy causes. But, in an industry that has a history of giving back and adopting charities that they assist in a variety of methods, the independent hotels want to get in on the action as well. They know the benefits of philanthropy to both their employees and guests, and like the branded properties, they want to help others in a meaningful way.

Sometimes, it can be more challenging for independents - that don't have the backing of a chain behind them - to create a solid community-based volunteer initiative. That is where the creativity comes in.

It's Not Just the Big Guys: Independent Hotels are Doing Their Share to Make a Difference

For instance, The Garland Hotel in North Hollywood, Calif., organizes block parties twice a year to raise money for different charities, said Scott Mills, general manager of the 257-room property that opened in 1970. The event is held on a Sunday from 2-5 pm, and the hotel's restaurant, The Front Yard, provides the food for the tastings. Wineries and breweries partner with the hotel as well. There is live music, a photo booth, and face painting as well. About 275-350 area residents come to each block party, with anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 being raised, Mills added. Beneficiaries of the proceeds have included local conservation groups, food banks, homeless shelters, and others.

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Scott Mills

"Whether you are a branded hotel or an independent, it is meaningful and important to be a participating partner in the wellness of the community and of future generations," Mills said. "You just need to be extra creative and bring in partners to make things happen."

Another independent, across the country in Chicago, uses the fabric of its neighborhood as a springboard to philanthropy. The 117-room boutique Hotel Chicago West Loop, located in an arts and culinary hub of the city, features artwork from local artists in public spaces and some guest rooms. In addition, if guests ask for the property's special "Annex" rate, 10 percent of the proceed from that room rate goes to a fund that assists local artists' programs, said Jennifer DeCarlo, art director for the Annex concept at the hotel.

"We want our giving back to be a mirror to the different facets of our community, and we are using art to drive the vision of the hotel and give it a strong identity," DeCarlo said.

At Philadelphia-based Hersha Hotels & Resorts, which includes 21 independent hotels in its 114-property portfolio, philanthropic efforts have been numerous over the years. One of the major focuses currently is on a sustainability, program called EarthView, according to Matthew Lobach, Hersha's director of sustainability.

Starting next month, Hersha will be teaming up with, a non-profit organization that helps bring well water to East African nations. Herhsa has created a private-labeled EarthView water bottle made from recycled plastic that will be sold at its hotels. For each bottle sold, the company is donating $1 to help build wells in East Africa, specifically in Tanzania, Lobach added.

The company also partnered with the non-profit Clean the World in 2010 to collect partially used soaps and shampoos from guestrooms. These were then sent to Clean the World to be sanitized, repackaged, and delivered to communities around the world where there are high rates of hygiene-related illness and death. The hotel donations have created approximately 500,000 new bars of soap.

"We are seeing an increasing number of talented individuals who are entering the workforce interested in working with innovative companies that not only have a strong business performance, but also put a focus on their communities and the environment," Lobach said.

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