While some hospitality organisations may view corporate responsibility as little more than a fad useful for milking headlines, for Singapore-based Martin Rinck, President, Asia Pacific for Hilton Worldwide, "it's a philosophy, part of the DNA of our organisation, an integral part of how we run our business. Travel with Purpose [launched in 2011] is the umbrella for our CR globally. It really stands on three solid pillars, which are about creating opportunities, engaging with communities, and living sustainably."
During a wide-ranging interview with Meetings & Conventions Asia, Rinck expanded on Hilton's deeply committed relationship to corporate responsibility. "We invest in and create career opportunities, support the community through NGOs. Living sustainably is everything from abolishing shark fin on our menus a-year-and-a-half ago, to serving sustainable seafood, to protecting the environment through energy conservation, water conservation, waste management, and CO2 emission reduction. Travel with purpose is activated and lived throughout the organisation on a daily basis."
These are lofty ideals and commendable principles on paper but Hilton's doctrines become even weightier when you consider the numbers. Since 2009, Hilton Worldwide has reduced energy use by 14.5 percent, carbon output by 20.9 percent, waste output by 27.6 percent, and water use by 14.1 percent. This from a global juggernaut with 4,500 managed, franchised or owned hotels and timeshare properties, 745,000 rooms in almost 100 countries, more than 155,000 staff, and 50 million Hilton Honors members. "Since 2009, through energy conservation we have saved the company US$550 million," Rinck continues with considerable understatement. "That is not an insignificant number. Energy management doesn't just help the planet, it also saves money."
Third parties have recognised Hilton's efforts. "We are the first non-manufacturing industry to get global ISO 9001, 14001, and 50001 certifications. Why did we achieve this? Because we have a proprietary system LightStay [launched in 2009 and now in every Hilton Worldwide property] that manages every single component-water consumption, energy consumption, it looks at waste management data, carbon emissions." At the end of last year, the US Department of Energy awarded three Hiltons in the United States the Superior Energy Performance certification, the first hospitality company to receive this. "It's a recognition of what we're doing and we're very proud of it. We don't do this to get PR mileage out of it, but for the right reasons."
As important as the resource management is the company's desire and drive to improve local communities. "In India, through the Room to Read programme, we are educating 300 girls. We help their literacy, then have a job shadowing programme, and the next step in the journey is employment with Hilton Worldwide because we have a growing footprint in India and ability to offer employment." In September 2015, Hilton Worldwide opened a vocational training centre at the Hilton Nay Pi Taw, the first to be established by a global hospitality group in Myanmar, with two-year programmes that teach trainees the skills to operate a hotel. "Some of these students have never left their villages. It is incredibly exciting and heart-warming to see them," beams Rinck. "It's a perfect example of making a meaningful difference in a community where we work." Hilton has two properties in Myanmar, with four more due to open by 2019.
Meeting planners in Asia Pacific can also make a tangible difference through Hilton's Clean Air programme that runs in concert with events. Folded into the pricing, it offsets the carbon footprint of a meeting by purchasing credits in nine projects supported in the region, such as a windmill farm in Tasmania. There are 92 properties in APAC in the Clean Air programme, more than half of the portfolio. "We have the ability of offsetting a meeting's carbon footprint with credits and the market is very receptive to it." Attendees can be informed during an event precisely where the offset is going, a tangible way for them to see the change. For more inquisitive MICE customers, Hilton can arrange community visits or outings for groups.
The dedication to reduction and efficiency has extended to more practical aspects. "For small and simple meetings [25 people or less, known as Meetings Simplified], we have a two-page contract, it's easier, with a more flexible cancellation policy." The service has been designed with feedback from meetings planners, on-the-go workers, entrepreneurs, and administrative professional, and streamlines the process for booking meetings. Organisers enrolled in the Hilton HHonors programme will receive credits redeemable against future events. CR, of course, underpins everything. "We run meetings with purpose. We look at reducing waste, for registration, how can you reduce paper, administration, what can you do to reduce additional use of resources, how can you reduce food waste, and how can it be efficient energy wise?" And even if Hilton's proposals are competitively priced, as Rinck memorably sums it up, "Quality is long remembered after price is forgotten."