Traveling for a Cause

by Ana Figueroa
Traveling for a Cause

Part 1 in a series.

The travel industry has a long history of partnering with nonprofits for social causes. But these days, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, agency consortia, host agencies and global marketing groups  are ramping up their efforts.

From cause-related marketing to corporate volunteerism, travel companies and nonprofits are working together in smarter ways than ever.

The rewards are plentiful, and agents should take note. While the most-visible examples of corporate do-goodism tend to come from large companies, including travel suppliers, small businesses can also be quite successful. (See sidebar for tips.)

Travel for a cause
A classic form of public-private marketing partnerships is known as cause marketing. Basically, a cause marketing campaign pairs a for-profit with a nonprofit for mutual benefit.  

Notable examples involve consumer products on grocery store shelves. Dawn Dishwashing Liquid may donate a dollar to wildlife restoration for every bottle of soap sold. Or Yoplait Yogurt will donate money to breast cancer research for every specially-marked yogurt lid that consumers turn in.

Touching the heart
Though the travel industry doesn’t sell dish soap or yogurt, it’s a perfect match for cause marketing.

“In today’s environment, the consumer is looking for many things when they travel. Some want leisure relaxation; others want adventure or sightseeing. But all of them are looking for memorable experiences and a certain extra something that touches their heart,” said David Hessekiel, president of the Cause Marketing Forum, Inc., which offers other resources such as workshops and tele-classes.

Cause marketing traces its early history to the tourism sector.

It came about in the 1970s when Bruce Burtch, then public affairs manager for Marriott’s Great America, designed the opening of Marriott’s new theme park division.

Burtch created a partnership with the March of Dimes that helped bring more than 2 million visitors through the gates in the first year, while setting fundraising records for the March of Dimes.

Some four decades later, Burtch remains one of cause marketing’s most prominent experts and authors. He’s credited with the catchphrase, "Do well by doing good.”

Big opportunities
“From a marketing standpoint, if I’m running a cruise ship or hotel chain and I can create strong brand awareness because I’m doing something good for society or the environment, I’ll have a lot more sales,” said Burtch.

The same principles apply to small businesses as well.

“Cause marketing is a nearly $2 billion dollar industry as of 2014. But there’s still money left on the table, and the travel industry has great opportunities,” said Burtch.

The industry is already seizing those opportunities.

Suppliers take up the cause
Virgin America, for example, supports the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). The airline has partnered with KIPP schools in cities it serves, donating proceeds from ticket sales to those markets.

Carnival Cruise Lines has raised more than $5 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and has set a goal of $8 million by 2017. Onboard participation from passengers is one source of donations. Activities include special dance parties, bingo games and even select bakery items for purchase.

Some travel entities maintain year-round affiliations with a particular cause, hosting special events at key times.

Holland America Line holds On Deck for a Cause events in support of World Cancer Day in February. Passengers and crew around the globe take part in fundraising walks aboard the line’s 15 ships.  

Some river cruise lines are involved in meaningful cause-marketing partnerships as well.

AmaWaterways donates $500 per stateroom on its “In Celebration of Life” cruises to the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer research programs. The cruises take place in October to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness month.

“There’s probably no one who buys a cruise purely to take part in the charitable activity. But it’s a huge enhancement in an era when consumers are looking for extra meaning. With programs like this, the travel industry is following the credo of doing well by doing good,” said Hessekiel.

For those who sell travel, it pays to know which suppliers are taking the lead in the good-works department. “The wise travel agent does research and knows about the corporate citizenship of the companies he or she is selling,” said Hessekiel.

Next time: Travel agency marketing groups are doing more than ever to give back.

Related story:
Read how one New York agent is giving back: Meet Don Raad: Strong for His Community

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