During the summer of 2014, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington DC ran a reward scheme, where guests received a free upgrade in return for volunteering in a community project.
The guests were first given a tour of the DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen engaged in food recycling and meal distribution, and then volunteered at the organisation. In return, they were then given access to the sports complex, breakfast for two and valet parking. The hotel donated $100 to the project on behalf of each guest who participated.
Similar schemes have also been run by the Fairmont hotel chain to encourage interaction between guests and local communities. For example, guests were invited to assist hotel staff with a project to grow healthy vegetables for a school cafeteria, and to clean beaches.
Image credits: Geoff Livingstone / Flickr
Such voluntary schemes could signal a shift towards proactive community engagement on behalf of luxury brands. They also indicate a growing number of tourists keen to gain a deeper understanding of the place they are visiting – beyond the hotel complex.
‘Voluntourism’ does not come with complexities, however. The involvement of the community in designing roles for volunteers is crucial to ensure local jobs aren’t endangered by a constant stream of well-meaning tourists.