How to approach CSR as an incentive travel professional in 2024

Ready with perspectives and examples from across the islands, Meet Hawai'i treated SITE members and friends to a March 2024 webinar focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Moderator Kainoa Daines led an hour-long discussion that touched on CSR basics and best practices, with speakers also sharing how they’ve taken more unconventional and creative approaches to incorporate CSR into incentive travel itineraries — especially with clients that were not used to dedicating time and budgets to this kind of programming.

Here are the highlights of what panelists shared, to inspire your next kick-off and increase the social impact of your own incentive programs.

Ask upfront about CSR

Lauren Gamer, Regional Director of Sales for PRA’s Hawaiian office, stressed that having an early conversation about how to include CSR as part of an incentive sets everyone up for much stronger success. Even if you’re just considering a CSR activation, Lauren said, it’s worth saying so as early as you can in the planning process.

Floating questions and ideas early allows you to tap destination resources from the get-go — often adding greater depth to CSR programming. “The more time we have, the more special a CSR opportunity can be,” Lauren counseled.

Lauren also pointed out that early CSR conversations allow everyone to budget correctly. CSR requires the correct human resources — people need to be thoughtfully deployed, Lauren said — and you need the right materials. The more time you give your planning team and destination partners, the more they can do!

Frank Robinson, President and Owner of Island Events, added that CSR discussions can be a natural pathway toward understanding your client’s values and program objectives, giving an example of a client he had who were open to a CSR activity if it didn’t detract from giving qualifiers time to golf, a big priority for their travel reward.

A little digging led Frank to a Maui nonprofit that teaches kids how to golf while imparting important life lessons on the green. Frank partnered with this nonprofit to create an afternoon of give-back golf lessons — resulting in a meaningful community engagement opportunity that aligned with one of his client’s key goals. Par for the course, if you ask early enough to unleash creative options! 

Tap local talent

Lauren Manuel, Managing Partner at Makana Hawai'i Incentives, had tons of examples of speakers she’s helped clients secure — as another unique way to usher in CSR win-wins.

A meeting component that some incentives include are of course natural places for these speakers. Lauren had other examples too though of where local knowledge and talent can support more traditional incentive elements.

Lauren spoke about engaging a local poke bowl vendor, for instance, who provided interactive entertainment connected to one evening’s food & beverage offerings. This vendor also supports safe, responsible fishing practices, and donates a portion of their F&B proceeds toward educational efforts that keep traditional fishing practices alive.

You can do the same, Lauren M. said, by making thoughtful gifting partner selections and tapping local artists to provide take-home products for guests, and even get them involved in production as an activity itself.

These examples, Lauren M. pointed out, are also great ways to allot budget toward CSR elements by using funds that have already been appropriated to cover these line-items.

Destination partners are also excellent sources of local knowledge themselves. Lauren M. serves on local nonprofit boards and often uses the knowledge from her community volunteering to identify true needs in her community. She then communicates this back to clients who are interested in CSR activities so groups can meaningfully and responsibility give back.  

Don’t write off for-profit operators

Doing good isn’t just the mandate for nonprofits in a destination, panelists advised. Lauren M. gave examples of different tour companies in Hawai'i where doing things like pulling invasive species during a hike or plucking trash to throw away at the end of an excursion are naturally incorporated into activities.

Frank shared a similar recent experience he’d had, where an ATV tour by a for-profit operator built time into their route to plant trees in support of a local reforestation project. This didn’t detract from the activity whatsoever, Frank said: it actually enhanced it.

Small gestures matter, too

Frank’s ATV experience is a perfect example of how giving back doesn’t have to be an all-day project or involve elaborate planning: small gestures matter, too and can still be meaningful for participants.

“Impact is impact,” said Kainoa. “There are so many opportunities in every community, that it can be just as meaningful to look for small opportunities where you can make an impact.”

Even finding small ways to keep more of your budget circulating in a local community can make a massive difference. Lauren G. explained, “there are so many options that make both sides of the equation  [planners and destination partners] feel good” while stressing that CSR does not have to be a standalone line-item.

If attendees leave feeling like they got to engage with the community and did something that will positively impact a destination’s residents, “then everyone wins!” Laura G. said. 

Change the framing 

One of the webinar’s most resonant takeaways came from Kainoa, who unpacked the layers of meaning behind the Hawaiian word kuleana.

Kainoa explained that kuleana roughly translates to “responsibility” — but stressed that it’s not about feeling like you “have” to do something, but rather, “get the privilege” of enjoying different opportunities.

This framing was smattered throughout the webinar, with panelists agreeing that framing CSR activities not as something you “have’ to do but “get” to do can be transformational. It can reshape attitudes, enrich activities, and bring even skeptical leaders onboard with making CSR part of an incentive program.   

SITE members can enjoy a replay of the March 2024 Meet Hawaiʻi webinar in SITE’s LearnHub. You can also find examples of standout CSR incentive travel programming as part of SITE’s annual Crystal Awards program.

Written by

SITE Staff


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