by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | November 7, 2016

Cheryl-Anne SturkenThis week, the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association released its latest hotel trends survey, and its findings offer key insights into the rapidly evolving U.S. hotel industry as it strives to keep pace with higher expectations from travelers. The usual suspects are cited: increased reliance on Mobile apps and greater investment in technology; more guest services and in-room amenities such as complimentary breakfast and flat-screen TVs; and a greater emphasis on sustainability.

What really caught my eye, however, were the findings on charitable giving and hotels' commitment to being valuable members of their communities. Of the 8,000 properties participating in the survey, 85 percent said they contribute to charities, and more than 61 percent said their employees contribute volunteer hours to charity. I wonder how many Fortune 500 corporations can make the same claim.

place setting at Sonesta community eventAt Newton, Mass.-based Sonesta Resorts and Hotels, community involvement is huge. The chain’s Sonesta Culture of Caring program is a major supporter of The Food Project, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that pairs disadvantaged youth with sustainable agricultural projects, an effort garnering national attention. Every year, TFP works with 150 teens and thousands of volunteers to farm more than 70 acres of fields, the produce from which the teens then bring back to their own neighborhoods and local food pantries for distribution.

During this year’s World Food Day (Oct. 16), several dozen Sonesta employees walked the talk. They raised $7,500 in donations while getting their hands dirty weeding, raking beds and picking produce at Baker Bridge Farm, near Sonesta headquarters and right down the road from Concord, where Henry David Thoreau lived a life of simplicity on Walden Pond. And when the hotel staffers were done filling bin after bin of vegetables and fruit to be delivered later that week to local communities, they sat down to meal of their own harvest at a rustic long table, set right in the middle of a field at Baker Bridge Farm. "There was no better setting to be reminded of our farm-to-table values," said Lori Juliano, corporate director of communications for Sonesta, who noted that the brand's 70 hotels in eight countries strive to buy locally-sourced food products.

Sonesta employees lunching after a community eventWhen I asked if a corporate client might replicate this outing as a corporate social responsibility option, Carlos Flores, Sonesta's president and CEO, was enthusiastic in his response. "Even in a rural location, with limited running water and no permanent structure, we were able to introduce a farm-to-table meal, complete with place settings, menu cards and flower," he said. "The meal was served family-style at our request, so that even the service tied into the sense of community we were trying to engender. The team is eager to have us do it, or something similar, again."

I say, well done, Sonesta!