How to get started with better community relations

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By Carolyn Wincer, 2nd August 2021

Travelife for Accommodation explains how businesses can get started with engaging and supporting the communities they influence, an issue of increasing concern to consumers.

Data shows that consumers are increasingly concerned about how their buying behaviours impact other people. From where their morning coffee is sourced through to how their annual holiday impacts people in the destinations they visit, the way businesses protect and respect the welfare of people in the communities they influence has become critical to managing reputation and risk. In this article we share our expertise about how to get started with a good community engagement and support strategy.

A recent survey conducted by ABTA, the travel association, found that 62% of UK travellers believe that travel companies should ensure holidays help local people and their economy.

2019 ABTA Holiday Habits Report

Start with an impact assessment

A good community engagement and support strategy will be specific to your location. Whilst multinational companies can (and should) come up with a blanket statement of commitment, your policy will only be effective if it takes local factors into consideration and is tailored to your various operational hubs. For example, a safari camp in Kenya will need to do a lot of work on understanding the indigenous cultures they might impact, whereas a new call centre in London will be more concerned with homelessness and how they influence traffic congestion, with a beach resort in Thailand thinking more about how they affect access to livelihoods such as fishing.

As with any good sustainability strategy, the best place to start is by benchmarking how well you are currently doing and assessing your risks. We suggest you start with the following questions about how your business operations affects people in your community.  This exercise will help you to understand how you might be impacting the community, positively or negatively, and where you can improve.

Do we interrupt the supply of, or access to, essential resources such as water?

Do we impact access to essential services such as education, healthcare or shopping?

Do we prevent people from accessing their traditional sources of income?

Could we influence culture, customs or traditions?

Will we change the way people enjoy their community?

Find out what is important to your community

Before you move on to the planning and policy phase, have a good understanding on the issues of importance locally by asking the following questions, and consulting with both local staff and community groups wherever possible:

What issues are important to the people who live here?

Are their any indigenous peoples? How can we understand more about how to respect their culture and traditions?

How can our business improve this community? And how can we make sure that local people will welcome these improvements?

The importance of engaging with local people

Your work in this area will be most effective if it involves good consultation with the right people. For example, if you have indigenous people in your location, find out how to approach local representatives to establish any issues they are having along with the best ways for your business to respect their rights and customs.

In any location, it is a good idea to get involved with  community groups to get the best sense of what the problems and opportunities are, as well as to make valuable local contacts. This could start with things like joining a chamber of commerce and keeping an eye out for any public hearings that you can send a representative to. On that note, you should make one person responsible for leading and coordinating your efforts to establish good community relations, ensuring their tasks are incorporated into their job description and that they regularly report on progress.

Develop a policy that your community can easily access

Your findings about local community issues, your potential impacts, along with your own company culture, should help you write a statement outlining your commitments to respecting and protecting your community, and how you will meet those commitments. Ideally, your policy should include some specific goals and targets that will be meaningful both to your staff, and local people, and that are based on specific local issues you identified. These goals could be philanthropic, such as helping to build a community centre or starting an apprenticeship programme for local students, or they could be about general community improvements such as organising regular beach clean-ups, supporting a programme to help stray animals or helping local conservation efforts.

It is important that your policy is easily accessible to your suppliers, customers and local people, ideally via your website and in the languages that are most commonly spoken in the community. And to have the best chance of developing a good working relationship with people locally, you should publish an annual report that outlines the progress you have made, sets any new goals and reaffirms your commitments.

As we have mentioned many times before, engaging your staff is extremely powerful. Hopefully most of them are from the community so can offer valuable insight and this work offers them something to be really proud of.

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