At the heart of corporate social responsibility is the formation of partnerships with fellow businesses and organizations that align with your business, discovering their needs, and developing a system or program that allows you to help address those needs and positively impact the local community.
As vacation rental professionals, we emphasize the importance of providing our guests and property owners with top-notch customer service ad nauseam. (Sorry, managers. We really do get it.) It’s our bread and butter. We win awards recognizing our excellence in the category. We secure loyal and potential guests by providing it at every touch point. We retain longtime and attract new property owners by going above and beyond. We call attention to it through various marketing efforts. It permeates every aspect of our business.
On the other hand, with the rise in consumer concerns over sustainability and community engagement, how often do we focus on community service and social efforts? How does corporate social responsibility influence the way we run our vacation rental management business? Did you realize you could receive accolades, secure guests and owners, and expand your brand reach with it?
What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?
Generally speaking, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the idea that a company is responsible for positively impacting the community through its actions and business decisions. CSR efforts range widely from incorporating sustainable business practices to offering corporate-wide volunteer projects, collecting donations for community organizations, sponsoring nonprofits and/or local schools, and much more.
Throughout the pandemic, community involvement and engagement became strikingly popular and necessary. For destination markets during the shutdown, the vacation rental industry’s small, local businesses relied heavily on one another and their communities to simply stay afloat. Community partnerships formed naturally out of necessity and to benefit the greater good. Whether we realized it or not, we adopted CSR without a specific intention to do so.
The Heart of CSR
At the heart of leisure travel is the destination. Our guests return year after year for the environment we provide: the beaches, the mountains, the lakes, the culture and history, and the feeling they get from “living like a local.” Not only do we provide guests with a comfortable place to lay their heads, we suggest places to eat and shop, events to attend, activities to try, and attractions to see.
At the heart of CSR is the formation of partnerships with fellow businesses and organizations that align with your business, discovering their needs, and developing a system or program that allows the corporation (your vacation rental management company) to help address those needs and, therefore, positively impact the local community, i.e., the local environment we provide guests.
Aligning Purposes: CSR at Work
In early 2019, People-First Tourism and the NC State Extension (Local Foods, Community Development, and Tourism Extension) approached Margaret Rudd & Associates, Inc., REALTORS® with an opportunity to join their Vacationer Supported Agriculture program. The program, which we internally called “Vacation Vittles,” was in its second year and looking to expand its efforts to provide vacation rental guests with locally grown produce during their vacations. Guests may preorder produce bags, farm fresh eggs, and locally caught shrimp, that are then delivered to real estate partner locations for pickup during guest arrival.
As a small business with strong, community ties to an agriculturally rich area, it was important for Margaret Rudd & Associates, Inc., REALTORS® to promote equitable development through tourism and sustainable agriculture practices. Our participation with the VSA program was an easy way to support our area farmers and fishers while providing an extremely valuable and convenient resource for our vacation rental guests. A win-win when it comes to CSR efforts.
Since the VSA program’s pilot year in 2018 through the 2021 season, the combined efforts of program partners generated in excess of $214,000 in revenue for local farmers and fishers in 13 North Carolina destinations. As if the financial success for our farmers and fishers combined with the overwhelmingly positive and grateful response of our guests wasn’t enough, the VSA program was awarded with the prestigious 2021 Opal Mann Green Award by North Carolina State University’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. This award recognizes democratic engagement in which community partners help shape the direction of a project that meaningfully addresses the needs within a community. Incorporating this simple method of CSR resulted in innumerable benefits for our guests, our homeowners, and the farmers and fishers who are the backbone of our local area.
Brand Benefits of CSR
Incorporating corporate social responsibility into your business strategy is all about sharing your time, your energy, and your resources with the communities you call home and the communities in which you do business. And here’s the thing—it can be pretty simple, inexpensive, and a wonderful marketing tool for your brand.
Adopting a sense of responsibility when it comes to your business and how it impacts the community is a gift that keeps giving. Actions speak louder than words, and consumers attach themselves to brands that convey that they are about more than just revenue. It also goes to show that the actions you take through CSR partnerships, the awards and recognition that come with it, are all fantastic sources for content and marketing.
Reputation and Trust
When the actions and decisions of your business positively affect your community, you build a reputation of authenticity that bolsters the amazing customer service you’re already providing. You earn the trust of potential clients, making them more likely to convert, and you solidify the loyalty of former guests and property owners. In a world where opposition to short-term rentals is rampant, CSR can be an excellent resource in combatting negative stereotypes surrounding the industry by displaying the ways (outside of just tax dollars) in which vacation rental management companies address the needs of the community.
People like to feel good about the work they are doing. Whether you coordinate a day-of service for your entire team or you accept donations for your local shelter, we all like to think that the work we are doing is making a difference out there. On the flip side, guests and property owners want to feel good about the people with whom they do business. By incorporating CSR into your business strategy, you essentially set yourself apart from the competition.
In the words of Bill Ford, “Creating a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals—they are both essential ingredients for long-term success.”
JESSICA FULLER is the current co-chair for the VRMA Marketing Committee and also serves on the VRMA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Subcommittee. She is the digital content and marketing specialist with Margaret Rudd & Associates, Inc., REALTORS® in Oak Island, North Carolina.