Four years ago Lemon Tree Hotels won Gold in the World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM, London for their commitment to barrier-free employment – they were also overall winners that year. Back in January, when international travel had not been precluded by Covid-19, I needed to overnight close to Delhi airport and was booked into the Red Fox Hotel, one of Lemon Tree’s. Always apprehensive encountering one of the Responsible Tourism Award winners for the first time, I was concerned about whether or not they would prove to be worthy winners or not.
I was met at the door by a young man who smiled, took my bag and ushered me to reception. Aircrew were checking in alongside me at reception, and our bags got scrambled. The hotel porter who had me at the door seeing what had happened came over to help and I realised for the first time that he was profoundly deaf. Having retrieved my bag he escorted to the lift. Walking along the corridor on the way to my room, we passed small shelves with paper and pencils and understood the lengths that Lemon Tree had gone to, to create an environment in which he could work. And that he could deliver quality service.
Responsible Tourism is about more than sustainability. It is about the willingness to use tourism to make better places for people to live in. That surely extends to creating employment opportunities for those with disabilities. In our sector the focus has too often been narrowed to the market potential of those precluded from travelling by their need to use a wheel chair. The disability agenda is broader than that and surely should extent to employment.
Lemon Tree’s barrier-free employment strategy is at the heart of their CSR programme, but not of their marketing strategy. Patu Keswani, Chairman & Managing Director of Lemon Tree Hotels, challenged his managers to find ways to employ the differently-abled and disadvantaged Indians because “the brand should stand for more than ‘just profit’.” Lemon Tree is a large, successful and growing company encompassing several brands, 8,000 rooms in 91 hotels across 49 destinations; and it is committed to barrier-free employment.
Lemon Tree has demonstrated that by engaging managers and staff through the teams which deliver service, they can successfully employ: the speech and hearing impaired; the orthopedically handicapped; acid attack survivors; those with Down’s Syndrome and autism; those from below the poverty line; widows and abandoned or abused women; orphans and abandoned girls; and transgender people.
My interview with Aradhana Lal, Vice President – Brand, Communications & Sustainability Initiatives, is available on demand during the Virtual WTM 10 & 11 November – it tells about the programme, explains how it was developed and discusses replication within and beyond the sector. You can access it here.