Hotels

“Businesses have to be stepping up”: IHG’s Karina O’Gorman talks corporate responsibility during a pandemic

If there is anything the global pandemic has revealed, it is this: which businesses are really walking the talk?

At least, that’s according to Karina O’Gorman, InterContinental Hotels Group’s head of corporate responsibility, looking at global community strategy and ESG reporting, as well as business partnering for the Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa region.

Addressing the Travel DAZE 2020 virtual audience yesterday, O’Gorman said the COVID crisis has put immense pressure on businesses in more ways than the obvious.

Stakeholders are turning to us to see how our business is operating and more so right now as businesses around the world are having to respond to global events such as the COVID crisis, and the racial inequity movement as well,” she said.

“More than ever, there’s a focus on what we’re doing to tackle these issues.

“There’s an expectation that we can’t be waiting for government to legislate. Businesses have to be stepping up and making sure we move that agenda forward.”

You only have to look at how travel and tourism companies have responded to the global crisis so far; from working tirelessly to refund trips, to hotels housing the homeless and acting as quarantine centres for return travellers.

“COVID has really put to the test the commitments we make and the way we operate,” O’Gorman said.

“In Australia and other countries around the world, we were able to quickly offer our accommodation to front line workers, military personnel and vulnerable members of society such as the homeless.”

According to O’Gorman, many of the homeless members of the community that were housed by hotels at the start of the pandemic were longterm homeless and had not had much contact with service providers designed to help vulnerable members of society.

“Certainly for many of the homeless people that were we talked to the fact that for the first time in many years they had a space that was their own, they could lock a door they could shower, they didn’t have to worry about where they would sleep the next night,” she said.

“It was really powerful to see the opportunity that our sector could bring during such a difficult time.” 

O’Gorman said the COVID-crises has not drawn attention from the climate crisis, in fact, if anything she said it has made climate change more real for many people.

“[People may] understand that there are issues in the world, we understand that the climate crisis is coming but perhaps it never felt truly tangible to people,” she said.

“They couldn’t understand it or touch and feel that it was happening here and now it felt like a much more distant problem.

“But I think this year what’s happened has really brought to life examples to help people understand that this is a crisis that is happening now and it is something we need to be thinking about.”

What’s most important for the industry is thinking about ways to recover the right way, and O’Gorman said sustainability needs to be at the heart of that.

“Another key thing the COVID crisis has taught us is the importance of the travel and tourism industry,” she said.

“Our industry can stimulate economic growth and we are an important member of local economies.

“As we start to recover, there are opportunities to grow local markets and that can be through working with local suppliers who provide the goods and services for our hotels, it can also be about driving further spending in the local areas as more people start to stay in our hotels.”

But most importantly, O’Gorman believes in the importance of collaboration in recovery.

“Collaboration is going to be important moving forward. We’re going to need to be working with our peers but also with governments so we can tackle these issues,” she said.

“When we think about what we’ve learned this year, the need to collaborate globally and connect is more important than ever.”

You can watch O’Gorman’s Travel DAZE session in full, on demand HERE.

And, there are still more speakers to come this week as part of Travel DAZE 2020. Check out when they will be featuring HERE.

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