Best Socially Conscious Hotel Chains
By Faustine Wohlfart
Here, Faustine names her Hotel Chain picks:
Best Socially Conscious Hotel Chain Overall 2019 -- Marriott
Best Hotel Chain for LGTBQ + Equality 2019 -- Kimpton
Best Hotel Chain for Gun Control 2019 -- Undetermined
Most people don’t want to spend their holiday thinking about the injustices of the world or our impact on the planet. That’s why we want to help you think about it before you book your stay.
Hospitality is an enormous industry, with a real opportunity to make a difference.
Travelers and tourists spent 8.8 trillion dollars in 2018, and when Americans travel, lodging is one of the biggest expenditures, second only to transportation.
Directing your lodging spending to companies showing leadership on social consciousness rewards those who deserve to be rewarded and encourages others to follow suit.
Having reviewed the corporate policies and behaviors of some of the world’s largest—and some not quite as large—hotel chains, we think that Marriott International is the best choice for most socially conscious travelers looking to stay in a large international hotel chain.
Opinions and information in this review are from the writer alone and not from SweetScore.
Views expressed are not necessarily those of SweetScore.
Best Socially Conscious Hotel Chain Overall - Marriott Hotels
Marriott International distinguishes themselves by having ambitious goals on a very wide variety of issues. By the year 2025, Marriott plans to reduce their water use by 15%, carbon by 30%, landfill waste by 45% and food waste by 50%, as well as increase renewable energy sources to more than 30%. At the same time, all Marriott hotels should have received a sustainability certification. Marriott also aims to responsibly source 95% of the products in certain categories, including animal proteins, cocoa, coffee, seafood and textiles, and they have already come some way towards achieving those goals.
Other important 2025 goals pertain to equality. This includes achieving gender parity in the global company leadership and investing at least five million dollars in programs and partnerships for women, diverse populations, people with disabilities, youth, veterans and refugees.
Travelers who have a special interest in women or gender and sexual diversity might be concerned to learn that the Marriott family has close ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, which has historically been associated with racial bigotry, a strong anti-LGBTQ stance and Republican politics, which equates to climate change denial, suppression of voting rights and other ills. Both the company founder, J.W. Marriott Sr., and the current Executive Chairman, J.W. Marriott Jr., have served as Bishops in the Mormon denomination.
Through its Mormon connection, Marriott also has close ties to former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is a life-long family friend of the Marriott family and has spent more than ten years on Marriott’s board of directors. Romney is of course well known for wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade, effectively criminalizing abortion, and seeking to defund Planned Parenthood, an action which would deprive underprivileged communities of affordable healthcare—but he is also no longer serving as a board member and has recently, quite appropriately, been critical of Trump.
Mormon ties withstanding, Marriott has shown much support for the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to running ad campaigns with openly gay and trans celebrities, the company has provided benefits for the same-sex domestic partners of American employees since the late 1990’s, supported the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and currently partners with many gender and sexual diversity organizations, like the Human Rights Campaignand PFLAG.
Marriott was a very strong contender in almost all of our categories. They have a strong position on environmental issues and ambitious goals that they are showing progress towards; they are above industry average on human rights initiatives; they have ambitious goals on diversity and equality; and they show excellent leadership on LGBTQ+ issues. That is why we have named them the overall most socially conscious hotel chain.
Best Hotel Chain for the Environment - Hilton Hotels
The very nature of hotels put them at a high risk for wastefulness. Hotels must be optimally heated and cooled; guest rooms, lobbies, corridors and outdoor spaces must be lit; food and drinks must be maintained at optimal temperatures; luxury facilities must be ready; and a large fleet of machines is ever running to ensure that everything a guest comes into contact with is spotless. There is the frequent laundering of linens and towels after a single use. There is the actual waste: complementary soaps and their plastic wrappers, tiny barely-touched bottles of shampoo, packaging for cleaning supplies gone through at rocket speed, and excess food from brunches and buffets.
With a record 69% of Americans believing in global warming, there is more pressure than ever on the travel and hospitality industries to do their part for the planet, and hotel chains are taking on the challenge with gusto—especially Hilton.
Many hotels chains are currently doing exciting things for the environment. All hotels in the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants fleet, for example, are currently certified by the Green Keyeco-label and the TripAdvisor GreenLeaders program. Accor Hotels is in the process of planting 1,000 urban vegetable gardens at their hotels by 2020. Marriott has an impressive guest sustainability program that provides customers with monetary incentives to make more environmentally sustainable choices during their stay. Wyndham Worldwide hit their 2020 carbon emissions goal in 2015.
But our winner in the category of environmental protections is nevertheless Hilton. With environmental targets set as a percentage of an individually chosen baseline year, it’s difficult to compare the footprints and progress of different hotel chains. But Hilton stands out by having a much longer track record for their environmental work. Hilton has chosen 2008 as their baseline year and has shown consistent progress ever since. By 2017, they had reduced their carbon emissions by 30%, their overall energy use by 21%, their water use by 20% and their landfill waste by 31%. While Marriott shows a similar rate of energy reduction, we have chosen Hilton for their more significant water reductions, achieved partly through modernized laundry facilities, and eight years longer proof of progress and implementation.
Best Hotel Chain for Women's Equality and Reproductive Rights - Hilton Hotels
Most boards of directors in the hospitality industry are not very diverse, so with 40% women, Hilton stands out. While this relative gender parity doesn’t extend to all branches of leadership, the company is committed to improving the lot of its female employees. Hilton has an Executive Committee Diversity Networking Program, in which each member of the Executive Committee participates as a mentor and 75% of the mentees are women. Hilton also has a program for women’s leadership development as well as a women’s resource group, which together provide a wide range of development, networking and mentoring opportunities.
Although these efforts are admirable, it’s also difficult to say whether they have had concrete, measurable results. Women employed by Hilton in the UK still earned on average 15% less than men in 2017, and, although women were more likely to earn a bonus, their bonuses were 43% smaller on average. This inequality is partly caused by the fact that men are still more likely than women to be in full-time and higher paying leadership positions—a fact that Hilton claims is slowly changing.
Hilton was named the best workplace for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, the elderly and people with disabilities in 2018, as well as the best workplace for parents in 2018. While parenting is not inherently a women’s issue, as long as mothers spend 75% more time parenting than fathers and are ten times more likely to take time off to care for sick children, parent rights are effectively women’s rights.
Best Hotel Chain for LGBTQ+ Equality - Kimpton Hotels
In their 2018 survey of more than 5,700 LGBTQ+ travelers, Community Marketing & Insights found that 70% agree that all major hotel brands today are welcoming of gender and sexual diversities. Our research concurs. It’s hard to find a major hotel chain that doesn’t at the very least have a perfect 100 point score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, indicating that the chain doesn’t discriminate against its gender or sexuality diverse employees, and that they have committed themselves to some form of LGBTQ+ outreach—at least in the United States.
Some hotels are more dedicated than others, and over the years boutique hotel chain Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants (originally an independent chain founded in San Francisco but now owned by the UK based multinational hotel company IHG) has stood out for its generous courtship of gender and sexuality diverse travelers.
In addition to being a member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, Kimpton sponsors the Red Ribbon Campaign for AIDS awareness, the Mautner Project for improving the health of women in same-sex relationships, the National Lesbian and Gay Chamber of Commerce, PFLAG, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association and the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses. Kimpton is also the official national hotel sponsor of the Trevor Project, a US-based non-profit that works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. Kimpton donates both its services and a portion of its earnings during certain campaigns to the Trevor Project.
On top of its charity work, Kimpton caters to the LGBTQ+ traveler by offering special rewards, invitations and promotions to members of their rewards program who self-identify as LGBTQ+.
It should be noted that Kimpton, as of this writing, operates in both the Cayman Islands and in Taiwan. Neither country allows same-sex couples the same legal protections of different-sex couples, although Taiwan is set to introduce marriage equality during 2019 and already has anti-discrimination laws in place. The Cayman Islands has neither marriage equality nor anti-discrimination laws that pertain to LGBTQ+ individuals. As of this writing Kimpton has not clarified whether their diversity policies extend to their hotels in these locations.
If there isn’t a Kimpton at your destination, Marriott International is a very worthy runner-up. Marriott’s current partnerships include the Human Rights Campaign and PFLAG. Marriott has also actively courted LGBTQ+ travelers with special ad campaigns featuring same-sex couples and out gay and transgender celebrities. J.W. Marriott Jr. was also vocal about his opposition of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. Marriott has many global diversity programs, but it’s unclear at this this time whether same-sex couples receive equal benefits in locations where they are not recognized by law. If you have information on this, please add it to our Marriott International Company Page.
Best Hotel Chain for Gun Control - Undetermined
You will be hard pressed to find a hotel chain that speaks out on the topic of gun control in 2019, and for this reason the category does not have a clear winner. Most hotel chains don’t even have a global firearms policy, choosing rather to side with local legislation or permit individual hotels and franchises to settle on their own policy.
Even the mere rumor that a single unnamed Marriott hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, put out a sign prohibiting firearms on the premises during the National Rifle Association‘s annual convention was enough to spark a boycott of the chain by firearm enthusiasts in 2010.
This general silence on the topic of gun control makes it noteworthy that Wyndham Worldwidehas taken an active stance against the National Rifle Association. It must be noted, however, that Wyndham has previously been listed as a “friend of the NRA” on the National Rifle Association’s website. The company offered NRA members a 10% discount on their stays at a Wyndhamhotel as late as in 2016. Wyndham reportedly ended this partnership in late 2017, but this fact did not reach the public until the company was threatened with boycotts over their NRA partnership following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. This was not the first time Wyndham was the target of boycotts as a result of their partnership with the NRA. They were also targeted by boycotts following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Connecticut, in 2012.
Although none of the major hotel chains we investigated currently appears to be offering discounts directly to NRA members, NRA members are still receiving hotel discounts through a third party booking service: HotelPlanner.
Best Hotel Chain for Support of Just and Civil Society - Hilton Hotels
The global struggle to achieve and maintain democracy and human rights is not on most people’s minds while planning a holiday, but international hotel chains are in a strong position to effect change both at home and in communities around the world. Hilton is going the extra mile. That is why they are our pick for Just and Civil Society, a category that combines the upholding of democratic liberties, such as freedom of expression and freedom of association, with honest discourse on public issues and empathetic treatment of all people.
In an ideal world, hotels exist to provide weary travelers with safe and comfortable lodging. But if you remove the romantic holiday imagery, the business of hotels is to provide customers with privacy and private spaces, often with minimal background checks. From this perspective, it’s unsurprising that hotels attract certain criminal elements—in particular human traffickers. 75% of survivors of human trafficking in the USA have passed through a hotel.
Most major hotel chains have taken some some action to prevent human trafficking on their premises, such as signing the End Child Prostitution and Trafficking Code of Conduct. Hilton was one of the first major hotel chains to sign the code in 2011. Several large chains also train their employees to recognize and report the signs of trafficking, including Hilton and our very noteworthy runner-up, Hyatt. Hilton takes this training one step further with public awareness campaigns in the United States. Unfortunately, while such campaigns may discourage traffickers from using major hotel chains, it’s debatable whether they improve the lot of trafficking victims. Traffickers may instead take to smaller chains or individual hotels, and when trafficking is reported victims often risk being imprisoned for prostitution or deported. This might be why Hilton started the Hilton Anti-Trafficking Fund to help prevent trafficking worldwide.
Because they often are present in countries with insufficient human rights protections, hotels must take special care not to participate in human rights violations. To this end, Hilton has developed mandatory training on the risks of modern slavery in labor sourcing for relevant personnel. Additionally, Hilton has received the Vital Voices Solidarity Award for their commitment to human rights.
How We Did Our Research
At SweetScore we feel that it’s of utmost importance to be transparent about how we do our research.
Working on the assumption that most people choose a destination first and then decide on a hotel based on what the destination has to offer, I chose to concentrate my research to the world’s largest hotel chains. Our readership being mostly American, I also chose to concentrate on hotel chains that are prominent in the United States.
In doing this, I aimed to maximize the reader’s chances of finding a featured hotel at or near their chosen destination. Unfortunately, this also means that smaller hotel chains with excellent track records on our issues have not been given the same opportunity to shine.
I also chose to include an additional number of medium to large hotel chains that were frequently mentioned on special interest websites on topics such as human rights, environmental protections and LGBTQ+ travel.
The initial research resulted in a list of twelve hotels that both fit these criteria and looked like viable contenders in at least one of our categories. I reached out to each hotel chain with a detailed questionnaire concerning their corporate policies and behaviors. This questionnaire was sent to the hotel’s listed media contact, and in most cases to at least one other public relations contact. Of the twelve hotel chains contacted, none responded directly within a two week waiting period. The only response I received was from a PR firm representing Caesars Entertainment. They regretted that they were unable to participate at this time.
For this reason, my research relied heavily on the public corporate policy documents and corporate social responsibility reports provided directly by hotel chains for consumers, the press and investors. Most hotel chains make these documents readily available for access online or for download. I also looked at corporate press-releases to find leads on further research.
For further research, and to verify the information provided by the companies themselves, I used a number of non-corporate sources. These included press coverage, political donations and non-profit organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and the ratings provided by the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.
As I compared the available data, I determined the strongest contenders for each category. I then contacted those companies once more, with two to three questions that, if answered, could affect our choice. None of the hotel chains chose to respond within two weeks, and they were thus judged purely on the information that is publicly available.
Honorable Mentions List
All of these companies show leadership in various ways on the issues we cover, and deserve credit for their ethical and socially consious contributions.
While I was researching this review, Hyatt was a finalist in several categories, but they are particularly noteworthy for their work on human rights. Hyatt complies with the UK Modern Day Slavery Act, has signed the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, and supports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign. They also train their employees and franchise employees in recognizing human trafficking. Hyatt also has ambitious 2020 environmental goals and a food donation outreach program to help meet the company’s food waste goals.
A stalwart of the hospitality industry, Choice Hotelshas always stood out. Although they were the first American hotel chain, almost 70 years ago, to offer a daily change of linen—a practice we nowadays consider wasteful—they have kept up with the times. Today they have a strong environmental program, which naturally includes linen and towel reuse for guests staying multiple nights. They have signed the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, and work with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to broadcast AMBER Alert messages on screens at their hotels in the USA. Choice Hotels scored 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and has won several diversity awards.
This French hotel giant, which includes luxury brands like Fairmont and Sofitel as well as budget brands like Ibis and Formule 1, is employing some very innovative environmental solutions—such as planting urban vegetable gardens to supply their hotels. They also have more traditional environmental goals, such as producing 30% less food waste by 2020 and only investing in low-carbon buildings and renovations. In Australia, Accor Hotelshas taken a strong stance in favor of marriage equality.
Although they also have solid environmental goals, Caesars is particularly proud of their LGBTQ+ community engagement. They support the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerceand the Human Rights Campaign, as well as act as the national travel sponsor for local events such as San Diego Pride. They also host gender and sexuality diverse events, like LGBTQ+ pool parties.
“Community Engagement | Marriott International Serve360”, Marriott. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Sustain Responsible Operations | Marriott International Serve360”, Marriott. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Equal Opportunities in the Workplace | Marriott International Serve360”, Marriott. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Sustainable Goals | Marriott International Serve360”, Marriott. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Environment & Sustainability”, Wyndham Destinations. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Our Sustainable Boutique Hotels”, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility Charter”, Accor Hotels. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Planet 21 | Food”, Accor Hotels. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“2017 Corporate Responsibility Report: Energy & Carbon”, Hilton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“2017 Corporate Responsibility Report: Water”, Hilton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“2017 Corporate Responsibility Report: Waste”, Hilton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“UK Gender Pay Report”, Hilton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Firearms policy”, Hyatt. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“2017 Corporate Responsibility Report: Human Rights”, Hilton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Human Rights Policy”, Hilton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Slavery and Trafficking Statement”, Hilton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Human Rights”, Hyatt. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Hyatt Global Human Rights Statement”, Hyatt. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“LGBTQ Community”, Kimpton. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Room to be Green”, Choice Hotels. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Human Rights Policy for Choice Hotels”, Choice Hotels. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Our Planet 21 sustainable development program”, Accor Hotels. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“Planet 21 research”, Accor Hotels. Accessed March 11, 2019.
“LGBTQ Partnerships & Affiliations”, Caesars Entertainment. Accessed March 11, 2019.
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