In Search of the Triple Bottom Line

Today I’m flying back from Cancun and our annual hostel manager meeting in collaboration with HI-Canada and HI-Mexico.   The meeting is a professional learning and networking opportunity for senior hostel management staff in North America.   And as this year’s host, HI-Mexico’s choice to meet in Cancun also brought some welcome beach and sun time for participants.  (Previous host cities have included Boston (2013) and Vancouver (2012), both equally engaging cities but with a different sort of late winter appeal!)

Cancun is an interesting travel and tourism story.   It’s a purpose built tourist city.   In the 1970’s the Mexican government scouted out various sites to plant an international tourist hub, and this scenic Gulf peninsula won out for its natural beauty and convenient access to US and other foreign cities.  (The flight is a short three hours from Washington DC on an airline ticket less expensive than to the West Coast.)   Spectacular ancient Mayan ruins are within a couple of hours drive, smartly creating a destination for both beach and cultural heritage crowds.  Now forty years later, Cancun receives more long haul airline flights than Mexico City.

Yesterday senior hostel staff met for my annual update presentation on our organizational growth and progress.    Strategy and operations were both in the mix.  And I gratefully recognized the extraordinary performance of our hostel staff everywhere in being named the #1 HI hostel network worldwide.

I used part of my presentation time to explore with senior staff the Triple Bottom Line.

TBL.  The idea is that financial accounting doesn’t capture all the costs (or benefits) of an activity.   In today’s world, social and environmental impacts also urgently need to be taken into account.  So the Triple Bottom Line includes all three: Financial, Social and Environment.   And for HI-USA, our Board of Directors has set the TBL as one measure for our organizational accountability.

The Cancun hotel zone turned out to be a good place for a TBL discussion among our senior hostel leaders.    The dense beach front development (with among the highest concentration of hotels in the Western hemisphere) is a living example of the complexity of travel and tourism as an industry.   Cancun’s success has produced jobs, infrastructure and tax revenues but also challenges including crowding and cultural/environment concerns.   The answer is partly about developing and adhering to best practices … for which Cancun was recognized with a UN World Tourism Organization Themis Foundation award in 2007.

The Triple Bottom Line provides a more formal way to assure non-financial costs are factored into decision making.   Consumers do it at the grocery store when they decide to pay a premium for an environmentally or socially responsible product.   TBL provides organizations with a framework to do it, too.   In a future blog post, I’ll share some ideas around HI-USA’s TBL framework.

Why is it important to HI-USA?    The Triple Bottom Line is a helpful way to account for our organization’s long-time environmental and social commitment, and to share it with our guests, our volunteers and others in the travel industry.  These conversations build wider TBL awareness, and help HI-USA improve its own performance too.

By | 2015-04-22T10:20:10+00:00 February 26th, 2014|Our Community|0 Comments

About the Author:

Since 2000, Russ has been the CEO of Hostelling International USA (HI USA), a nonprofit, member organization founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places, and the world around. The HI USA hostel network is consistently recognized as one of the best in world by the International Youth Hostel Federation and by independent rating agencies. Russ has been a featured speaker at national and international conferences on topics ranging from experiential education to nonprofit management. Russ serves on the Boards of the UNWTO, US Travel Association, and WYSTC.

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