The tourism-watchdog Tourism Concern has accused Hilton Hotels Corporation and Hilton International of short changing local communities and habitat destruction, despite its claims to be clean and green. The accusations will be made in a hard-hitting speech delivered by Tourism Concern’s CEO Tricia Barnett to a conference on Corporate Social Responsibility and tourism held in Singapore to be held on 25th - 26th July.
Too often, argues Tourism Concern, CSR is used as an opportunity for companies operating in tourism to make shareholders and the public believe that the companies operate ethically and with integrity. Tourism Concern is using the Hilton Hotels Corporation and Hilton International as an example to prove its case that, whatever CSR policies are published, unless they are integrated fully into the business operation, they are meaningless. Hilton International states that they advocate socially and environmentally responsible business practice throughout their global operations. They also claim their aim is to bring positive benefit to the societies in which they operate through…... environmental management and community involvement.
However, two cases where the communities of tropical islands feel abused by Hilton’s practices would suggest otherwise. Bimini in the Bahamas and Mandhoo island in the Maldives are, says Tourism Concern, likely to be the tip of the corporate iceberg. Tourism, purported to be the world’s biggest industry, is rapacious and cares little for anything other than growth.
Bimini Bay Resort and Casino, Bahamas
In 2005 Conrad Hilton, part of Hilton Hotels Corporation, signed a deal with developers Capo Group to manage the casino in this controversial resort.
The project, which once built, will include a casino, golf course, marinas and condos, will destroy an important and fragile ecosystem that has been studied by marine biologists for over 20 years.
The build up of silt and the destruction of mangroves, which are fertile breeding grounds for fish, have already resulted in a decrease in conch and
fish numbers. This has threatened the livelihood of local people as diving and sports fishing is set to decrease. Capo Group are refusing to show scientists the Environmental Impact Assessment.
The Miami-based owner of the development has promised, amongst other things, a primary school, a fire truck and jobs during the construction of the resort. These promises have failed to materialise and cheap labour was brought in from Mexico.
Desperate local community leaders have staged a protest outside the development to stop the construction.
Hilton Maldives Resort and Spa
In early 2005, uprooted hundred of palm and mangrove trees and took tons of black soil and sand from Mandhoo island in the Maldives and shipped them to the Hilton Maldives resort and spa complex on nearby Rangali and Rangalifinolhu Islands. The destruction was exposed in November 2005 by a local news website, the Dhivehi Observer. Hilton Maldives responded in a carefully worded press release stating, “The resort categorically denies removing local trees, plants and topsoil from Mandhoo Island”.
Hilton Maldives claimed that the flora removed was from their resort island and was stored for 12 months in specially built nurseries on Mandhoo while it was being renovated. Photos published on the Dhivehi Observer website, however, show the palm trees removed were bearing coconuts and for a palm tree to recover sufficiently after uprooting takes at least two years.
At the start of April 2006 Hilton Maldives stopped denying that local vegetation had been removed from Mandhoo and instead released a statement explaining that all necessary government permissions where obtained prior to work commencement.
Our local sources believe Hilton Hotels and their owning company, Crown Company Pvt, exaggerated their community work on Mandhoo. They falsely claimed to sponsor a teacher on the island and to have offered long-term support after the Tsunami. According to our source, actual aid only amounted to a number of food bags that were given as once-off aid.
Tourism Concern passed on the requests for compensation to Acona (Hilton’s CSR consultants) in May 2006, as yet Hilton has not answered Tourism Concern or the Mandhoo Islanders.