Continental Airlines and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have forged a multi-level partnership that encompasses a specialized small-business travel reward program, commitments to facilitate Hispanic recruitment and procurement, and sponsorship of the USHCC annual convention.
“Continental Airlines owes a major portion of its successes of the last few years to its willingness to expand into new markets, particularly in Latin America,” said Gordon Bethune, chairman and CEO. “We are quite aware of the strength of the U.S. Hispanic market and are delighted to explore mutually beneficial business opportunities here in our own backyard with such a responsible organization as the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.”
Bethune and USHCC President and CEO George Herrera met recently in Houston to discuss the airline-chamber partnership. Based in Washington, D.C., the USHCC represents the interests of over one million Hispanic-owned businesses in 250 local chambers of commerce throughout the country.
“The USHCC-Continental Airlines alliance demonstrates Continental`s sincerity in establishing business relationships with the Hispanic community,” Herrera stated. “Mr. Bethune has demonstrated clearly his company`s commitment to assist us in transforming the Hispanic business community`s relationship with Corporate America from workers and consumers, to partners and investors. We welcome this partnership, and look forward to a productive relationship with Continental Airlines.”
Continental is official airline and a major sponsor of the USHCC`s 20th annual convention, Sept. 15-19, in San Diego, Calif., which is expected to draw 7,000 attendees. Continental also will sponsor the opening reception at the event.
One of the kingpins of the new relationship with the USHCC is RewardOne, Continental`s small-business travel reward program. Through RewardOne, small and midsize businesses earn points for employee business travel on Continental, which then can be turned into rewards such as tickets, upgrades, and on-board amenities. Continental will provide bilingual RewardOne marketing materials to USHCC members, and create a USHCC master account to earn points for chamber-related travel. In addition, Continental will dedicate a bilingual telesales manager to work with USHCC-enrolled accounts.
Increasing Hispanic access to Continental`s employment opportunities also forms a major part of the partnership. Some 15-20 percent of the airline`s 40,000 employees worldwide are Hispanic. Hispanics already occupy several management positions at Continental, in sales and marketing, and civic affairs, and Continental was the first airline to dedicate a sales force to ethnic travel agencies serving Latin American travelers. As Continental continues its Latin American expansion, the airline anticipates hiring even more bicultural and Spanish-speaking employees.
“We need Spanish-speaking flight attendants, sales and marketing staff, and ticket agents,” said Mary Matatall, Senior Manager of Corporate Staffing, Continental Airlines. “We welcome Hispanic and Spanish-speaking applicants who can help us take our industry-leading `Latinization` program to the next level.”
The USHCC agreement also calls for Continental to share information with the USHCC on procurement needs at its headquarters in Houston and its three U.S. hub facilities, in Houston, Newark and Cleveland. The USHCC will, in turn, provide Continental with a database of qualified Hispanic-owned businesses to which Requests for Proposals can be directed.
“Our partnership with the USHCC gives Hispanics one more reason to consider Continental the `Latin-friendly airline,`” said Christy Rodgers, Director of Latin America Sales, Continental. “Continental has a history of leading the industry in specializing services to Latino and Spanish-speaking passengers, and of Hispanic community support.”
For the past two years, Continental has been named to HISPANIC Magazine`s annual list of “100 Companies Offering Most Opportunities for Hispanics.” In 1997, Continental invested more than $1 million to “Latinize” key U.S. airports and on-board services. Latinization consists of Spanish/English flight information and signage in key U.S. airports, as well as ensuring that 75 percent of crews on flights to Latin America are bilingual, and that native dishes are served on board. The airline provides its bilingual personnel with extensive customer service and cultural-awareness training, so they can more effectively meet the needs of Latin American and U.S. Spanish-speaking travelers.
Continental is involved extensively in the U.S. Hispanic community. In 1997, the airline instituted the “Vuela con Libros/Fly with Books” bilingual reading program in 67 second-grade classrooms in the Houston Independent School District. Through “Vuela con Libros,” Continental supplies bilingual children`s books from Houston`s Arte Pœblico Press and New York-based Lee and Low Books to some 1,600 children.
Continental also supports numerous other Hispanic community events; in 1998 alone, the airline sponsored the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce`s annual convention, the USHCC International Conference, the Imagen Awards for positive portrayal of Latinos in the film and TV industry, the LULAC national convention, the National Council of La Raza national conference, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, the HISPA-Lucent Technology Hispanic employees` annual conference, and numerous other organizations and festivals in Houston, New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Antonio.
Continental is now the No. 2 U.S. carrier to Latin America, flying to 37 destinations in 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Continental flies to more cities in Mexico than any other U.S. airline, and serves every country in Central America and major capitals in South America. Continental Airlines is the fifth largest airline in the U.S., with more than 2,200 daily flights to 130domestic and 85 international destinations.