TripAdvisor wants refugees to the United States to explore and get to know their new homeland, and the hospitality company’s yearlong Welcome Home campaign aims to do just that: launched last week, Welcome Home gives recently resettled refugees in New York City and parts of Northern California the opportunity to book a tour or activity of their choice through TripAdvisor Experiences, a category that offers travelers things to do in around 1,900 destinations globally.
The International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental organization that provides services to displaced people globally, is TripAdvisor’s partner in Welcome Home and is responsible for reaching out to newly resettled refugees to tell them about the initiative.
“These tours aren’t going to change the lives of refugees, but they can bring them some enjoyment during a difficult time in their lives,” said Steve Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president and chief executive.
The president and chief executive of the I.R.C., David Miliband, said that resettling refugees can be a daunting process. “They’ve been through trauma,” he said. “Booking a TripAdvisor Experience is a way to give these refugees an understanding of where they now live and help them integrate into their new communities.”
In New York City, refugees have more than 1,400 local experiences to choose from. They can take a four-hour group tour of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, for example, that departs from Battery Park and includes access to the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Or, they can book a daylong tour via bus and boat to see some of the city’s top attractions such as the 9/11 Memorial, Lincoln Center and the Brooklyn Bridge.
The more than 700 options of tours and activities in Northern California encompass the Bay Area, Oakland, Sacramento, Turlock and San Jose. There’s a five-hour guided tour of San Francisco with a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge and a ferry ride to Sausalito, for one. Another choice is a visit to Muir Woods National Monument, north of San Francisco, to see the towering redwoods followed by a cruise of San Francisco Bay.
Both states also have experiences beyond seeing popular sights such as cooking classes with locals, walks through off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods and trips to lesser-known parks.
Most of the activities and tours usually cost between $50 and $130 each, but they are free for refugees, who can book them by using a TripAdvisor promo code that they receive from the rescue committee.
According to an I.R.C. spokesman, Welcome Home is focused on New York and Northern California because they’re areas that see a high number of refugee arrivals, compared with other places in the United States.
This isn’t the first time that TripAdvisor has teamed with the I.R.C.: the company initially got involved in the refugee crisis in 2015 by sending an email plea to its more than 100 million members for donations to help refugees and offering to match these contributions — in 48 hours, the initiative raised $1.4 million for the I.R.C. as well as for the global humanitarian organization Mercy Corps. In 2016, the company committed $5 million to the crisis, and a large portion of these funds went to the I.R.C.
While Welcome Home is a commendable program, said Dr. Bjorn Hanson, an adjunct professor at the Tisch Center for Hospitality at New York University, it’s also one that’s a creative marketing campaign for TripAdvisor. “The company is part of a very crowded market of online travel agencies, and making a push to get the message out there that it’s aiding refugees is a way for it to stand out more to the general public,” he said.
Whether it’s a good marketing tool or not, Dr. Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University in New Jersey, said that TripAdvisor’s tours are valuable. “Helping refugees resettle with jobs and by teaching them the local language is critical, but it’s also important for them to feel comfortable in their new surroundings,” he said. “Sightseeing tours are one way to do that.”
TripAdvisor is among a handful of large hospitality brands to support refugees.
Marriott International, for one, began supporting the I.R.C.’s Hospitality Link program in 2016 initially as Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which Marriott later acquired that year. Hospitality Link is an eight-week program in various cities that trains resettled refugees in hospitality skills and helps them find careers in the field. Marriott International supports Hospitality Link in San Diego and Dallas, and in 2018, helped expand it to Elizabeth, N.J. Part of the training involves refugees shadowing existing employees in the company’s hotels, said Melissa Flood, Marriott’s vice president for social impact and public affairs.
Since the collaboration began, around 650 refugees have enrolled in the Marriott-supported programs, with nearly 100 now employed at various companies, including some of Marriott International’s hotels, Ms. Flood said.
Internationally, the Munich-based Motel One, a budget design chain with 65 hotels in Europe, launched an integration project in 2016 in Munich where refugees receive a six-month work placement and have the option to do a two-year apprenticeship with the company. They also get state-subsidized language courses, a mentor from Motel One and workshops to strengthen intercultural skills. In 2017, Motel One expanded this program to include Berlin.
Despite these efforts, Dr. Pandit said that there isn’t a widespread movement in the hospitality industry to help refugees. “You see brands, both internationally and in the United States, helping somewhat, but there is always more work to be done,” he said.
Welcome Home began last Friday with a field trip to Ellis Island for almost 100 students from the I.R.C.’s six-week Refugee Youth Summer Academy, where children between the ages of four and 20 get prepared to enroll in New York’s public schools.
Aissatou, 12, a refugee from Guinea, in West Africa, was one of the students who toured Ellis Island and said that the day made her excited to live in the United States. “It was my first time on a boat, and it was amazing,” she said. “Now, I want to visit California.”
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