CHICAGO—If working within the creative community speaks to the soul of the Virgin Hotels brand, then acts of service is its heartbeat. Supporting nonprofits in the cities where the brand establishes its hotels is just one way they walk the talk, so to speak. Virgin Hotels also aligns itself with like-minded causes and, one in particular, Kind Traveler, is ready to disrupt how people book their stay, and encourage them to do good in the process.
Dubbed the first Give + Get hotel booking platform, Kind Traveler is enabling users to contribute to philanthropic efforts and score exclusive discounts at participating hotels. Virgin Hotels Chicago is among a handful of properties taking the maiden voyage with the newly launched booking website that spans the East and West Coasts and the Caribbean. Others hotels include 1 Hotel South Beach, Colony Palms Hotel and Serrano Hotel, with the company making plans to add more properties in the near future.
Virgin Hotels strives to experiment and explore novel approaches that shake up the status quo; Kind Traveler offered up a unique proposition that dovetailed with what the brand sought to achieve and after a year of talks, the partnership was cemented.
“The concept of what they were offering was so unique and different. We talked about a number of initiatives and this fit into one of those categories, allowing guests to be more involved in the community where we place ourselves,” said Clio Knowles, VP of People, Virgin Hotels. “We want to be part of the community and serve as community partners in our day-to-day actions. It’s an opportunity to be enriched in many ways because we’re opening a hotel, not another big box brand.”
To that end, donations captured from users via the Kind Traveler website for stays booked at Virgin Hotels Chicago will 100% directly benefit Donda’s House, Inc., an organization cofounded by hip hop artists Kanye West and Che “Rhymefest” Smith, and educator Donnie Smith. The nonprofit honors the legacy of West’s mother, Dr. Donda West, by inspiring, challenging and producing problem-solvers through the arts.
“We believe the arts have the power to inspire and challenge youth. It’s been our mission since our founding in Chicago in 2013. We have served more than 200 artists since the inception and have programs in music, fashion, TV and film, with our program based on the philosophy of Dr. Donda West,” said Donnie Smith, cofounder, Donda’s House. “When Kanye was a teen, she set up a recording studio in her home and allowed the neighborhood kids to record. She also mentored them. These artists have gone on to have careers in entertainment. At Donda’s House 2.0, we believe you have to create a home environment, be family-oriented and extend yourself beyond the traditional programming model to make it a holistic and cohesive experience.”
Selecting Donda’s House was a no-brainer for Virgin Hotels. Starting out as a record brand in the 1970s, the team at Virgin is squarely focused on integrating with local communities and artists, noted Knowles.
“Donda’s House serves underprivileged kids and gives them an opportunity to study photography, music and art. And, it’s part of what Virgin believes in and what we want to encourage in communities,” said Knowles.
The link between Donda’s House and Virgin Hotels stretches beyond the donations collected via the Kind Traveler booking platform, with both sides finding synergies between the hotel’s operations and the organization’s programming to further benefit the students.
“We are so excited about this partnership and we are collaborating on programming other initiatives. This past spring, our students in our fashion program participated in a photo shoot at the hotel. For many of the students, it was their first professional photography class. Some of the best photographers utilized that space for their shoots and it was incredible for our students,” said Smith. “We’re also working with Virgin on some of their entrepreneurial programs where our youth will participate in panel discussions with high-profile professionals from all industries, including music and entertainment, which are areas that many of our youth are striving to work in.”
Kind Traveler wants to appeal to people who love to travel and do something kind with their dollars. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, including the guest, according to Knowles.
“This is a great way to promote the property as well as do good on a local level. I think there are so many offshoots today in how to book hotels and how to appeal to the customer. We don’t consider ourselves a brand aimed at any one demographic. It’s a mindset of people,” said Knowles. “Most guests these days are coming in for a day or two. Kind Traveler is an easy way to be passionate about helping others and participate in the Virgin Hotels experience.”