Case Study: Giving Back

LESSONS LEARNED: IN THE CLASSROOM AND IN CUSTOMS

In recognition of Thanksgiving, we offer our gratitude to clients who ask us to build Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into their incentive travel programs, and to our local, onsite suppliers who assist us. CSR programs are voluntary activities undertaken by companies for the betterment of the environment, economy and/or society. AIS, a leading American manufacturer of office furniture and seating, is one of our clients who gave big to make a little school in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (DR) a whole lot better.

Background:

This past April, AIS treated 230 of their high achievers to a four-night incentive trip to the Paradisus Palma Real, a luxe golf and spa resort in Punta Cana.

“We knew that it was very important to our client that they give back to the local community, and they specifically wanted to do something nice for the local children,” said Kyra, one of our Program Managers here at Meridican who worked on this particular incentive.

So we reached out to a trusted supplier in the DR who we have worked with for many years. It didn’t take them long to find Centro Educativo Escuela Cabeza de Toro, a school of 185 students ranging in ages from eight to 16.

Since Bruce (the CEO) is a big baseball fan ━ his boardroom looks exactly like a stadium box complete with snack bar and a mural that depicts fans in the stands ━ we began with baseball equipment: 96 baseballs, 36 gloves and 36 bats. To that we added stationery, which was leveraged from one of AIS’s longtime suppliers. That stash included 144 rulers, 144 crayons, 261 pairs of scissors, 300 pads of paper, 200 dry erase boards and 650 glue bottles.

When the day was upon us, our team arrived ahead of AIS to pile up boxes of these gifts into a small mountain on the school’s basketball court, where it would be out of sight of the students.

The plan, which unfolded like clockwork, had AIS employees meeting the headmaster, teachers, academic coordinators and all the children, and touring the facilities before heading outside for the CEO’s speech and the bounty that awaited the children.

“Unbeknownst to us, Bruce had brought a bunch of Red Sox baseball jerseys. That in itself was unexpected and generous, but as it turned out, he had an even bigger surprise in store,” said Kyra.

During the tour of the school, Bruce noticed that most of the chairs were falling apart: some missing seats, others with broken legs. “In his speech, he made an on-the-fly promise to replace all the chairs and some of the desks,” Kyra said. “And he promised to ship them from the US to Punta Cana in just thirty days!”

“It was an emotional moment for everyone; there were tears.”

The remainder of the day saw students entertaining the group with a dance, which was planned and practiced in advance of the visit, and a spontaneous game of baseball between the adults and kids. It was all captured on video ━ tears, laughter, dancing and ball tossing ━ by our professional videographer. On the second last day of the incentive, the video was shown to the AIS employees at the Paradisus Palma Real.

Challenge:

Bruce’s spontaneity was as generous as the 30-day timeline was ambitious. “The Dominican Republic is one of the most challenging destinations to ship products in and out,” explained Kyra. “Things sometimes go missing; they just never make it out of customs or the costs are so significant – tax alone can be 38 percent – that it becomes prohibitive.” Charitable donations like our 200 chairs, 200 desks and nine tables (for a total of 14 pallets) are treated no differently than other shipments.

Add hurricanes into the mix and things got even hairier. Weather forecasters were predicting that Hurricane Irma and then Maria were tracking straight for DR’s capital, Santo Domingo, where the donated desks and chairs were being held. Kyra was clicking on her weather app so often, she was practically wearing it out. Government operations were being delayed and the local mail service was closed, so original documents, which customs had been requesting, were delayed. “We were also concerned about the school being hit, but thankfully it was fine,” said Kyra. We breathed a sigh of relief.

However, our reprieve was short-lived. The DR customs began requesting more and more paperwork and we went back and forth so many times, we edged closer and closer to their 10-day rule.

What is the 10-day rule? “If your shipment doesn’t go through within 10 days,” Kyra explained, “even if it’s because customs is causing the delays, you get penalized with storage fees.

“Fortunately, we got all the proper paperwork submitted in the nick of time… with one day to spare!”

Solution:

Good thing we have great supplier partners like Amstar who are local to the destinations in which we hold our incentives ━ and who don’t bat an eye when we make requests that are beyond their areas of expertise. Amstar, a 25-year veteran in destination management, typically assists us with transportation and recreational activities; they are not customs experts. But that didn’t stop them from jumping in. “We have an amazing working relationship with them and they love that we are helping a local school,” Kyra said.

Result:

Finally, the furniture was released from customs, and our friends at Amstar stepped up to bat once again, this time to assemble the desks and chairs at the school. They brought a photographer along to capture the moment for AIS. Thank you AIS and Amstar for making our world a better place. Happy Thanksgiving!