When tens of thousands of attendees started arriving in Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest conference and festival on March 10, two of the biggest names in travel were noticeably absent from the experience. After a public battle with lawmakers last year, Uber and Lyft left the city in May 2016, and many wondered how the technology capital of Texas could manage without the ride-sharing stars. However, there were plenty of other services that kept drivers working and passengers moving. During my trip to SXSW, one service in particular stood out to me: RideAustin.
RideAustin functions exactly like Uber, Lyft, or any other location-based transportation platform with different tiers of service and fare estimates, but with one major difference: the ability to donate to a local charity of your choice. The feature is called “Round Up,” and it automatically rounds up the cost of the fare to make a contribution to more than 50 organizations in Austin. For my donations, I chose the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians — which happens to be the same organization for which PCMA Convening Leaders 2017 attendees raised $25,000 during the annual Party With a Purpose this past January. Rather than simply getting from here to there during my time in Austin, the app offered a simple way to be part of the local community.
Mission vs. Money
As Uber continues to struggle with a public-relations crisis — hundreds of thousands of people deleted the app after the company was perceived as having exploited a taxi-driver strike at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in early February — RideAustin is a reminder that price is not the ultimate differentiating factor in choosing a product or service. Plenty of customers want to see organizations align with a real mission. Meetings and conventions can leverage this lesson, too. From including the ability to pre-select a charity as part of the registration process, to offering opportunities in a mobile app to donate to local organizations, there are many ways to inspire a greater connection between attendees and a host destination’s local community. And that connection is a crucial piece of success in today’s conference landscape. “It’s something the new generation coming into the workforce expects to see,” John Graham, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE, told Convene in an interview earlier this year. “They expect that the people they work for, and the conferences they attend, are going to leave the community in a better place than they found it.”
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