For the past decade, Guido De Wilde – Chief Operating Officer Middle East for Marriott International (www.Marriott.com), and founder of Road to Awareness – has dedicated days and months of his life to cycling in Europe in the name of charity and as part of the Road to Awareness campaign, launched in 2008.
It all began 10 years ago when a handful of senior associates at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, decided to take on a three-day cycling challenge in the French Alps in aid of UNICEF: “We wanted to give back to the community – it’s part of our nature as hoteliers, being the kind of people who like to look after and support others. The generosity, spirit, and commitment demonstrated by our associates across the region who take part each year always inspires me and makes me so proud,” Guido said. In the nine years since its launch, the campaign has raised close to USD 7 million with the goal of making a positive difference to underprivileged children living in the communities that the group’s hotels operate in. The three-day bike ride continues to be a major highlight of the programme.
This year, the campaign – which is now under the Marriott International umbrella – will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with a 600km cycle challenge through Jordan between October 12th to 14th. The team will ride across the country, that has yet been undiscovered in the world of cycling, hoping to not only showcase the power of the sport but also provide team members with a stunning backdrop for their efforts. They will begin their ride on Day 1 from the Dead Sea, which, at 383 meters below sea level is the lowest point on Earth, and head in a fairly straight line to the beautiful seaside town of Aqaba. Day 2 will see the group ride from Aqaba to the legendary historical city of Petra, while Day 3 will lead them back down to the Dead Sea. The cycle challenge will receive a high level of local support, with Cycling Jordan providing a mechanic and support car for the duration.
The team will be joined by two guest riders: Ammar Al Satari, a former Jordanian national cycling champion, and Sari Husseini from Cycling Jordan. With a variety of terrains to cover, the ride will be extremely challenging, demanding a high level of fitness and absolute commitment from all team riders. The objective of the 24 associates who signed up for the challenge – from Night Managers to C-level associates – is to raise a minimum total of $500K for a number of regional charities, each selected by the individual associates for a cause close to their heart.
“I heard about Road to Awareness a few years ago when a good friend participated,” said Wayne Siepman, General Manager at Arabella Hotel & Spa “Not only is it a personal challenge, but it is also a great way to raise funds for good causes.”
Zee Ismail, Rooms Division Manager at Protea Hotel by Marriott Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge, is an avid cyclist who has a rigorous training schedule – he cycles 5-6 days a week between structured intervals and strength training on weekdays, and long distance rides on weekends with Table Mountain as the stunning backdrop. “I may never get the opportunity to do this again while creating lifelong memories. Charitable causes over the world always need support, and for me to help in a small way while on my bike is a privilege,” he says.
Aside from the charitable and physical benefits to be gained, other associates taking part are looking forward to the social, mental, and emotional rewards they can reap from the experience. Paul Shearer, General Manager at Protea Hotel by Marriott Ranch Resort, explains that it’s a great way to bolster his mental wellbeing. “I’m helping a cause through doing a sport that I am passionate about, and I’m part of something that could change lives,” Shearer said.
The associates’ altruistic spirit is reflective of Marriott International’s commitment to charitable causes and similar CSR initiatives as a brand that’s proud to support its surrounding communities and make a difference. “The 10th anniversary of Road to Awareness is very inspiring as I have watched many R2A in Europe and loved the team spirit, the huge commitment to fundraising, and the general physical challenge,” says Lucy Wilson, Change and Communication Manager for Marriott International, continuing: “I feel I owe it to the company to give it 100%. Since the merger, we are pioneering this into the MEA continent so I feel very proud to be part of something so significant.”
The cycle challenge will be documented through video and photography by a dedicated film crew, and the campaign’s ongoing objective is to not only make a positive difference in the world and aid those living in underprivileged circumstances, but also to encourage their employees to live healthier, fitter lives while creating unforgettable memories and fostering life-long friendships.