The contribution of corporate philanthropy to research: the case of the Transat Chair in Tourism
Marc-Antoine Vachon has been a professor of ESG UQAM’s Marketing department since 2009. He is interested in destination marketing and tourism services, performance indicators, inter-organizational collaboration and sales promotion.
Mr.Vachon has vast teaching and research experience. He has directed the Transat Chair in Tourism Scientific Committee since April 2015.
David Zaragoza: To start, can you present the Transat Chair in Tourism’s mission and structure?
Marc-Antoine Vachon: Essentially, the Chair’s mission is to foster the growth and prestige of Quebec’s tourism industry through research, the dissemination of information and education. We work alongside tourism companies as well as RTAs (Regional Tourism Associations). Regarding its structure, there are two Chair Holders, Paul Arsenault and myself, Louise Collignon who is the Business Planning and Development Manager and fourteen other professionals, including ten research professionals and two technicians. Every staff member is called upon to contribute to the Chair’s activities but at different levels. In short, half of the team focuses on the Tourism Intelligence Network which is well known in Quebec’s tourism industry, and the other half is more involved in partnership-oriented research.
DZ: Can you tell me more about your role within the Transat Chair in Tourism?
M-AV: My primary job is that of professor, and I am exempted from one class a year in order to allocate more time to my activities as a research chair holder. At the Chair, I am the Scientific Director and my role in the Scientific Committee is to ensure that each research axis is being covered by the projects. I am also very much involved at the methodological level with our partnership-oriented studies.
DZ: Who is the main funder of the Transat Chair in Tourism?
M-AV: First of all, the Chair is financed in large part by Canada Economic Development for Quebec regions and by Quebec’s Minister of Tourism. This funding allows us to maintain a stable work team while conducting research specifically for this socioeconomic sector. It is important to note that tourism mainly highlights SME (Small and Medium Enterprises), which don’t necessarily have abundant resources. The relevance of the Chair is to deliver data and key information to these companies. Without funding, the Chair could not exist in its current form. It would most likely be focused on scientific research and much less involved with the industry. We also count on self-generated income stemming from partnership-oriented research. Finally, the rest of the funding comes from the annual interests generated by the invested donations made by Transat and their CEO Jean-Marc Eustache, who sits on the board of Fondation de l’UQAM as a supporter of the Chair.
DZ: How did the collaboration between the Chair in Tourism and Transat begin?
M-AV: The Chair was founded in 1992 following an agreement between UQAM and the Minister of Tourism. It owes its continued existence to Transat’s support. The partnership was formed by a first donation back in 2000. The value of Transat’s funding is that it ensures a certain sustainability for the Chair, as each year, no matter what happens with the support from the other two organizations, we will at least receive the interests from the endowment fund.
DZ: On November 16th, 2019, for the 25th anniversary of the Transit Chair in Tourism and within the context of Fondation de l’UQAM’s major campaign ‘100 million ideas’, Jean-Marc Eustache, president and CEO of Transat A. T. inc., announced a million dollar donation to the Transat Chair in Tourism. Can you explain what this philanthropic donation represents for the Chair?
M-AV: Unlike funding earmarked for specific objectives, such as with Canada Economic Development and the Minister of Tourism, Transat’s donation allows us more flexibility regarding the deployment of other academic and research activities that are just as relevant.
Before, there were a million dollars in an endowment fund, meaning the Chair doesn’t have direct access to the money, but only to the interests generated by the fund, which are transferred to us annually. Since November 16th, 2018, Transat’s new commitment is to contribute 100 000 dollars each year for the next ten years to the endowment fund, which means the ‘flexible’ portion of our funding will gradually double, which is great news for us.
On the one hand, this increase in funding will allow us to increase our academic mission through projects external to the industry, demonstrate our commitment to scientific research and encourage tourism management researchers by financially supporting professors and/or Masters and Ph.D. students. For example, with the Chair’s Scientific Committee, we are developing an aid program for our proximity group: professors from here and abroad with complementary research interests that cover our axes and are oriented towards tourism management. This program offers two 2500 dollar grants aimed at the creation of new research projects or the dissemination of data.
On the other hand, we are also active in several international projects with China, Guadeloupe and France and are interested and committed to reinforcing our international involvement. Overall, Transat’s donation allows us to better our commitment to research that is theoretical and outside of the industry’s requirements.
According to Transat’s website on social responsibility, the company states that “Transat believes in generosity and in the importance of giving back to its communities. With the help of its employees, the company provides concrete support to a variety of philanthropic and humanitarian causes that it holds dear.” In your opinion, what is Transat’s overall advantage in philanthropic spending?
First of all, it is important to note the special relationship between Transat and Montreal in order to understand its involvement in the community. The company’s headquarters are in Montreal, which has an enormous economic and social influence due to the activities and synergies developed in its vicinity. Having Transat’s headquarters in Montreal is fantastic for the tourism industry, and it would be a shame to lose them.
Second of all, Transat was created by three self-proclaimed Montrealers who have always been very attached to Quebec’s social fabric. From the beginning, they wanted to reinvest in the community, which is priceless. For Transat and other airline companies, participation in social and environmental causes is particularly important. We know that air travel pollutes, but as of yet, there are no true alternatives. Many companies are trying their best, all the while aware of the consequences of their activities. Corporate philanthropy speaks of values; more specifically values stemming from managers. Transat is a model many others should follow, a model that needs to be broadcasted and understood by the new generations of managers. I believe that one of the main reasons why Transat is as involved in philanthropy as it is comes from Mr. Eustache’s humanitarian values (Transat CEO). As a past Montreal student himself, he is very attached to the city and to UQAM. In fact, he is currently the president of the Fondation de l’UQAM and has even donated personally. Regarding the Transat Chair in Tourism, he is an unparalleled ambassador for Quebec’s tourism industry and for academic activities. One of the Chair’s main research axis is responsible tourism and we are happy to work in partnership with companies who are asking themselves about social responsibility and who have concrete commitments in that direction.
DZ: According to Transat’s website once again, it is stated that: “In accordance with its philanthropy policy, Transat supports institutions or projects that focus on broadening knowledge and expertise in tourism, including international tourism.”. More specifically, what do they gain from making donations to academic institutions such as the Transat Chair in Tourism or the ITHQ?
M-AV: The philanthropists that I know do it from the heart, to give back, to help the next generation. A company might get some positive returns such as being seen as a good corporate citizen or even having priority access to a few good ideas from young entrepreneurs (for instance in an incubator such as MT Lab, the incubator for innovations in tourism, culture and entertainment). However, these returns are uncertain and often intangible, and the operation requires not only money but also time. This is why, in my opinion, philanthropy must stem from strong virtues. The question of time is something that baffles me. For example, one of the three Transat founders, M. Philippe Sureau, who is also President of the Montreal Tourism Board of Directors, has been the president of our Board of Directors for years. He is involved in the operations and demonstrates his investment in the Chair’s success. This is why I believe a partner like Transat is so valuable: not only are they committed financially, they also allocate other resources to make the partnership dynamic and active. Furthermore, as we have recently seen with a recent research partnership, some companies do more social good than what they manage to communicate to their clients.
DZ: What are your hopes for the future of the collaboration between the Chair and Transat?
M-AV: As a university professor, having the big company’s vision fuels the understanding of the industry and students can directly benefit from it. From a financial perspective, the first gift is endowed at the Fondation de l’UQAM and last November’s announcement implied only Mr. Eustache’s personal money. On that front, we have sustainability. For the future, it is more Mr. Eustache’s retirement that could change things. To this day, he injects a lot of energy into the partnership. The head of an organization always has a strong impact on an organization. However, since we have worked closely with other Transat managers, in different ways, we are confident that we have managed to foster strong connections so that the relational aspect remains strong between us.
Translation by Katherine Mac Donald