In the period since the Black Lives Matter movement exploded anew, sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and other innocent people of color, individuals and organizations have committed to positive change. How has the travel and tourism industry contributed? Here is a snapshot of inspired work in progress.
An impressive new group, Black Travel Alliance, arose within one month of George Floyd’s death. Its vision: “With our three pillars of alliance, amplification and accountability, we strive to create a world where Black people are supported and accurately represented in the travel industry.” Positioned as a membership organization for Black content creators, the group immediately mounted a #PullUpForTravel initiative which challenged travel brands to publicly share 2019 KPIs on Black representation in their organizations. They scrutinized activities in five areas: employment, conferences and tradeshows, paid advertising/marketing campaigns, press and philanthropy. Results showed that there is a lot of work to do to gain a healthy balance of diversity and inclusion within the industry. Their report provides a useful benchmark against which progress can be measured in 2021 and beyond.
Association of Black Travel Professionals
Toward the end of 2020, three veteran Black travel advisors formed the Association of Black Travel Professionals. Its purpose is to “demonstrate the impact of the spending power Black travel professionals bring to the travel industry by creating a resource for industry suppliers to access a vetted talent pool and tap into our membership to increase leadership and recognition.” The group offers educational programs for industry professionals, an awards program to recognize outstanding African American travel advisors, and partnerships with companies showing commitment to diversity and inclusion. On deck: a better tracking system for African-American spending in travel.
In 2017, Destinations International, which represents tourism destinations and convention and visitor bureaus worldwide, adopted a comprehensive equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiative as part of its long-term strategic plan. The group’s 2019 EDI study examined board makeup, executive leadership and general policies among its members. The study’s scope was extended in 2020 with a survey of individual members to glean insights and attitudes about their experience within the industry. Taking a prominent spot on the organization’s homepage, the EDI initiative includes a pledge, a master class and a host of tools that members can use to guide and advance their organizations’ journey.
Visit Philadelphia® is giving more than a shout-out to 130+ local Black- and brown-owned businesses. It developed an economic recovery initiative that kicked off last November with a Love + Grit Sweepstakes geared to visitors. A comprehensive marketing campaign has been put in place to support this ongoing initiative. Devoting strategy and budget to the effort adds to Philadelphia’s tourism messaging and appeal, and it supports a business segment that is an integral part of the fabric of America’s founding city.
If there is one entity that has written the playbook on EDI best practices, it is Marriott. Its “UNITY and Family” rallying cry starts with employees and encompasses guests, suppliers and all partners. Marriott’s three pillars of associate well-being are elegant and simple: “We all need to feel good about ourselves, the workplace, and about our company’s role in society.” Its reputation extends outside of travel and tourism. In 2020, Marriott was recognized as the number one company for diversity across industries on the 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. Marriott is the highest-ranking hospitality company on the list for more than 10 years. It is the only one to have achieved the top ranking.
As evidenced on its corporate website, United shows its commitment to diversity and inclusion through action. This includes participation in public events, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, engagement within an executive diversity council, and internal resource groups, as well as a promise to work with diverse suppliers and other partners.
Carnival’s President & CEO Arnold W. Donald went on record shortly after the George Floyd incident with a message to his employees that included detail of his own experience with racism growing up in the South. Citing the company’s vision “of a positive and just corporate culture, based on inclusion and the power of diversity,” Donald characterized travel as a means of uniting people and reinforced that “the only way through is forward.” On the company’s website, he provides an additional perspective, that diversity is good for business: “Diversity is a business imperative. The key to innovation is diversity of thinking… having people from different backgrounds and different cultural experiences who are organized around a common objective are far more likely to create breakthrough innovation than a homogenous group. That same diversity of thinking is a powerful advantage.”
The owner of Enterprise, Alamo and National speaks directly and inclusively to potential applicants in the Careers section of its website: “You bring something different to the table than anyone else.” It further commits to hiring employees with backgrounds that mirror those in the communities it serves. The company has a stated leadership pipeline and it supports diverse events and initiatives across its geographic markets.
The world’s largest network of business event strategists, PCMA has developed an asset-rich program called Ascent which offers on-demand training sessions and webinars, inspiring stories of members and their involvement with EDI initiatives, and a list of speakers who specialize in diversity themes and topics, among other resources. The organization also promotes The Ascent CEO Promise whereby company leaders sign a pledge to adhere to three tenets: “to make workplaces and events open and trusting settings; to provide education on barriers to inclusivity, including unconscious bias; and to share what we know, what we learn, and what needs improvement.”
The U.S. Travel Association (U.S.T.A.) is the national nonprofit organization representing all components of the travel industry. It prioritizes high-impact issues that matter most to its collective membership. The organization, as noted on its website, “will not only identify the industry’s biggest opportunities and challenges, but also develop the messages and actions to create positive growth.” U.S.T.A. notes that it “advocates for policies that will advance and elevate our industry on the national level, engaging members with the tools, research and resources needed to influence change at state and local levels.”
To that end, the website’s diversity, equity and inclusion toolkit aggregates news and information on what travel entities and organizations are doing (including some mentioned in this article) and provides a plethora of educational and other resources for use by its members and the travel industry at large.
It is encouraging to see forward movement and furthering of Black Lives Matter as well as EDI across all major travel sectors. The programs highlighted here are substantial and have the potential to be enduring.
Mower’s Travel & Tourism specialists have joined with the rest of our colleagues to address EDI at the agency level. Shortly after George Floyd lost his life, we began talking about it in regular all-agency calls. We committed to making a difference as an agency by reaching out to organizations with an offer of pro bono representation. This includes One Hundred Black Men of New York, with which we participated in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January. Some of us took on the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge (which I highly recommend). We also started diversity training for staff and solidified our commitment to building a diverse culture.
There is much to do. Let us keep the momentum going.