AS RACIAL TENSIONS remain high in the U.S., the travel industry needs to take steps to ensure diversity, according to a guest article on the U.S. Travel Association’s website. That includes hiring more people of different backgrounds and facing the unconscious bias against people of color that still permeates society.
The column, “A Discussion on Race and Racism in the Travel Industry” by Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC and USTA’s national chair, is based on a webinar he led on June 11 with other black industry leaders. Panelists included Michelle Mason, president and CEO of Chicago-based Association Forum; Brandon Meyers, chief revenue officer of travel software producer ADARA; and Ernie Wooden Jr., president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.
The motivation for both the article and the webinar was to address the subject of racism in light of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the hands of four white cops. Several other members of the hospitality industry, including AAHOA and the CEOs of Hilton and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, to issue statements supporting the call for justice.
“In the weeks since the death of George Floyd, the issue of systemic racism in America has rightfully been at the forefront of the national conversation, driving a groundswell that cannot and must not be ignored,” Ferguson said. “Our industry is among those contemplating a path to meaningful change.”
The webinar involved an uncomfortable conversation about race, Ferguson said, but it is a conversation worth having.
“This is not simply an issue of diversity and inclusion. There need to be discussions about slavery and Jim Crow, and how these are not issues of the past, but issues that have echoed through the centuries and affect us today,” Ferguson wrote. “Racism is systemic, and we all have a role to play in discussing its origins. This is a learning and growth opportunity.”
Ferguson and the other webinar participants shared their personal experiences in which they were marginalized because of their race. For him, it was an incident that happened when he received an award at an industry event.
“I had just delivered remarks, professionally dressed in suit and tie. But the moment I stepped off the stage, someone assumed I was a waiter and asked me to refill their glass,” Ferguson wrote. “You can be dressed in business attire and speak professionally and still be targeted because of your skin color.”
The travel industry needs diversity because diversity is strength, Ferguson said. It’s also demanded of them by their customers.
“As leaders in tourism, we need to ask ourselves: do black visitors feel safe and welcome in our destinations? Do we represent diversity in our marketing?” he said.
More black people should be recruited, and promoted, in the travel industry, he said. Conversations are fine, but they have to be followed up by action. Ferguson said several members of the webinar talked about the actions they are taking.
Meyers works with his sales executives to recruit from historically black colleges and universities, for example. Mason is creating an internship program for underserved communities.
“Reach out to your black peers, both professionally and personally, to have frank conversations and learn more about how you can support efforts to end systemic racism,” Ferguson concludes. “Whether your staff is currently diverse or not, honest discussions about racism are necessary.”