The travel industry is not doing enough to address diversity and inclusion in tourism, according to a panel of black industry leaders. 

During a webinar hosted by Blacks in Travel and Tourism, panelists said that with the national conversation currently focused on racial injustice, companies must do more than post messages of support. 

“What we’re learning is it’s easy to put a social media post and say you’re aligned with Black Lives Matter or with equity and race and diversity within the industry,” said Jason Dunn Sr., chairman of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals and a group vice president with the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But we’re challenging people to look at what people are stating and then look at their track record. … We need to call out people who aren’t participating and aligning with what they are portraying themselves to be.” 

Elliott Ferguson
Elliott Ferguson

Elliott Ferguson, president of Destination DC and national chair of the U.S. Travel Association, said that U.S. Travel is having some “uncomfortable” discussions with the industry “in terms of what’s expected and the fact that black people are angry.”

“You employ these black people without focusing on people’s feelings and emotions tied to what’s happening in black America and that won’t be accepted going forward. There’s a lot of momentum from millennials and Generation Z of all colors which will make a difference in terms of them demanding for things to change.” 

Ferguson said he sees opportunity for real change. 

“Now more than ever, I’m seeing a reaction that is not going to allow those corporate leaders that are putting a blind eye to what’s happening to black America,” he said. “It won’t bode well for them. … We are probably further along in some important and robust discussions than we ever have been as it pertains to race relations.” 

Ferguson also said that the discussion on how blacks have been treated in corporate America must continue. “We need to make sure that we have the white CEOs in those corporations that are in power and that employ us make sure they understand the importance of this conversation continuing.”

Dunn also said that it is important to have data around actual diversity at travel companies “whether it’s c-suite, middle management, supplier diversity.” He said there are companies such as hotels, for example, that have brand standards for diversity but since actual hotels may be privately owned, they can get away with not having diversity at the top levels.

Betty Jones, founder of Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC), said another issue is how few black people are portrayed in advertising, citing statistics showing that less than 3% of all advertising showcased African Americans. 

“So you hardly ever see us in any of the ads and commercials, but we are spending the money out there,” she said. “We don’t have a seat at the table.”

The webinar was the first in the Economics of the Black Travel & Tourism Ecosystem: Dollars & Sense Webinar Series

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