Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 12/16/20 to include information about Destination International’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion CEO Pledge.

While many U.S. destinations have focused in recent years on the importance of creating environments that look more like populations they serve, and are welcoming to those with different backgrounds, many still have work to do, according to a pair of recent studies. The good news? If they are treated right, minority markets could be the engine that brings the industry back to life.

Destination Equality

A recent report on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) by Destinations International found that while most employees of destination organizations would like to see more cultural diversity in their own offices, they still lack the training to understand and mitigate unconscious bias.

“It is critical for destination organization CEOs and executive leadership to commit to EDI to drive a vision for change and accountability,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, on release of the report. “A diverse and inclusive workplace is central to our industry’s ability to attract, develop and retain the talent it needs to remain competitive, drive innovation and maintain relevancy.”

On Dec. 16, Welsh introduced and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion CEO Pledge at the association’s virtual CEO Summit, calling it “a critical next step for our industry’s leadership…to remain competitive, enhance workforce development, drive innovation and be relevant in the years ahead.”

The five points include a commitment to build and sustain an equitable, diverse and inclusive workforce, led by executive leadership and boardrooms, share best practices for growing equality, holding one another accountable for measuring action, sharing lived experiences of marginalized and underrepresented communities and supporting actions in communities that promote justice for travelers, stakeholders and citizens.

Big Travel

An MMGY Travel Intelligence study released in November quantified the impact of Black U.S. leisure travel in 2019 at $109.4 billion—13.1 percent of the market. Phase Two of “The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities” will be released in January.

“We have long suspected the amount that U.S. Black travelers spend on leisure travel was undervalued. It is great to get confirmation,” said Black Travel Alliance President Martinique Lewis.

On the group side, the survey found that Black meeting professionals plan an average of 7.5 meetings a year and spend more than $900,000 annually. However, an overwhelming majority (84 percent) also reported that some destinations were more welcoming to Black attendees than others—and some make Black visitors feel downright unwelcome.

“Black meetings and conventions will be a force for the reemergence of the economy, but it will be vital for travel industry executives to better serve this important travel audience,” said Jason Dunn, who serves as group vice president of diversity sales and inclusion for Cincinnati USA CVB and is chairman of National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals.

He called the results both emotional and validating. He also suggested that people stop focusing on the word “diversity” and seek the fullness of equity and inclusion. “You need to see us, rather than looking through us,” he said.

A Call to Action

Dunn pointed out that the devastation of COVID-19 has hit minority populations in hospitality disproportionally, including higher rates of illness, more business closures and job loss.

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  • Almost half the 16.9 million jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry were cut at least temporarily over the last seven months, U.S. Travel Association reported, and due to the types of roles held by people of color, they were more likely to have seen their jobs eliminated or put on hold.
  • Out of 700 convention and visitors bureaus, nine have Black CEOs. Black women hold even fewer leadership roles.
  • Black, Native American, Hispanic and Latino individuals are more than two times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to CDC—and African Americans are 2.1 times more likely to die due to a number of factors, including underlying health conditions, access to health care and increased exposure to the virus due to occupation.