This month, Destinations International published a study on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) throughout destination organizations. The study was led by an EDI committee established in 2017, when the organization representing convention and visitor bureaus worldwide decided to make EDI a strategic priority.

President and CEO Don Welsh opened the study with a call to action, saying, “Our industry must be a leader in cultivating an environment where everyone is welcome, where there is equitable access for all, and where everyone’s voice and perspective can be heard.”

2020 Survey Results

The first survey was conducted in 2019, gathering baseline data from destination member organizations by examining demographics of board leadership, executive leadership and general policies. The 2020 study questioned 718 individuals in the international membership, examining the member workforce by age, gender, title, racial ethnicity, sexual identity, religion, ability and military veteran status. It then gathered individual perspectives on the destination’s current EDI policies.

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Responses in a range of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” were tabulated for statements such as: “Our destination organization has provided training programs that promote understanding and mitigation of unconscious bias.”

Most agreed or strongly agreed with statements such as: “I want to see more cultural diversity in our destination organization,” “people of all cultures and backgrounds are respected and valued at our destination organization,” and “our organization is committed to diversity and inclusion,”

However, opportunities for growth also emerged, underscoring a need for more education on EDI.

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There were a substantial number of disagreement responses, for example, to statements such as: “There is cultural diversity among the employees at our destination organization” and “our destination organization has provided training programs that promote understanding and mitigation of unconscious bias.”

Additionally, responses indicated organizations can better implement EDI practices beyond permanent staff. When asked if diversity is a criterion for vendor selection for their organizations, over 70 percent said no.

Business Case for Diversity

The study also highlighted research that made a fiscal case for diversity. Summarized by CEO Welsh: “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.”

Other recent research has arrived at similar conclusions. A May 2020 report, “Diversity Wins,” by McKinsey & Company examined the financial impact of a company’s diversity across multiple industries. The massive study reviewed over 1,000 companies in 15 countries. The report found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 36 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. That study also gathered specific insights into the multifaceted puzzle. For instance, it found the likelihood of outperformance was higher for diversity in ethnicity than for gender.

The Destinations International survey noted academic research indicates diverse teams are better equipped to target and serve diverse customer markets, such as women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ communities. These groups represent an increasing share of consumer purchasing power and are often left out of marketing considerations—as confirmed by the 30 percent not in agreeance with the survey statement, “Our destination organization utilizes diverse representation in our marketing and media promotions,”

Extra Perspective

In June 2020, Trade Shows News Network asked Jason Dunn, chairman of  National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals and group vice president of diversity sales and inclusion for Cincinnati USA CVB, what the meetings industry gets wrong about diversity. He had some advice:

“We should stop exploiting the word ’diversity‘ and seek the fullness of equity and inclusion. You cannot celebrate diversity when your budgets, staff, board, sponsorships and partnerships do not reflect what you’re communicating.”

Indeed, a SearchWide Global study found that destination organization boards are typically dominated by males over 56 years old; additionally, 65 percent of destination organization CEOs felt there was not enough ethnic diversity on their boards.

The Big Picture: Industry Resilience

Center for Equity and Inclusion

Destination International’s EDI committee reiterated that equity, diversity and inclusion best practices would be critical for the recovery and growth of the industry following the devastating impact of COVID-19.

In 2021, the EDI committee plans to continue its work by establishing an actionable CEO pledge for destination organizations to solidify commitment to implementing EDI strategies. It also plans to launch an EDI Toolkit to support and provide Destinations International members with resources to implement best practices.

The committee will also continue to benchmark metrics to measure progress as destination organizations make use of these resources to enact new standards.

Until then, resources abound to explore best practices and initiate conversations. For example, Center for Equity and Inclusion, founded in 2015, works to “bring a comprehensive approach that is both personal and beneficial to organizations of all kinds.” Its methodologies are meant to jumpstart—and maintain—long-term organizational change in communities across sectors.