The devastation suffered by the hospitality industry over the last year was nothing short of tragic, but it could also be a reset, a chance to build back stronger and better. Between the pandemic shutdown of events and hotels and increased focus on diversity in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, many organizations stepped up their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. tourism diversity matters

A new initiative, Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM), is looking to leverage those advances to benefit the industry and those who work in it.

“We know business will come back, but it may come back with different people. What if we can restaff in a way that creates opportunities for more diverse individuals?” asks Greg DeShields, TDM executive director.

DeShields’s vision for a diverse future was born in his work at hotels, Temple University School of Tourism and Philadelphia OIC, an organization founded by Rev. Leon Sullivan, who walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights era. By leveraging the pillars of apprenticeships, workforce development, DEI research and data, he believes meeting professionals and hotels alike can create a future better able to engage and retain a diverse workforce.

Instituting things like a code of conduct and supplier diversity will result in a more welcoming and sensitive meeting environment where the blind spots of ethnic disparities are addressed before guests arrive. “It will create a place where everyone feels valued and respected, and more people can participate,” he says.

DeShields calls this a collective impact model. It will not replace work being done at organizations such as PCMA and Destinations International. Instead, it is designed to leverage that work—by focusing solely on coordinating and advancing it. In fact, many of the leaders from those organizations are on TDM’s board.

“Think of it this way: If we both decide to hike a mountain, we can assist each other and climb higher than we would have alone,” he says. “We have come to a place as a country that if we are ever going to get it right, now is the time.”

That One Thing

Since TDM is structured as a collective that amplifies the work of everyone in the industry, we asked members of its executive committee “what one thing” could be done to make hospitality and tourism more inclusive and welcoming.

Responses were refreshingly specific, honest and hopeful.

“A reality that we need to face is that for an industry based on hospitality, not all people feel welcome everywhere. Our industry can start by getting more Black people and people of color to the table and in the C-suite, which requires purposeful action to seek out diverse talent and examine recruiting practices. We also need to continue having uncomfortable conversations. You may not understand a Black friend or colleague’s experiences, but you can walk beside them and commit to deepening your education on racism in America.”–Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO for Destination DC

“The hospitality, tourism and business events industry is quickly rebuilding and transforming itself as we come out of the pandemic. As we prepare for the ramp-up and bring our teams back, we have a gift of an opportunity: to celebrate the amazing feats the incredible people of our industry make possible every day and, in doing so, highlight the unique backgrounds and range of career interests and skill-sets that fuel that work. My hope, and the intent is, that we help those from a diversity of backgrounds and broad range of skills to realize the breadth of opportunities for a career that welcomes their diversity—of training, interest and background. There’s a home and a need in our dynamic industry for great talent from a diversity of perspectives that ensures our teams best reflect the customers we serve.”–Carrie Freeman Parsons, chair at Freeman

“A collective impact, industrywide approach for DEI. Imagine if we can all begin to row in the same direction and learn from each other’s successes and failures in impacting the greater industry? Once we begin to collaborate, educate and cooperate, we will be on our way to being more inclusive and welcoming. Our goal as an industry must be to diversify leadership across all industry sectors. This starts with the board of directors, whether private sector, nonprofit or association. Without board diversity, it is unlikely that key diversity initiatives will remain a top priority or a consistent pillar in strategic plans. This, coupled with defined metrics and accountability for the CEO, will start to create more inclusive and welcoming work environments. Lastly, we must intentionally attract, recruit and retain young people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and provide them with meaningful career planning and mentoring.”–Mike Gamble, CEO at SearchWide Global

“For future hospitality professionals, it’ll be important for the hospitality industry to create strategic workforce pipelines to provide additional access for diverse professionals to be a part of all levels of the business. This can be done through partnership and mentorship programs quite easily. The future of the industry depends on what we do today. The work that Tourism Diversity Matters is doing will be a catalyst for this type of future change to become a reality, and, hopefully, the norm. The opportunities are endless!”–Dr. Brandi Baldwin, CEO of Millennial Ventures Holdings