“I see you.”
At the 7th Annual State Of Black Tourism, presented by the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP), a panel of experts convened around the conversation of diversity and equity in the travel and meetings industry, and discussed how it has been shaped by recent historic events.
The panel was moderated by Sheila Neal, a member of the NCBMP Board of Directors, and featured:
- Melissa Cherry, COO, Destinations International
- Elliott L. Ferguson, President & CEO, Destination DC
- Danny Guerrero, VP, North America Strategy & Co-Chair DEI Council, MMGY Global
- Martinique Lewis, President, Black Travel Alliance
- Hon. Levar M. Stoney, Mayor, Richmond, Virginia
- Paul M. Van Deventer, President & CEO, MPI
1. These issues may be newly top of mind for some, but they are not new.
According to the Castell Project’s “Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership” study, although Black people make up 17.9% of employees in the hospitality industry, they hold 0.7% of CEO positions within U.S. hospitality forums. In 1983, when NCBMP was founded, there were zero Black CEOs of convention and visitor bureaus; nearly 40 years later, there are still fewer than 10 Black CEOs among more than 700 CVBs.
“Historically, black people have been largely unseen in this industry,” said Jason Dunn, Sr. Chairman, NCBMP, in his opening address. “We are seen as cleaning rooms, cooking food, setting tables and parking cars. While those roles are very important, Black people are not seen in association boardrooms as executives of budgets and leading industry organizations. And even as you do see us, you don’t truly see us. You look through us.”
2. 2020 has been a year of reckoning, and there’s work to do.
We’ve watched the impact of COVID-19 devastate the travel industry and take a disproportionate toll on Black Americans and people of color – many of whom work on the front lines of the hospitality industry. When the Black Lives Matter movement surged around the death of George Floyd, countless brands and destinations embraced the Blackout Tuesday call to action – flooding Instagram with black squares in a show of solidarity.
But posting on social media doesn’t necessarily translate into action. Martinique Lewis, an industry diversity consultant and creator of the ABC Travel Greenbook, co-founded the Black Travel Alliance (BTA) in the aftermath of Blackout Tuesday.
“We were absolutely appalled by some of the travel brands that decided to do that,” said Lewis in the panel discussion. “These are the same brands that did not answer our phone calls, who don’t answer our emails, who hire us but pay our counterparts three or four times more.”
Supported by the pillars of alliance, amplification and accountability, the BTA is committed to elevating Black voices and faces in travel media – beginning with its #PullUpforTravel campaign that challenged travel brands to publish their Black Travel Scorecard. The scorecard collects data of Black representation in employment, conferences and tradeshows, paid advertising and marketing campaigns, press trips and philanthropy – and the BTA is holding brands accountable for their commitments made during the campaign.
“Diversity and inclusion are more than buzzwords; they are a call to action,” said Lewis.
3. The truth is in the data, but there’s much more to the story.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, nearly 16 million jobs in the travel industry were lost as a result of COVID-19. As many as 40% of the unemployed in the U.S. are linked to the leisure and hospitality sector. But even these sobering numbers do not highlight the realities of marginalized communities that have been disproportionately laid off, furloughed or forced to close their businesses due to the pandemic.
Mayor Levar Stoney talked about the culture in his own city of Richmond, Virginia: “When we have a crisis like this, it really cuts deep into the lives of Black and brown people. [They] have been on the front lines of 2020. And it shows you how a thriving tourism environment in your community can uplift the Black and brown communities.”
4. Leadership leads to action.
Elevating BIPOC and inviting them to the table is ultimately what will drive change. In his introduction, Dunn challenged participants to picture a world of true equity:
“Imagine the U.S. Travel Association, NCBMP, NAACP, National Urban League, The Divine Nine, faith organizations, and the Live Events Coalition sitting in the same room, strategizing on how we can put our industry and community back to work; lobbying and demanding accountability from our elected officials.”
Melissa Cherry, Chief Operating Officer of Destinations International, later pointed out that currently, among destination organizations, 81% of professionals are white; 8.1% are Black; and 5.6% are Latinx. Strategic thinking that includes working directly with HBCUs and industry associations, improving workforce development and educational opportunities, and securing commitments from CEOs to move the needle are all essential steps in amplifying Black and brown professionals across our industry.
5. Knowledge is power, and data will drive decision-making.
According to Dunn, Black meetings and conventions are recession-proof, and this sector will be a significant contributor to the resurgence of the industry. Meanwhile, Black purchasing power has already been identified as a tremendous force, valued at $63 billion in a 2018 study by Mandala Research.
“In 2020, it stopped being about asking; it became about pushing,” said Danny Guerrero, VP of North America Strategy & Co-Chair of the DEI Council at MMGY Global. “Research is important, and we need to show the economic power of the Black traveler in the leisure and meetings spaces.”
As part of MMGY Global’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council, MMGY Travel Intelligence has partnered with the BTA, the NCBMP and the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD) to publish a groundbreaking study, “The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities.” This report will measure the current economic power of Black travelers; provide detailed profiles of demographics, behaviors and motivations of Black leisure travelers across the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom/Ireland; and survey Black meetings professionals to better understand underrepresented traveler communities.
“The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities” is set to publish in early November and will be available for download, with 100% of proceeds donated back to the three partner organizations and other not-for-profit groups.