Inclusive Hospitality

By on Nov 5, 2020 in News

At its core, the travel industry encourages new experiences and exploration. It invites guests to find comfort in unknown terrain and discover a sense of belonging amongst new people. Unfortunately, the travel industry has not historically operated in the same welcoming inclusivity that it promotes.

“This world is a diverse one—so how could the very industry that promotes the exploration of that world not be?” inquires Tiana Attride, editor at Here Magazine. As the sole black editor, often the only black staff member and commonly the only person of color at press events, Attride is frustrated by the lack of inclusion practices within travel businesses and marketing.

Sheila Johnson, co-founder of RLJ Companies, a Yardi client, founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, has experienced a similar discord between travel industry messaging and practices. In her 40 years as an entrepreneur and 15 years focusing on hospitality, she has seen small improvements in inclusion and equity practices.

“But there’s also the rub,” Johnson reflects. “I recognize we still can and should do more.”

Both women, like other minorities interviewed from the industry, see a clear path forward.

  1. A foundation for success

The first step to create a more inclusive hospitality industry begins with acknowledgement.

“An unfortunate number of people in this country – black and white – are far from coming to grips with institutional racism, the kind of racism that is also baked into the very fabric of so many American institutions,” says Johnson. “For this reason, many people still cannot even talk about racism, much less actually do something about it.”

But hospitality providers are strongly positioned to tackle the issue head on. “Our industry is a living laboratory of cultures. Every day we make it possible for team members from multiple backgrounds, creeds and colors to work side-by-side and learn from one another, becoming wiser, more compassionate, and more understanding human beings as they do,” Johnson says.

She adds, “The hospitality industry already employs such a diverse cross-section of people – people of all different colors, cultures, languages, backgrounds, and religions – we have a gigantic head start in learning how to fix this country’s single most burning social issue today; namely, race or racism in America.”

  1. Change starts at the top

To promote a more just and equitable hospitality sector, a mental shift must occur amongst leadership.

Attride says, “For the majority-white leaders in the travel industry—who readily claim their love of cultural enrichment, but who regularly fail to include multicultural voices—their own inherent racism will be an uncomfortable truth to confront. Many will struggle to do so. But if the mere performance of allyship is over and the time has truly come to expand the vision and voice of travel, it’s paramount that these truths be recognized and addressed.”

The mission to become actively anti-racist is most potent on an individual basis, Attride notes. Leaders set the tone for the organizations. Their firm stance and personal practices of inclusion will steer the organization in the right direction.

  1. When the top reflects the whole, organizations achieve greater success

“We’re going to fix [racism] by demanding more of ourselves,” says the Salamander CEO. “We do it by providing promotions and professional opportunities to people who don’t fit traditional stereotypes.”

About 97% of U.S. companies fail to have senior leadership teams that reflect the country’s ethnic labor force. Per the NAACP 2019 Opportunity and Diversity Report Card: Hotel and Resort Industry, “the industry appears to be going backward in terms of including African Americans and other non-white minorities in its top ranks.” Specifically, top management positions held by people of color decreased from 29% in 2007 to only 19% in 2015. In the boards of directors for hotel companies, African Americans composed an average of 12% and other minorities stand at 6%.

The NAACP report suggests that “low representation in upper management levels is due in part to a lack of promotion.” The disparity may reflect both unintentional and intentional discriminatory practices. Moreover, it hinders organizations from optimal performance.

Hiring, training and mentoring a diverse range of talent fosters socially intelligent and creative workspaces. Harvard Business Review reports, “nearly 95% of directors agree that diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom, while 84% believe it enhances board performance.”

Integrating diversity into leadership positions can also be more profitable: diverse workplaces outperform industry norms by 35%.

“Correlation does not equal causation,” says Ruchika Tulshyan, author of Forbes’ The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace. “Greater diversity doesn’t automatically mean more profit – the link indicates that companies committed to diverse leadership are more successful.”

Leaders that demonstrably value diversity foster companies that are better equipped to win top talent, improve customer orientation, achieve employee satisfaction, and remain nimble in changing conditions, Tulshyan proposes. But it all begins with acknowledging the value of diversity and intentionally creating an equitable playing field for employees.

  1. Refine hiring practices

Additionally, the NAACP report proposes that revised recruitment strategies can help to “develop relationships and end the long-standing history of a lack of diversity in these top-level positions.” Human resources professionals and upper management can diversify their staffing pool by broadening their networks.

Shellye Archambeau is the CEO of MetricStream, a governance and compliance firm based in Silicon Valley. She is also on the Verizon board of directors and is the first African American female CEO of a Kleiner Perkins venture-backed company.

“Most people are likely to have people who look like them in their immediate networks,” she observes. Archambeau notes that hiring managers must be encouraged to step outside of their networks.

“Recognize and reward managers that are creating diverse teams,” she says. “It’s a missed business opportunity if your clients and consumers are of different backgrounds and genders, but your team is homogenous.” She adds, “Diversity really helps teams thrive.”

Archambeau recommends targets instead of quotas. The latter uses discriminatory practices to fill seats. The former creates broader opportunities for growth. “I really don’t like quotas. Targets at every level ensure you have focused activities to execute on an overall objective,” she says.

Johnson says, “If the hospitality industry as a whole is strengthened by its diversity, doesn’t it stand to reason that our leaders would also benefit from the same broadening of racial experiences, sensibilities, and backgrounds?”

For leaders who are unsure where to begin, Attride recommends working with a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. Such organizations help leaders identify overt and covert internal racial biases in hiring practices and daily operations. Removing internal biases makes space for more effective teams and better business.

  1. Develop platforms for diverse voices

In 2018, 87.9% of PR industry professionals were white. There was also an average $9,000 pay gap between white and nonwhite professionals, “even when tenure, job type, education, field of study, location, and ethnicity are held constant,” reports Harvard Business Review.

Attride proposes that a lack of diversity in press agencies creates a ripple effect. Content issued from such agencies feature predominately white businesses, restaurants, branding and perspectives.

“By inviting Black writers on press trips and employing Black organizers, you invite diversity into the resulting stories, reports, and listicles, into the brands you represent and into the travel industry at large,” says Attride.

And again, diversity proves better for business. Harvard Business Review reports that clients are mandating more diversity and inclusion. Proposals from agencies that lack effective diversity and inclusion initiatives don’t make the top of the pile.

  1. Market to diverse clientele

Tourism boards and marketers throughout the hospitality sector must make room for more inclusive marketing. A simple Google Images search of “travel” or “family travel” results in a sea of pale faces in exotic locales. Though Attride notes improvements in recent years, there is more work to be done to represent travelers of color as well as those who are differently abled or members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“To stand in true solidarity with Black people, tourism boards must work to promote a more diverse definition of what travelers look like.” She continues, “This means including Black people in photos and video marketing—this simple act of representation lets us know that we are welcome.”

Improvements are possible when they are intentional

All of the women interviewed agree, in no uncertain terms, that positive change within the industry is possible. When leaders make intentional, conscious efforts towards inclusivity the results will speak for themselves.

The lingering concern seems to be whether the professions of solidarity made in spring 2020 will continue to carry weight into the future.

Says Attride, “The move to create an anti-racist travel and hospitality space must be more than a flash in the pan. In the coming weeks, months, and years, I hope to see major players rise to the occasion at last, rather than make the usual empty platitudes in order to satiate angry online commenters before quietly moving on, business as usual.”

Johnson says, “I urge all of you – especially in these divided times in which we find ourselves – to dare yourself to confront the issue of race as you have never done before.” She continues, “We’re not going to fix [racism] by demanding more of our president, demanding more of our congressmen, or even demanding more of our neighbor. We’re going to fix it by demanding more of ourselves.”