Black Meetings and Tourism

March / April 2023

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Page 14 of 60

B M & T ••• March/April 2023 ••• 14 Ethnic leisure travelers and meeting groups aren't just looking for relatable tourist attractions when they choose a destination, they're also noticing how much diversity there is – or isn't – within the industry organizations vying for their business. As Ferguson notes, it's essen- tial that the boards of directors, marketing teams and memberships of destination marketing organizations be as diverse as the markets they are targeting. "You have to have people at the table that represent those markets," Ferguson says. "If they don't work for you, you need to employ external organizations that can assist you with that." The American Experience Foundation, the official nonprofit affiliate of Destination DC, aims to increase diversi- ty in the hospitality industry by providing students of color with access to free field trips to the city, internships and college scholarships. Industry DEI is one of the four main pil- lars of activity at Tourism Diversity Matters, along with apprenticeships, workforce development, and research and data. "We have a bench of consult- ants who work with us to deliver organi- zation DEI assessments," DeShields says. "We've worked with a number of organizations since the inception of TDM to provide leaders with specific analyses of their organizations, to learn where their gaps are and to quantitatively and qualita- tively deliver recommendations and resources to build a more effective strat- egy around DEI." For example, TDM is working with the HSMAI Foundation, the research and educational arm of the Hospitality Sales and Management Association International, to assess the reasons for the lack of representation of African Americans in sales, marketing and rev- enue management jobs in the hotel indus- try. "We established our organizational assessments to allow organizations to go beyond the performative nature of what they do around DEI," DeShields says. "It's not about just putting out a state- ment when something happens." If industry leaders want to get more people of color on track for leadership roles, DeShields adds, they must "fish where the fish are." That means con- necting, for example, with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Black fraternities and sororities, and Black professional organizations to recruit job candidates. And DeShields stresses that workplace inclusion is just as impor- tant as hiring diversity. "Don't build an environment of assimilation," he advis- es. Instead, industry employers need to "create a culture that is inclusive and welcoming and allows people to feel that they belong." The growth and support of diversity among hospitality industry business own- ers is another key factor in attracting ethnic travelers, and something DeShields says is also a major component of TDM's mis- sion. The organization's efforts on that front include its partnerships with the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and the Latino Hotel Association, whose President & CEO Lynette Montoya is on the TDM Board of Directors. San Diego's groundbreaking Tourism Accelerator Program, now in its second year, provides resources for businesses owned by people of color, women, veter- ans, and members of the LGBTQ+ com- munity. Each year, 10 local businesses are chosen to receive coaching, financial, legal, labor and marketing support, plus a complimentary SDTA membership. The entire package is valued at more than $14,000. "By implementing the Tourism Accelerator, we are increasing the number of diverse businesses in our membership base and providing visi- tors and meeting planners with more diverse products and experiences from which to choose," Coker says. When we grow the number of diverse businesses, we are helping to ensure the local tourism recovery is equitable for everyone, which is a win-win for our residents and visitors." Coker notes that working with local chambers of commerce and other busi- ness organizations is another important step in targeting ethnic markets. For example, the SDTA collaborated with the County of San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce to get the word out about the launch of the Tourism Accelerator. Ethnic travelers choose destinations that engage with them through relatable media channels, make them feel wel- come, offer opportunities to explore cul- tural connections and have visible diversi- ty among travel industry professionals and business owners. Any strategy for targeting the ethnic market that fails to address each of those expectations is likely to miss the mark. Those that get it right can help accelerate their local indus- try's economic recovery. "An opportunity to attract more visi- tors and event attendees from ethnic markets leads to a more vibrant and diverse atmosphere and a boost to the local economy, which leads to a favorable return on investment," Coker says. "All in all, paying attention to varying ethnic markets is essential for the continued growth and success of the meetings and tourism industry." "An opportunity to attract more visitors and event attendees from ethnic markets leads to a more vibrant and diverse atmosphere and a boost to the local economy, which leads to a favorable return on investment,"

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