Black Meetings and Tourism

July/August 2014

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 23 of 60

23 B M & T ••• July/August 2014 ••• WHAT CAN ELECTED OFFICIALS DO TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD FOR AFRICAN-AMERICANS AND OTHER PEOPLE OF COLOR IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY? It's no secret we don't have many elected officials who advocate for a level playing field when it comes to African-Americans in the hospitality industry. Most elected officials who advocate on behalf of our industry in general typical- ly look at the big picture – tax revenues, infrastructure projects like con- vention centers, tourist attractions and hotel properties. These leaders remain oblivious to our lack of full participation in hospitality. In fact, many politicians both at the national and local level know very little about the inner-workings of our industry, which is what makes the work of organizations like United States Travel Association (USTA) so vital. Roger J. Dow, president and CEO of USTA and his team spend an inordinate amount of time simply educating politicians on the value and rewards of supporting an industry that's responsible for one of nine American jobs and tens of billions in tax revenues. So the challenge and value of leveling is often secondary and might not even be on the radar of politicians. When is the last time you heard a campaign speech that included a mention of hospitality and its benefits to a community, unless it involved raising taxes for a sports stadium? What do we mean by leveling the playing field? How about fairness in employment opportunities and leadership positions? We still have just one African-American heading a state tourism bureau – Rita McClenny, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. Listening to that worn out phrase "we can't find qualified candidates" is wearing thin. At last count we had less than a dozen convention and visitors bureau chiefs out of over 500 positions nationwide. How about tax revenues? Where are the tax revenues generated by hospitality dollars going within the local communities? Many of those we spoke to for this story complained loudly about the allocation of those resources, yet none wanted to speak on the record. How about simply marketing travel and tourism products to the African-American community? This issue is near and dear to my heart, not just because I write for a Black travel pub- lication. If you simply look at all Black media, you find very little in the way of direct promotion to the Black community. Could an elected official use the bully-pulpit to create opportunities? How about mandating city, state and federal governments that sup- port our industry to require qualified minority participation in any supplier/vendor contract? The list of places where an elected official can lend a voice are endless, and some have, but the clarion call for equality simply isn't loud enough just yet to make a significant dif- ference. Linda Haithcox, executive director of the National Policy Alliance laid out a simple four-step formula that would be easy to imple- ment if only the will existed to truly level the playing field. "Tourism starts at the local level," says Haithcox and "local leaders should create pol- icy that not only encourages minority partici- pation but requires participation with the CVBs." It should cross all strata of city, coun- ty and state government. To make this step easier to implement, Haithcox believes there should be incentives for local CVBs. You exceed a certain percentage of minori- ty hires in places other than low-level administration jobs or increased vendor participation, then reward those efforts. The reward could be monetary in the form of increased funding or some other creative recog- nition of success. Unfortunately, many places don't seek equality because it's the right thing to do, so lets give them the opportunity through incentives to get it right. This approach could be part of a broad-based plan of economic development that goes a long way towards not only creating economic growth, but creating a harmonious relationship with all leaders and their constituents as well. If rewarding the CVBs doesn't do the trick, maybe its time to apply a little financial pressure in the other direction. Bed tax revenues fund most CVBs. Elected officials are certainly in a position to affect the disburse- ment of those tax dollars in a more equitable manner. Second, Haithcox believes, "African-Americans and other minorities should be given the opportunity to own hotels in the communi- ties in which they live. Local leaders should part- ner with the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers to expand such opportunities." Most communities can put together teams of African-American investors to partner on hotel properties. Governments create business opportunities with private indus- try all the time. Back in 2011, Perry County Alabama Commissioner Albert Turner, Jr., spearheaded efforts for a Sleep Inn and Suites in the town of Marion. The county purchased the site of the hotel for $150,000 and leased back the property to Photo Credit: Mandy Godbehear Linda Haithcox

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Black Meetings and Tourism - July/August 2014