Making Diversity a Priority
Black members of the meetings industry speak out
about their experiences with racism and what needs to happen to make real changes
Out of 700 convention and visitor bureaus in the nation, only nine are headed by Black CEOs, according to data from Black Meetings & Tourism. Black professionals in the hospitality industry have not fared much better.
Research from the Castell Project, a nonprofit organization focused on improving diversity in the hospitality industry, shows Black employees comprise 18.8 percent of the hospitality industry, but hold less than one percent of CEO positions. This data, which was collected in early 2020, does not account for all of the jobs that have been lost during the pandemic.
"While these data points speak to the reality of our industry, they do not highlight the devastating impact to hospitality professionals of color, who have disproportionately been laid off, furloughed or forced to close their business due in part to the types of jobs that they held," said Jason Dunn, chairman of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals and group vice president of diversity sales and inclusion for the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, during his opening address at the seventh annual State of Black Tourism.
The event, which was hosted online by the NCBMP last week, brought together industry leaders from the Black Travel Alliance, Destinations International, Meeting Professionals International, MMGY Global and more to discuss ways to uplift their Black colleagues and make the meetings and travel industries more welcoming and inclusive.
"When I started in this industry in the mid 90s, I only saw two women who looked like me in boardrooms and that was it," said Melissa Cherry, COO of Destinations International. "That continues to be the trend. So, I'm excited to have these conversations with our association and push our members to make sure those rooms are more diverse."
The panelists called for change and noted that the time for excuses was up. "We have been preaching diversity and inclusion for years. This is beating a dead horse," said Martinique Lewis, president of the Black Travel Alliance. "Stop the tokenism and eliminate the excuses. It's time to say, 'We've done a terrible job of doing this but moving forward, we're going to work with you to be better.'"
The speakers noted that organizations not only have a moral imperative to improve their diversity efforts, but also a financial incentive. Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, pointed to studies that show businesses with diverse staffs are more profitable. For example, research from the global management company McKinsey suggests that companies with ethnically and culturally diverse boards are 43 percent more likely to experience higher profits.
Meeting and tourism companies should also pay more attention to Black travelers, said Danny Guerrero, vice president of North America strategy and co-chair of the diversity, equity and inclusion council at MMGY Global. The international travel and tourism agency recently launched a series of studies focused on measuring the economic impact of Black travelers and other underrepresented communities. According to Guerrero, initial findings show that Black travelers are the group that has reported being the most likely to travel again for business meetings and conventions, as well as for leisure travel.
"Black meetings and conventions are recession proof. We know this. They will be a significant contributor to the resurgence of our industry," said Dunn, urging organizations to consider the needs of Black travelers and to include Black professionals in discussions on helping the industry recover. "Imagine the U.S. Travel Association, NCBMP, NAACP, National Urban League and the Live Events Coalition sitting in the same room, strategizing on how we can put our industry and communities back to work, lobbying and demanding action from our elected officials."
During the event, the NCBMP announced that its 37th Annual Convention would be held virtually, Nov. 19-20. Registration is expected to open on Sept. 24.