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Industry Briefs
The Evolution of 'Diversity' In Hospitality & Tourism
Greg DeShields


Across industries, organizations, and among individuals, the idea of "diversity" is defined many ways. At the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), our definition would not be complete without the essence of "inclusion" and the realization that diversity is a vital asset which must be embraced. Reaching these conclusions early on, the PHLCVB became the first Convention and Visitors Bureau to establish a Multicultural Affairs Congress (MAC), founded by A. Bruce Crawley and State Representative Dwight Evans, and known today as PHLDiversity.

As a division of the PHLCVB, our bottom line is foremost to increase the city's share of the meeting and convention industry, and fill hotel rooms. PHLDiversity was created to ensure that as these goals are met holistically, meeting and hotel bookings accurately reflect the shifting economic and cultural climate of our country. Diversity is, after all, an ever-evolving portrait and demands ever-evolving practices.

While our division began with a focus on only the African-American market, we soon expanded to include the Hispanic and Latino community. Native Americans and Asian Americans followed not long after. As each growing population stepped up to claim their niche in the meeting and convention market, PHLDiversity was there to help cultivate the industry standard. As society evolves naturally, so too must we, to identify the emerging markets in need of recognition in all aspects of business.

For PHLDiversity, this was ensured by designing a strategy grounded in extensive research. Twenty-five years after our inception in 1977, the division took on a new story as we sought to more accurately reflect the changing dynamics of our country. Partnering with Temple University's FOX School of Business in 2013, we commissioned a 110 page study that showed a new way forward, marked by the inclusion of emerging markets such as women, the LGBT community, and international visitors. Once these markets were identified, PHLDiversity commissioned a deeper dive in 2014, focusing on growth opportunities and a greater understanding of not just who to reach, but how to reach them. We've since adopted a much more methodical approach to analyzing the perception of Philadelphia as a destination and the needs of both meeting planners and attendees.

As such, the city has succeeded in recent bookings of the largest and most diverse events in our history. The 2015 World Meeting of Families and accompanying Papal visit are projected to draw one million visitors from more than 150 nations, while the 2016 Democratic National Convention could inject upwards of $200 million into the local economy via more than 35,000 visitors from across the nation.

What Philadelphia and the PHLCVB offer, after all, are not things all cities can claim. With 65,000 hospitality professionals in Philadelphia County, and more than 170,000 in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, we are uniquely positioned to leverage these assets for professional organizations considering our city. After all, the selection process for a major national convention is never a simple one. The bid for the 2015 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Convention began with a nation-wide search, followed by a short list, and finally an invitation to present to the highest level decision makers. In partnership with the City of Philadelphia, the PHLCVB came out on top because diversity is a fundamental priority for Philadelphians in every industry. The PHLDiversity 2014 Annual Luncheon, our signature event, proved this as we broke attendance records with more than 610 diverse attendees. This overwhelming feat underscored PHLDiversity's expansion and demonstrated citywide support of the inclusion of emerging markets in our ongoing commitment to diversity.

Beyond the benefits of a city itself, there aren't many CVBs who offer no-cost services with the depth of what PHLDiversity provides. While other markets offer quality locations and services, PHLDiversity's extensive resources run the gamut from site selection to execution. Beyond providing information about the city's rich multicultural history, PHLDiversity is able to create microsites for conventions, offering a central depository of destination information for meetings attendees. Our programming assistance as well is unparalleled. In collaboration with the National Organization of Minority Architects in 2014, PHLDiversity reached beyond the architectural market, partnering with the Center City Proprietors Association to produce an event that engaged diverse leaders in real estate, development and beyond. PHLDiversity changed the game, and knew how to expand the conversation in a way that had never been done before.

It is, however, not just what you know, but who you know. PHLDiversity builds community relationships between visiting organizations and local groups who share a culture and ideals. We work in tandem to create connections for meeting planners, whether this is with the local media, minority owned businesses, or political officials. These relationships prove invaluable to groups looking for speakers, exhibitors, and ad sponsors. With a well-represented group of 45 local leaders, often the connections our organizations seek are seated right around our board table.

As the PHLCVB, and thus PHLDiversity continues to evolve, perhaps the most advantageous idea of all is that we do not "define" our markets. We allow them to define themselves, creating a more dynamic vehicle for individuals to express their needs and identities. A Latino woman, for example, is more complex than her nationality or her gender, and PHLDiversity's inclusive approach recognizes that our audiences are more than the sum of their parts.

By leading the charge in hospitality inclusion efforts, PHLDiversity aims to spur the advancement of meetings and conventions in the coming years. We envision an industry in which each interest group feels valued not despite, but because of their unique perspective, as we work optimistically towards this goal.

Greg DeShields is the Executive Director of The Multicultural Affairs Congress (PHLDiversity), a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) that was formed in 1987 as the first multicultural division of a Convention & Visitors Bureau in the nation. PHLDiversity maximizes opportunities for the region by promoting Philadelphia as an ethnically diverse visitor destination, encouraging multicultural business and social responsibility that contributes to and benefits from the varying multicultural communities that enhance our region's hospitality and tourism industry. For more information, visit www.phldiversity.com .

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