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Industry Briefs

Industries worldwide have been tasked with introducing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as a means to create a more balanced and welcoming environment for everyone, but especially marginalized segments of the workforce. Two of those industries are tourism and hospitality, long criticized for their monumental lack of Black leadership and slow commitment to hiring more diverse managers and executives.

Reportedly, of the more than 700 Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) in the U.S., less than 10 have Black CEOs or presidents. According to recent research, across all industries, including cruise/airline and lodging sectors, 4% or less of CEOs are Black.  And in the hospitality industry, it's less than 1%.

A 2020 Castell Project report on Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership states that 'Diversity in leadership has not been a high priority for the hospitality industry.'  Black executives represent 1.5 percent of hospitality industry executives at the director level or above on company websites which is 12.5 times below their proportionate share of hospitality industry employment.

According to the Castell Project report:

·      One in five industry employees is Black but they hold only one to 60 vice president positions and one to 66 EVP/SVP positions shown on websites. 

·      Less than one percent of hospitality industry CEO/Presidents (0.9 percent) and chiefs (0.7 percent) are Black executives or one to 108 CEOs / Presidents and 145 chiefs.

·      Most Black CEO/Presidents are men (86 percent), while Black women represent 14 percent of Black CEO / Presidents or 0.1 percent of all industry CEO/Presidents.

An MMGY Travel Intelligence report created on behalf of Black travel advocacy organizations, including the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP), the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD), and the Black Travel Alliance (BTA) revealed Black Americans spent an estimated $109.4 billion on leisure travel in 2019, representing roughly 13.1 percent of the U.S. leisure travel market.

The spending power hasn't translated into executive-level jobs for Blacks in the tourism/hospitality industry.

While some industries have done a good job in putting forth substantial DEI initiatives, others have fallen short reducing those three words to nothing more than a feel-good catchphrase with no meaningful momentum behind them.

Seven of the most respected and influential minds in the hospitality/tourism industry recently weighed in on why there is such a lack of Black leadership and whether diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have done enough to shift the culture.

Betty Jones

Betty Jones , the president of Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC), has been in the travel industry for 50 years. In 1989, she and her husband launched CB Jones Travel and Events. She believes jealousy may play a part in Blacks being consistently overlooked for promotions to executive levels.

"There is a trust factor there," she said. "They don't trust us or our judgment. There is some jealousy. They don't want people of color to outshine them. Any position we get, we have to be 10 times better than our counterparts. Even when they know what we're saying is valuable and well worth it. They are not going to promote us. I think they feel 'if we have one or two of them, that's enough. We are doing our part.'"

If Blacks continue to be overlooked, Jones wouldn't be adverse to a boycott. "If there is a company not doing our company justice, it should be known and we shouldn't participate, buy, or sell their product," she said. "If you hit their pocketbook, they would pay attention. TPOC has done that in the past."

Don Welsh

Don Welsh , 65, is the president of Destinations International (DI) and has impressive hospitality/travel credentials.   Welsh said within the industry, there was "always good intent" to do the right thing whether it was hotel companies or CVBs having clear DEI lines. "Somehow they would come and go and ebb and flow depending on the CEO at the time," he said. "But they never stayed as a core priority." 

For the last three years, Welsh said DI has implemented a DEI campaign.  "The industry has some movement, but we have a lot of work to do," he said. "We're slow because workforce development is critical to EDI.  As an industry, we have to do a better job. What gets measured, gets done."

Melissa Cherry

Melissa Cherry is the COO of Destinations International and recently spoke about the CEO pledge the company implemented in early 2020 in response to the turmoil happening in the country. "We wanted to come up with a pledge that would be actionable," she said. "We wanted pledge points that directly correlate with accountability."

Cherry, who has worked in the industry since 1996, said, "The CVB organizational structure is 83% Caucasian/White. There is a very small percentage when it comes to 'of color' at very high leadership positions," she said. "That's the conversation. How do we change that? Bring people in early with an executive mentorship program and an apprenticeship program when someone comes out of college.  All of these pledge points are meant to support continuous action that CEOs would have to make. We've been having the conversation, but there has to be action.  The commitment and action have to be real."

Andy Ingraham

Andy Ingraham is the founder, president, and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators Developers (NABHOOD). His goal when he got into the industry 30 years ago, was to become an entrepreneur and change the travel and tourism market by pushing multicultural travel.

Ingraham said defining DEI is rather simple.  "Tourism. We are in the greatest industry in the world," he said. "When you look at most companies you will see the reflection of America. It's about being included. Am I just here for the party, but not the dinner or discussion afterward?"   The NABHOOD founder said tying diversity with specific benchmarks is a way to turn the tide.

"There are five Black general managers in Florida," said Ingraham. "Two companies have two each - with hundreds of hotels. Why is that? Diversity must be quantified and tied into some sort of action. You are talking about changing the whole DNA of an individual who doesn't believe we are all equal and should have the same opportunities."

While some are quick to designate "race" as the culprit, Ingraham offers another explanation. "It's not racism, but it plays a part," he said. "Racism is never straight. It's classism. It's economics. If I don't know you, I'm not inclined to get to know you and do business with you.  The issue is inclusion.  Nobody is making an effort to seek out beyond what their immediate environment is. We get comfortable with our existing friends. It's time to expand your network."

Ingraham, who studied business administration, said NABHOOD is making a commitment to develop, and curate talent so that there will never be an excuse that they can't find young talented individuals to 'step into a job.'   "Only one percent of hotels are owned by African-Americans," said Ingraham. "About 42% are owned by Asians. The industry needs to do more and provide a staircase of advancement for people of color, particularly African-Americans. We know what the problem is, what are we going to do about it?"

Dzidra Junior

Dzidra Junior , 48, is the president of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals. An industry professional for 29 years, Junior said, "Unfortunately, some of the obstacles in the hospitality/tourism industry have to do with trust and personal feelings from leadership.   Decision-makers and those in leadership promote whom they feel comfortable with which limits minorities' ability to grow," she said. "Minorities are excluded from succession planning. When you have leaders at your company, they want to continue to stay in power."

Junior, who recently became the YMCA of the Rockies' vice-president of Business Development based in Estes Park, Colo., said "telling them about DEI feels like reverse discrimination.   When it is understood this is a business imperative - when leaders see and understand that a diverse workforce is a business imperative and they start to believe that those cases shown to them and understand it contributes to revenue growth, maybe there will be a shift in the paradigm of more inclusion in the workplace," said Junior, who spent 15 years as Director of Global Sales for MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, Nev.

Junior, who serves on the Diversity Task Force for Destinations International, said, for DEI to work, there has to be accountability tied to bonuses and salary increases. "I believe people do what they want to do," she said. "There needs to be consistent and constant training about conscious and unconscious bias. A constant conversation with leadership. The value of having a diverse workforce increases profit and drives innovation. You also have to engage the minority leadership that you do have."

For change to happen in the industry, Junior said, 'It takes a village.'

"Make sure we're advocating for self," she said. "We have to be educators. We have to do more. The same way these corporations build relationships with internship programs is the same way they have to do with minorities."

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat , 58, is the president/CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. He has a mantra he says every day to remind him of what's important.   "Every day I say, 'Our lives begin to end the day that we are silent about things that matter.'"

When it comes to why there are so few Blacks in leadership positions within the hospitality industry, Karamat believes Blacks and other marginalized groups haven't had access to training and development.  "If you think of the hospitality industry in its various aspects, the service industry - who are in those jobs," he asked. "The lion's share of the hospitality industry are usually Hispanic, Black, and Asian, but they all don't have the higher-level jobs. It has served well as an entry point into a career."

Karamat said the missing gap is the mentorship and access to leadership positions. "We need more training and development for the minority community," he said. "They are not getting access to high roles. It's about having the opportunity for training and development. On the surface, it looks like hospitality is hiring a lot of people, but those people don't have access. When you don't get access, that's a problem."

Karamat believes the onus to rise in the ranks lies at the feet of those Blacks wanting to climb the corporate ladder.  "I don't care if you are Black, white, blue, or green, you have to show up," he said. "People have to be accountable. The ones you see that are highly successful - are boom, doing it. The one that thinks I'm not getting access - look at your role in that. What is my part in this? How do I own my actions for me? I would say that is starting to happen, but not enough of it is happening."

When it comes to DEI, Karamat said he would switch the order of the letters. "In order for us to go forward we have to be inclusive first," said Karamat. "It's not about our skin color. In certain instances, we can all look different, but we think the same.  Being inclusive of gender, race, and disability. But also be inclusive of different ideas so we can grow.  The second part is equity. We must have equity. Yes, they are employed, but it's about being equitably employed. Access is also important to education, roles, and opportunities. Third, people must feel they belong. Are we fostering cultures? Diversity is an outcome. That's how I approach this one hundred percent."

Paul Van Deventer

Paul Van Deventer , 61, is the president/CEO of Meeting Professionals International.  He admits he's at a loss as to why more Blacks have not risen to leadership positions. "I can't answer it," he said. "I don't know. I don't know why we are where we are. It's not unique. We are not the only industry that has significant gaps. The race, gender, equality gap. Within our industry the majority of the leadership are males."

Van Deventer said many organizations don't fully understand the dynamics at play or how to address them, let alone make them better.

"We can no longer remain silent, or passive," he said.   He challenged corporations to "make space at the table for those who may look, or think differently," by expanding who they recruit, hire and mentor as the industry reskills and up-skills the tourism/hospitality community. 

"As a White person, what I need to do is move beyond a passive acceptance of others and become proactive when it comes to making a difference," said Van Deventer. "We need to drive change. All of us have to move past passive to proactive and be pushing and driving not just accepting.  I view myself as very open-minded, but that's not good enough. It's about calling out others. Others need to do that as well.  I need to drive a change. I owe that back to our industry and our society to leverage those platforms I have."

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