It’s easy to get passionate about the importance of diversity, especially in tourism—an industry built around experiencing and appreciating different places, people and cultures. But how practical is it to actually implement from a business standpoint?
It is not only practical, it is what Greg DeShields from Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM) calls “a business imperative.”
“You have to approach all of this clearly from a business perspective,” says DeShields, Executive Director of TDM. “Often people will engage in DEI based on passion, not really knowledge,” says DeShields.
This is where Tourism Diversity Matters comes in. A silver lining of Covid-19, the idea for TDM came in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and beyond. TDM’s founders—already entrenched in the tourism industry—saw a need for an organization focused on supporting tour businesses in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) 365 days a year. TDM has four pillars, one of which specifically focuses on providing DEI training, assessment and resources for organizations in the tourism industry.
Here are some of DeShields’ key insights on the business approach to advancing DEI for operators and business leaders in the tours, activities and attractions sector.
Customers Expect Diversity
“Customers today have an expectation of authentic experiences,” says DeShields, and authentic experiences = diversity. Operators of tours, activities and attractions “have to be much more mindful of how inclusive we are.”
It’s not only about customers expecting diversity, either: customers themselves are diverse. “We have a diverse community and diverse population that we want to connect with,” says DeShields. “Businesses that see [DEI] as perhaps a nice thing to do truly miss out on the business opportunity associated and how it creates an ultimate competitive advantage for you.”
Ultimately, DeShields says, a customer-oriented approach to DEI adds credibility and validity to your business. DEI initiatives factor into “our ability to draw different customers in and our ability to have what may be perceived as a higher quality experience… it’s a way of leveraging your commitment to enhance and grow the type of business that you are,” and customers respond to that.
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Diversity Doesn’t Happen Overnight
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is a journey, it’s not a sprint,” says DeShields.
“Most organizations engage in DEI and they have absolutely no clue where they are as an organization. Organizations have to have some clarity on their readiness to even embark on DEI. There may be cultural challenges and barriers that exist in your organization before you can even begin to do the work.”
“I would encourage people to go at this with the intent of having small wins, so that you can build the capability, you can build the muscle to do it better and better and take it to another level.”
The Same Principles of Business Apply to DEI
Just as you don’t “do marketing” one time, set it and forget it, DEI is not something you simply “fix.” “Your activities around DEI should not be of a performative nature,” cautions DeShields, “it’s not about putting up a sign, it’s not about checking a box.”
Instead, DEI “should be strategic.” says DeShields. “It’s about what is this that we are specifically trying to do and what is the intended outcome and how will we measure the success of this, and that’s where the emphasis on strategy and prioritization comes into play.”
“Most businesses do understand how they strategically intend to make their business a success and I would use those same principles around DEI: setting measurements, setting goals, determining outcomes, reevaluating, all of those are just those fundamentals that are really tied to the success of DEI.”
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Diversity is Diverse, and Constantly Evolving
“Do I have to say LGBTQI+? Can’t I just use one word?”
One challenge DeShields sees with tour operators is this tendency to want to oversimplify. “They want to have this homogenized approach to diversity: ‘Can’t we have one thing that describes everyone?’”
Absolutely not, emphasizes DeShields. “People are multi-dimensional, people will continue to evolve…This is not monolithic, it is something that will require you to maintain a level of knowledge and insight, and to realize that the marketing plan that you did a year ago, especially as it relates to DEI, should probably be revisited next year, to see what things have changed.”
Diversity is also not only about race or gender. TDM encourages everyone to look at the “19 different dimensions of diversity,” which includes everything from culture and ethnicity, to age and disability, to marital status and sexual orientation, to religion and educational background. “It is without any doubt the different dimensions that we all come from that makes diversity so exciting.”
Diversity is Here to Stay
”I think it’s important across all sectors of the industry to recognize that diversity, equity and inclusion is here to stay,” says DeShields. “It is certainly something that has been good for society and it will continue to evolve in society but it is a real cornerstone of how we do business.”
For all of us in tourism, this also speaks to the importance of being consistent, explains DeShields. “I would encourage everyone who participates in Arival to realize that there’s no delineation of a customer, you’re getting that same person who’s been engaged in a continuum of focus around DEI it’s just that now they’re attending your event, now they’re attending your tour, there should be a constant connection to meet the customer’s expectation when it comes to our industry’s commitment to DEI.”
It may not be simple, but it is quite simply good business.
Join us at Arival 360 | Las Vegas for a series of sessions about “The DEI Journey” supported by Tourism Diversity Matters, covering topics including the language of diversity, the business case for diversity, inclusion and accessibility for the abled/disabled community, and the intersection of diversity and sustainability.
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