The Collective Experience: Making Progress in DEI

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The Collective Experience, Tourism Diversity Matters’ 2023 conference, amplified how promoting diversity, equity and inclusion benefits everyone — and that we still have a lot of work to do to realize those benefits.

Called The Collective Experience: 2023 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Conference, the meeting convened by Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM) brought more than 250 leaders from the corporate, nonprofit, government and academic sectors of the tourism industry. Their mission: to find ways to bring access, advancement and economic power not just to the center stage of the conference, but to that of the industry as well.

Held Oct. 24 at the Hilton Philadelphia, the conference grew out of a simple idea. “Tourism Diversity Matters has seen profound changes in our industry, with a growing awareness that diversity is not just a moral obligation, but a strategic imperative,” said Greg DeShields, executive director of TDM. And, like all strategic imperatives, it requires a 365-day-a-year commitment to bring from initial promise to full fruition.

“Organizations want to know what leaders need to do today around DEI,” said DeShields. One is to acknowledge the economic power of a more diverse and inclusive tourism industry — something that is becoming ever clearer as the private sector tunes into the voices of America’s diverse communities, said Jonathan D. Lovitz, Director of Public Affairs and Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce during his keynote. His message was that the true source of equity and ability to bring about change for our communities lies with our economic power. Organizations should center diversity not only in their organization’s operations, but also in the execution of their events with a commitment toward supplier diversity and equitable sourcing.

The Collective Experience showed as well as told this story: The conference was produced through a lens of DEI with prioritization around supplier diversity featuring women-owned businesses, black-women owned businesses and LGBTQ-owned businesses.

In addition to exploring the lack of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) faculty in the academic setting and seeking ways to develop diverse talent pipelines, the conference’s Academic Think Tank also featured an analysis of Tourism Diversity Matters’ DEI organizational assessments from two researchers at San Diego State University — Sandra Pointing, Associate Professor and Carl Winston, Founding Director, L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Their research found that organizations consistently struggle with communication. This means that business leaders, in tourism and in all industries, must develop a strategy to tell their DEI story to their internal team, partners and stakeholders.

In fact, this aspect is so important to a more equitable future that the 2023 TDM Diversity & Inclusion Award was presented to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for its work in creating and sustaining equitable opportunities. While the NAACP is perhaps best known for its work pioneering the civil rights movement in the 20th century, today the organization has expanded its work to end race-based discrimination in today’s world. To illustrate the importance of communication and storytelling, Leon W. Russell, Board of Directors Chair for NAACP, shared powerful insights on how the NAACP works to get people’s attention in much the same way that destination marketers do.

Yes, it can be easy to get bogged down in the latest news cycle and a social media world that revolves around likes and swipes. However, emphasized Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies Director and Futurist Carsten Beck during the CEO roundtable keynote, it’s important to learn how to evaluate what the true risks are, as well as the potential advantages, to plan a route to where we want to be in five or 10 years.

As DeShields said, TDM Conference Co-Chair Gregg Carren and Mike Gamble, the Founder of TDM, exemplify how leaders can approach DEI. “Anytime they could have said, ‘it’s too expensive’ or ‘it’s too risky for our reputation’, but they’ve maintained their commitment supporting DEI from an operational, financial and culture perspective,” DeShields said.

“The Collective Experience conference plays a pivotal role in bringing about this transformation, which is a testament to the power of collective action. We look forward to growing and convening this amazing community of leaders, visionaries and changemakers to advance DEI excellence.”

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