Getting ‘Uncomfortable’ at industry #MeToo event inspires new possibilities
From left to right: Brad Ford, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold; Shalene Dudley, owner, Latitude Concierge Travels; Rhea Simms, global coordinator for the Planeterra Foundation; Amrita Bhalla, managing director, A.B and sessional lecturer at Ryerson University

Getting ‘Uncomfortable’ at industry #MeToo event inspires new possibilities

TORONTO — Things got a little ‘uncomfortable’, but the first ever travel industry event addressing #MeToo issues left guests more knowledgeable about the problem and inspired about the possibility of everyone feeling safe, without fear of sexual harassment.

Led by a panel of travel professionals and public educators, ‘Let’s Get Uncomfortable’ centred on issues of workplace inequity, sexual harassment and the importance of bystander intervention. It was hosted by Young Travel Professionals (YTP) in partnership with Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, sponsored by G Adventures and Planeterra.

According to the event organizers, Britney Hope, Account Manager – Media Relations at Bannikin, Annie Ewing, Independent Travel Advisor, TTI Travel and Terrilyn Kunopaski, Editor-in-Chief, CT Magazine & Canadian Traveller, the travel industry can be an uncomfortable place for many people.

“’Does that mean I get to spank you?’ ‘Do I get to pull your f***ing hair right now?’ These are real quotes from women in this room said to them by their travel industry colleagues,” says Kunopaski, the panel moderator. “Unfortunately, as much as the #MeToo movement has accomplished over the past year, the travel industry still struggles to even acknowledge that gender-based discrimination and harassment are deeply embedded problems.”

The event’s expert educators included Julie Lalonde, a women’s rights advocate and public educator, and Farrah Khan, manager of Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education.

Panel members included Amrita Bhalla, managing director, A.B Consulting and sessional lecturer at Ryerson University; Shalene Dudley, owner, Latitude Concierge Travels; Brad Ford, President of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold; and Rhea Simms, global coordinator for the Planeterra Foundation.

While the panel conversation touched on enough subject matter for a dozen more events, it is clear that some shifts in our personal attitudes could help spur company and industry wide positive change too.

Here are some of the main takeaways from the event:

  • Sexual harassment goes well beyond physical assault and inappropriate, sexually suggestive comments should also not be tolerated or laughed off as a joke.
  • It is no longer acceptable to be a passive bystander watching bad behavior unfold, it is everyone’s responsibility to keep people safe and feeling comfortable. You can bring it up on the spot, for example, “What you said wasn’t cool” or you may feel it best to bring it up privately. In either case, the onus is on the perpetrator to figure out why their behaviour is unacceptable. Don’t feel like it’s your job to explain.
  • Coming forward as a victim is extremely stressful and life-changing, so there’s needs to be as much support as possible so people don’t feel further ostracized and harassed. The biggest thing victims of sexual assault need is your support, so listen to them and help them take any next steps that might be necessary.
  • Creating a safe work environment for victims to come forward is of utmost important for individuals and companies alike, but must always be left to the discretion of victims.
  • Everyone should also reflect on whether they are personally approachable with these types of issues and whether people have felt safe sharing their stories with you. If not, you might want to understand why to help make people feel more comfortable in the future.
  • Businesses of all sizes must put transparent, well-publicized sexual harassment policies in place that include the reporting and investigating process, as well as the consequences for infractions.
  • It is important to prioritize the empowerment of women so they may succeed at executive and board level positions. Currently, 5-8% of women hold board positions, even though they make up 70% of the workforce in the travel industry (Diageo Study).
  • We need to become aware of the impact travel has in-destination on gender equality issues, just like some companies, like G Adventures, take pride in considering their environmental and economic impact.
  • There are many resources available to people who have been victimized by sexual harassment. Information is available at or call the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre at 416-597-8808.

This is the first of many initiatives to keep the #MeToo conversation moving forward, says the three organizers, adding that they hope industry leaders who can make a difference within their organization will begin to take these issues more seriously.  This ‘uncomfortable’ event planted the seed of possibility that everyone can feel safe and enjoy the industry we love.

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