TORONTO — Five panelists were joined by more than 100 participants last night for Let’s Get Uncomfortable’s second event, ‘Confronting Anti-Black Racism in Travel and Tourism.’
Moderated by LGU organizer, Shalene Dudley, founder of Latitude Concierge Travels, and with panelists Maxine Gundermann, market sales manager, Eastern Ontario at Celebrity Cruises; Margie Jordan, Vice President, TRUE Global Network with CCRA Travel Commerce Network; Kier Matthews, director of sales at Classic Vacations; and Tolu Aladejebi, founder of Black in Hospitality, the virtual event tackled important issues with candor and a vision for the future.
Despite their contributions to the travel and tourism industry, “Black voices have long been missing from the conversation,” said Dudley. “Simply put, the travel industry is run by individuals who hardly represent those who keep the wheels turning.”
She added: “Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.”
The event’s panelists shared some of their experiences as Black professionals working in the travel industry, and travelling in Canada and abroad, and invited participants to do the same.
When she presents her Platinum AMEX card, Dudley says, she’s constantly asked for backup identification. “For me, it’s the constant need to prove that my ID is my own. The idea that I couldn’t possibly hold [a Platinum AMEX card] is absurd.”
Margie Jordan, Vice President, TRUE Global Network with CCRA Travel Commerce Network, said she’ll be at the airport checking in for her flight, in the first class line, “and often someone will come over to ask me, the lone Black girl in the lineup, ‘Are you in the right line?’. She just asks me. She doesn’t ask anyone else. She questions my status to be in that line.”
Positive Black representation in marketing materials for everything from resorts to airlines to destinations would go a long way and it’s a step that needs to be taken. “I don’t see many people who look like me as being the face of a hotel, or an airline. It’s all about representation. Why is it only white people?” said Tolu Aladejebi, founder of Black in Hospitality.
Celebrity Cruises BDM Maxine Gundermann says making sure marketing material is inclusive is key and something travel agencies can do fairly easily. “We want to share a message of inclusion. That’s an easy first step to take for travel agencies.”
Going forward, Gundermann says it’s important that everyone in the travel industry puts their money where their mouth is and supports companies who foster a message and environment of inclusion.
Jordan says that promoting inclusion is nothing new, and it’s always been crucial. “We’ve always been asking. People are just now starting to listen. We’ve been asking for a very long time.”
She adds that as a group, Black travellers are “an overlooked, underrepresented market, and one that’s growing…. To not care about that is shameful, it’s sad, it’s almost disrespectful to Black people.”
Last night’s virtual event also looked at workplace inequities, and how to action change. Fostering an inclusive workplace is key and there’s no shortage of resources, says Black in Hospitality’s Aladejebi. “It’s time we actually speak about these things out loud. There are webinars available, seminars available. Hire these people to come in and train the executive team and this will trickle down to the staff.”
Jordan adds that taking action is imperative and long overdue. “I think it was Maya Angelou who said ‘When you know better, do better.’ Just get it done.”
ONE TRAVEL AGENT’S EXPERIENCE
Ayesha Patel, Travel Consultant with The Travel Agent Next Door, tells Travelweek that with COVID-19 and the quarantine she’s had a lot of time to catch up and do online training with suppliers. “Though I have only been in this industry about two years, there is one thing that has really stood out in pretty much all the marketing across the board for suppliers: Ethnic minorities are GROSSLY underrepresented in the marketing material.”
Patel says she was in the midst of doing the training course for Regent Seven Seas that promotes itself as a luxury product “and all the slides of clients enjoying their experience have been Caucasian. The only time I saw an ethnic minority was when they mentioned the staff on board or a member of the foreign country.”
Many suppliers “just did not include visible minorities as clients of theirs, though I have no doubt many have used their products. Some were better, like Sandals, Goway, and Sunwing. But in today’s day and age of diversity and inclusion, it is so disappointing that the representation of travel and wealth seems to fall onto one ‘look’.
Toronto-based Patel says she lives in an area where ethnic minorities are the majority and who also have the wealth to travel on all levels of travel, from entry level to luxury level. “Yet, they can’t see themselves being a part of the experiences that these suppliers portray in their marketing material. And this should be addressed.”
Organizers of last night’s event offered these takeaways to move the dial on the issue of racism in the travel industry:
- People who aren’t in leadership positions simply need to speak out when they see injustices.
- They should be speaking with their actions and using the opportunity of the COVID-19 rebuild to implement proper anti-racism strategies, better hiring practises, pay equity, and taking a stand publicly (not just internal statements)
- Companies should be making sure that when they make a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and say what they are going to do going forward, that they have also educated their employees to understand as well
- Companies should not wait for their racialised employees to make changes first. They should take a lead and make changes without having to be pushed into it.
- Companies should be held accountable for how much action they are or aren’t taking on this (and other topics, like sustainability and women’s rights). “We can speak with our wallets, and also call out companies that are being silent or are not following through with their commitments.”
- Everyone has a personal responsibility as travel professionals to speak out against injustices and iniquities wherever we see them, in our own companies and throughout the industry
- Travel agencies, tour operators, etc. should be learning how to market to and support Black travellers in the way that we try to support LGBTQ+ travellers or solo women. Where will they be racially profiled? Where will they be welcomed and treated as a valued guest?
- It’s important for travel agents to actively turn around their clients’ biases about majority-Black countries (“all Caribbean islands are the same,” not wanting to visit a certain country because it’s “dangerous” or “too poor”)
- It’s important to create a company culture where racism is not tolerated to the same degree as theft, dishonesty, sexual harassment, etc.
- HR needs to be completely restructured so as not to exist to protect the company and its management, but instead to work to create a safe and inclusive work environment for employees. They need to take racism complaints very seriously so that the employee does not have to return to work with the person they complained about.
The organizers also note that two of the panelists from last night’s event, Tolu Aladejebi and Margie Jordan, work as diversity consultants and are available to hire.