TORONTO — A lot has changed since Let’s Get Uncomfortable (LGU) hosted the first event in its anti-racism series nearly a year ago.
In the span of just one year, the world bore witness to the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. LGU also reports 181 known black people who were killed by the hands of police in the United States as of April 2021, and one in two residents of Asian descent in British Columbia who have experienced a hate incident. And in the past month alone, Canada watched in horror as news broke of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, as well as the targeted hit and run of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
Each event drew global attention and became a pivotal moment in anti-racist movements both here in Canada and around the world. But in terms of actual change within the travel industry that addresses – and progresses – anti-racist rhetoric, practice and policies, LGU says not nearly enough has been done.
During yesterday’s virtual event, ‘Confronting Anti-Black Racism in Travel & Tourism: One Year Later,’ LGU’s Shalene Dudley led a conversation that examined the progress made within Canada’s travel industry, and what travel professionals can do to help lend their voices to the anti-racist movement. Panelists included Veranda Adkins, co-founder of Association of Black Travel Professionals in the U.S., Elizabeth Buchanan, founder of Paradise Weddings, and Linda Kelly of Flight Centre.
When asked what changes – big or small – has she seen in the past year, Buchanan said she hasn’t seen much at all beyond the “bigger players posting their black square” on social media (in support of Black Lives Matter) and releasing statements at the height of last year’s Black Lives Matter rallies around the world.
“Now the focus has gone back to COVID panic and how do we stay afloat now that things are looking up again and I find it a little disappointing. Obviously, everybody’s had a challenging time over the past year but I think in so many ways we had such an opportunity with COVID to make some positive change in the new unique environment that we’re in,” said Buchanan.
Noting how Canadians are typically fearful of “rocking the boat,” she added that consumers will eventually start demanding change from companies, making conscious and ethical purchases and working with the companies that align with their values. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said, “but I think we’re starting to see it and I genuinely believe that’s where the change will really happen.”
As far as which companies are leading the change right now, Flight Centre Travel Group has made several strides in the past year, said Kelly. Most notably, it formed a Diversity Committee to improve diversity and inclusion practices, identify areas of opportunity and provide minority employee support, and also recently implemented a paid diversity day as well as formal diversity and anti-racism training.
“But the biggest place where you see change is in our marketing campaigns,” added Kelly. “We have more inclusive marketing campaigns, which is fantastic because that’s customer-facing, meaning that our customers can actually see the changes are happening.”
Kelly noted that the most significant way companies can implement change is via recruitment however, due to the pandemic, Flight Centre hasn’t been hiring and thus unable to “test those waters yet.”
She added: “There are many, many plans in the works but we don’t want to come across as having a bunch of boxes to tick and then moving on. Obviously making such a large change will take time.”
When asked what the average travel professional can do to help reinforce positive change and “commit to the work,” Kelly highlighted two big takeaways from the past year.
“One, it’s okay to be wrong,” she said. “This is a learning process and you are going to get it wrong. And second, get out of your existing bubble. People become so consumed by who they surround themselves with that sometimes you don’t even realize that there’s an opportunity there until you branch out. So start following people that don’t look like you on social media, start listening to what’s happening around you, read recommended books and watch recommended movies, and reach out to friends or family who are already in some kind of anti-racism work. And don’t be afraid to ask questions because you need to have sounding boards. Once you have those, it becomes a lot easier to do the work.”
But most importantly, Kelly said maintaining mental health is imperative to keeping yourself – and the work – going.
“You need to give yourself time to rest because sometimes it can be too much,” she said. ‘I’ve also learned to set boundaries, which is something I never did before. So when I’m talking to people I let them know that hate speech is not welcomed and if it happens, I cut them off.
“And remember that change doesn’t happen overnight – it literally took years to get me where I am today. If you’ve screwed up in the past, forgive yourself and get over whatever shame that you’re feeling. Don’t stay stagnant and move forward because making any kind of effort to do better is what you should be focusing on.”
To view previous LGU events go to https://www.lgutourism.com/upcoming-confronting-anti-black-racism.html.