Have the Travel Industry’s Inclusivity Efforts Made a Difference?

Jessica Wong

Martinique Lewis, a diversity in travel consultant and president of Black Travel Alliance, also notices this change in attitude within the industry. When Lewis, who is a member of the Condé Nast Traveler advisory board, first started her work in 2018, she offered her help for free in hopes of […]

Martinique Lewis, a diversity in travel consultant and president of Black Travel Alliance, also notices this change in attitude within the industry. When Lewis, who is a member of the Condé Nast Traveler advisory board, first started her work in 2018, she offered her help for free in hopes of creating a more diverse and inclusive environment in the travel industry. Even then, many companies and brands were not open to these conversations and even avoided her calls. Although her business picked up steam in 2019, she’s seen an even bigger spike in inquiries since last summer. “Everybody’s knocking down my door now,” she says. At first, Lewis was skeptical of the sudden interest in diversity but decided to take advantage of the teaching moment that came with the changing tides.

And her work, along with that of countless other figures in the travel industry, seems to be paying off. Beyond shifting attitudes, both Dube and Lewis have noted some tangible changes in the travel industry such as increased hiring of Black and brown people; implementation of diversity and inclusion training in the workplace; an effort to contract more Black-owned tour operators; and the hiring of more Black travelers to speak at conferences. On that last point, Dube hopes that event planners will also tap Black travelers for speaking on topics other than race and equality.

“Lots of companies have come out and said they want to make impactful change, but they’re the minority,” Dube says of the few companies that have actually taken steps to address diversity and inclusion. But before applauding too many of them, Dube says he’s waiting to see how these changes are implemented in the long run.

He does, however, point to Delta Air Lines as an example of a company making strides. Late last year, the airline joined OneTen, a coalition of CEOs and major companies across several industries dedicated to hiring and promoting one million Black Americans within 10 years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement. It’s just one of several initiatives Delta has recently implemented.

While parts of the travel industry may be more open to change, many in the Black travel community remain skeptical and have decided to join forces to champion themselves in new ways.

“[The Black Travel Alliance] came out of our frustration with #BlackOutTuesday,” says Lewis, who founded the organization in June 2020. “We just couldn’t believe that these same people who don’t hire us, who don’t listen to us, who want to hire us for less pay than our white counterparts, who only wanted us during Black History Month, had the nerve to post that black square.”

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Lewis and the founding members of BTA decided it was time to do something about these issues they had been aware of for years. Now, BTA advocates for Black travel professionals to get the same treatment, payment, and opportunities as their white counterparts, while also using qualitative research to hold the industry accountable.

The organization that Dube works with—United Voice in Travel and Hospitality (UViTH)—was also created in response to the sudden interest in diversifying the travel industry. It took the efforts of multiple organizations across the country and combined them into one collective.

“This is what UViTH is really about: helping and supporting the existing travel industry of Black and brown folk but also bringing up the next generation and showing them that the opportunities in this industry are vast,” Dube says, adding that the organization will focus heavily on educational and mentoring programs starting in the coming months.

Though Black travelers and industry figures are stepping up to advocate for themselves and pioneer much of the progress that has been made, ultimately the rest of the travel industry must also get involved to enact long-lasting change. Dube and Lewis agree that there is much room for improvement, emphasizing representation in marketing and hiring as the most important starting points.

And the travel industry would benefit from such efforts. A recent study by MMGY Global in partnership with BTA shows that 54 percent of U.S. Black travelers indicated that they are more likely to visit a destination if they see Black representation in travel advertising. Lewis adds that part of the lack of representation in marketing stems from the same absence of diversity in the workplace. The internal teams don’t reflect their true clientele, she says.

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