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The message from these two outspoken speakers was clear: the travel industry must go beyond easy rhetoric on diversity to be inclusive, and community-minded. Copping out is not an option.

Although the travel industry has made numerous vows over the last year to include more diverse voices in decision making, the industry lacks real diversity regarding who makes crucial decisions affecting local communities.

That’s the message two panelists at the Skift Global Forum conveyed on Wednesday during a discussion moderated by global tourism reporter Lebawit Lily Girma centered on how the tourism industry can no longer ignore social issues. Naledi Khabo, the CEO of the Africa Tourism Association, and Jeremy Sampson, the CEO of The Travel Foundation a non-profit organization that works to ensure tourism benefits host communities — said that diverse influential voices that support local communities are lacking. 

Leakage is a crucial issue affecting many host communities, and despite the growing push Sampson has seen for many things local, he stated the definition of what is considered local isn’t often clear. “It could be just across the street or across the border,” he said.

Sampson expressed what he considers the growing potential for “local washing,” the term he used for slapping a local label on a product. “Local isn’t always synonymous with diversity or genuinely supportive of community needs,” he said.

While Khabo has seen increased diversity around marketing, messaging and story telling, it’s a different story in regards to diversity among decision makers.

“What do our boards look like? What do our executive councils look like?” she asked.

Companies are creating advisory committees featuring more diverse voices but “Advisory boards don’t have a lot of power,” she said “What’s the real change that has been performative and not window dressing?”

Sampson strongly advocates for local communities to play a leading role in the tourism product. “Communities own the table,” Sampson said, in contrast to local communities sitting at the table. “If we’re not ensuring that tourism benefits residents, local businesses and visitors, how can we say tourism really works?”

He supports an approach called destination stewardship, in which businesses and communities collaborate as equal partners in the tourism product. An example of this is the new partnership between The Travel Foundation and EasyJet Holidays, which was announced on Tuesday.

Progress Being Made in Climate Action

Sampson also touched on an issue affecting host communities — climate change. He said more tourism entities had committed to publishing a climate action plan through the Glasgow Declaration. Furthermore, Khabo added destinations are grappling with issues brought about by climate change.

“Climate action is a priority,” she said.

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Tags: diversity, sgf2021, skift global forum, social issues, sustainability

Photo Credit: The three panelists - Lebawit Lily Girma, Naledi Khabo and Jeremy Sampson - during a discussion about how tourism can no longer ignore social issues. Skift

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