Bold leadership is what destination marketers need to shake up complacency when it comes to DEI. Maybe, as Skift guest columnist Carol Cain said back in December, it's more about changing who's in the DMO driver's seat?
While some progress has been made over the past two years on diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) in the travel industry, real change in uprooting the status quo is taking longer — particularly at the destination level.
Destination management organizations (DMOs) in the U.S. and Canada have significantly improved on providing training and education programs that mitigate unconscious bias, and diversity in marketing has also strengthened. But the needle hasn’t moved when it comes to hiring a diverse workforce and DMOs are also failing to incorporate DEI principles into the organization’s meetings and long-term planning.
That’s according to the survey results from the 2022 EDI study of destination management organizations, led by Destinations International and now in its third edition since launching in 2019. The survey was sent out in the fall of 2021 among 491 respondents across member DMOs in the U.S. and Canada.
That a disconnect continues is evident. Seventy percent of respondents agree that they’ve witnessed significant change in their organization’s diversity commitment in the last year, yet only 58 percent of respondents agree that the DMO is “doing a good job of hiring a diverse workforce and being inclusive.” When presented with the statement that their DMO embodies diversity, equity and inclusion, only a quarter indicated that they “strongly agree” with it.
Moreover, respondents showed low confidence when it comes to the tourism board bringing up DEI at meetings and incorporating it into annual planning, or having a DEI policy in place for vendors.
“While it seems small, I think it’s large progress because the education and awareness is step one to understanding that there’s a problem to be solved,” said Sophia Hyder Hock, the newly appointed chief diversity officer at Destinations International.
Hyder Hock, whose experience in the DEI space in travel dates back to 2015, said that two years was actually not that long compared to the industry’s decades of complacency prior to 2020. “The other aspect of that is we are human and behavior change and understanding the complexity of social inclusion, diversity, equity, takes time,” Hyder Hock added.
Melissa Cherry, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Miles Partnership and a member of Destinations International’s DEI Committee, said in a release that measuring EDI within destination management organizations allows tracking their commitment internally but also their commitment within local hospitality communities.
The change that’s required is significant. Eighty percent of the C-suite at North American tourism boards remains white, according to the survey, while Black, Asian and Latino executives make up less than 15 percent. Women also made up 52 percent of DMO executives, albeit also lacking in different ethnicities.
So what will it take to shake up the status quo?
“That will take conversations to discuss and unpack what’s taking place in the various destinations, because every destination is different, have their own set of diverse circumstances,” said Hyder Hock. “Then accountability is the other aspect, and associating metrics with accountability. I think that’s what it’s going to take to hold destinations and hold people accountable.”
Destinations International is currently developing a tool to help destinations assess where they are on their DEI journey, with the ability to compare progress within their region and according to their DMO size. That tool is set to roll out in Spring 2022.
Hayder Hock said she also plans to follow up with CEOs of tourism boards that have signed the diversity pledge to figure out their barriers. Operating budgets are in play and will determine the support that Destinations International can bring to their members. Forty-three percent of DMOs indicated their budget in 2021 decreased compared to 2020, while 35 percent saw an increase and 20 percent stayed the same, according to the survey.
“We’ve identified that there is a gap, and being able to answer how we can close the gap — that’s what I’d like to get to in two years, because the how is the missing link right now. That’s the hardest part.”
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Photo credit: U.S. and Canada Tourism boards are slow to diversity their workforce, new survey shows. Miguel Bautista / Unsplash