Time to Rise to the Challenge
Addressing Racism, Diversity and Inclusion in Canada’s Tourism Industry.
As a professional tourism industry advisor, I feel compelled to address an issue that is long-standing, but often overlooked – the limited diversity and lack of authentic inclusion in Canada’s tourism industry. During my career, I have personally encountered uncomfortable moments when clients deferred to a senior member of my team, often male, but I have never had to deal with the added burden of mentally preparing for meetings where micro-aggressions and unconscious biases around race could be entrenched in the conversation. I find it intolerable that people have to brace themselves in that manner, particularly when talking about tourism, which is in essence about building destinations as authentic and welcoming to visitors. This is one of the many reasons that I am interested in getting a conversation started, and sharing what I’ve managed to interpret thus far, with the end goal of forming a plan of action.
The Face of Tourism Marketing
When it comes to marketing nature and the outdoors and other typically “Canadian” tourism experiences, why are racialized people - and Black people in particular - so seldom depicted in our photos and videos? Similarly, why are Indigenous peoples seen providing an experience, but rarely enjoying the tourism experiences themselves?
Travel and tourism depend heavily on marketing and promotion, and the imagery chosen for tourism advertising is a clear call to action. If a company’s ads show one age demographic, for example, that is the market they are likely to attract. Further, if people fail to see themselves represented in a tourism experience, this can be a subtle (or not so subtle) signal that they may not be welcome or find the experience they’re hoping to enjoy.
As an industry, we need to unpack the reasons that diversity is lacking in Canadian tourism marketing.
One possible explanation is the limited diversity not just at the executive level of tourism and hospitality-related brands and related companies, but throughout those organizations. Organizations need to think about inclusion at the top and identify barriers to advancing into senior roles or specialized areas of practice. They also need to demand a wider range of influencers, photographers and other creative and promotional contributors.
Racism is alive today in many forms - it can be a blatant act of hate or discrimination expressed through speech and imagery. Racism can also be systemic and unintentional - something excused as “just how we’ve always done things here,” or that decision-makers haven’t questioned or recognized. It can also be about exclusion: keeping people out of specific roles or passing them over.
Representation and the Triple Bottom Line
Representation at all levels is helpful for promoting cultural awareness, and although there doesn’t need to be any other driver for social change, increased diversity also has the potential to grow profits. Tourism companies and organizations with inclusive leadership teams have more potential to understand and grow new markets, experiences and services, and to foster innovation through a greater diversity of voices at the table.
At this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, when most tourism businesses are scrambling to regain profits and rebuild audiences, companies that diversify their offerings will reach new markets and become more sustainable in the long term. How much money is being lost by not showing a more representative range of people enjoying what tourism and hospitality businesses have to offer?
Understanding the organizational, social and economic benefits of diversity and inclusion, what can we do to ensure companies take action?
Tourism Advisory Roles
As tourism advisors like myself, I believe we need to do our research to grow our awareness. I believe we have a role to educate and then hold companies accountable. People are rethinking where and how they travel in light of Covid-19, and many travel-related companies are taking to heart the fact that their brand must represent more than just their product, but also their core vision and values. Wellness and environmental sustainability have shifted from niche marketing features to an expected norm, and the time has come to put companies to task about their platforms for inclusion and diversity too.
The Long Path Forward
I realize I still have more questions to ask and research to undertake, which in my profession is the only way to solve complex problems, but I cannot do this in a silo. It cannot be lost on us that with great upheaval comes change. Companies are putting tremendous effort into enhanced health and safety measures in response to the pandemic, in order to remain sustainable. It seems to me that this is a perfect time to create new policies relative to diversity and inclusion, to ensure employees and customers feel not only safe but valued.
I truly hope that others join this conversation and that our collective awareness will lead to meaningful, sustained and transformative action.
K. Rebecca Godfrey, MBA, CMC
CBRE Tourism & Leisure Group