Now is the time for the travel industry to make changes to support diversity and inclusion, says Al Hutchinson, Visit Baltimore chief and president. Abra Dunsby reports.
Visit Baltimore chief Al Hutchinson believes there is work to be done to address the travel industry’s lack of racial diversity.
“The travel industry needs to have a very honest, critical conversation about race,” he says.
It starts with education, from bringing in thought leaders to conferences and meetings who can speak about issues such as unconscious bias and white privilege, to educating Black children about career opportunities in travel.
“Education is the first step to [allowing] people to change their mindset,” he says, suggesting travel companies begin addressing the racial imbalance in the industry by “taking a look at their strategic plans, mission statements and core values to see if they include statements about social justice or racism.”
By reaching out to schools, colleges and universities, and speaking about and offering career opportunities to Black students, travel companies can ensure more racial diversity.
“Unfortunately in the travel industry we’ve lacked job opportunities for people of colour, especially in senior leadership,” says Hutchinson.
“We have to begin to look at reaching out to colleges and universities – and maybe even go back to high schools – and share with students the career opportunities in travel and tourism for people of colour, and begin to have these conversations early.
“There is a huge opportunity right now to share an industry with a community who really doesn’t know about it.”
Eradicating prejudice and bias would also help see more people of colour rise to senior positions within the industry, says Hutchinson, who admits he has faced struggles during his own career in travel.
“Sometimes people look at you and they see your skin colour and stop there before they really take a sincere interest in your heart,” he says.
“Part of the challenge has been that in our industry people of colour can serve on boards and industry committees and do all the right things. Then when opportunities present themselves, all too often our white counterparts are the ones who get the next job and opportunity.”
Travel companies should therefore work with recruiters who champion Black candidates or set up diverse panels that are charged with seeking new talent.
Claiming there aren’t enough racially diverse candidates applying for jobs is no longer an option, he adds.
"We can no longer say there aren’t enough people of colour for the next opportunity – we have to do the due diligence and look for those communities, whether through colleges and universities, or on social media or platforms where people of colour convene.”
Agents and tour operators selling the US can encourage clients to educate themselves by “looking at a fuller history of America,” which includes African-American history.
In Baltimore, agents and operators can recommend visits to museums such as The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture, which tells the story of one of first Black millionaires in the country; and the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, which honours African-American maritime history.
Hutchinson also recommends that clients soak up African-American culture in the city. “Encourage people to go deeper by going to the neighbourhoods and seeing our restaurants and small businesses.”
As one of few US cities that is predominantly African-American, Hutchinson says the city is committed to celebrating diversity.
“Baltimore is a welcoming community. We have a huge opportunity to talk to travellers about celebrating diversity. We’re a city that really understands race relations and has worked extremely hard on creating a welcoming environment.”
Hutchinson is hopeful that the widespread support for the Black Lives Matter movement means the world is ready for a more inclusive future.
“Globally what I am excited about is the wide range of nationalities, colours and genders joining the movement,” he says.
“Diversity should be celebrated by all travel companies and by all humans as the more diverse we are, the greater we are as people.”
He hopes travel companies will remain committed to the fight for diversity and inclusion long-term, with as many allies as possible supporting the cause and making tangible changes to their working environment.
“Fighting racism is a complex issue. It’s hard work. White leadership needs to embrace this issue and lead the charge in helping to find solutions. People of colour can’t do this by themselves.
“We need our white colleagues to accept this, own it, and help us to correct it. This is our moment in time to end a disease that’s been going on for far too long.”
Visit Baltimore’s free Legends & Legacies Heritage pass aims to raise awareness of the city’s African-American heritage, highlighting Black-owned restaurants, small businesses, and cultural attractions while also spotlighting historic landmarks and neighbourhoods including the new Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District.
Agents and their clients can sign up for the pass here