Future of Tourism Series | Guest Blog
By Bill Geist
Diversity, equity and inclusion. We’ve been talking about the topic for years, but it took the events of the summer of 2020 to shake many in the destination marketing world to become intentional about making this concept more than an aspiration. For many, it became an immediate priority.
Even so, how to begin? How does a primarily white sector of the travel economy address such a pervasive issue? What are the right questions to ask? How do we design the process? What about fears of community blowback if we get it wrong? All these questions conspire to freeze those with the best of intentions into a state of inaction. Which only makes things worse.
Emmanuel Acho’s YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man certainly opened the door this past summer for many to begin these discussions in their communities. But Mike Gamble — President and CEO of Searchwide Global — and I believed the moment required a more specific response.
With the premise that meaningful change starts at the top, we penned a position paper on the imperative for DMOs to achieve board diversity. Destinations International published the paper days before its annual convention in July 2020, after vetting by its Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
Since then, DI has gone all in, researching the state of diversity in the destination marketing sector, developing a CEO Pledge and offering the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Masterclass series to enhance awareness and intentionality.
Additionally, earlier this year, the ConferenceDirect Foundation, in partnership with Visit Philadelphia and SearchWide Global, launched Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM) as a resource to foster diversity, equity and inclusion practices meant to, per its mission statement, "educate, advocate, engage and empower the tourism and events industry, in collaboration and cooperation with all other industry initiatives." Gregory DeShields, Executive Director of Visit Philadelphia's PHL Diversity, will serve as TDM's inaugural executive director, ensuring that the organization is more than just a volunteer effort.
In a recent conversation, Destination DC President and CEO Elliott Ferguson, who is serving as the first chair of TDM, suggested that it is rarely in the DNA of CEOs to admit vulnerability. And yet, it's vital that across hospitality and destination marketing segments, we admit that we all have work to do in creating an environment that welcomes and embraces everyone. Indeed, admitting vulnerability is something that 260+ destination marketing CEOs have already done by signing onto Destinations International’s CEO Pledge.
As we all learned in the viral shirtless dancing guy video, it can be somewhat scary to be “first in” (though maybe not if you’re as high as that guy seemed to have been). But the public commitment of those who have signed DI's CEO Pledge (I mean, really, there are some pretty big names on that list) should embolden all of us to work with our boards of directors to reimagine those board compositions. It starts at the top, and if our sector is to effect change, DMO boards must reflect the diversity of our communities.
If bylaws are in your way, amend them. If state laws governing board composition are in your way, change them. And, if it’s simple inertia that's an obstacle to progress, you know what to do. Perceptions around relevance have always been an issue for DMOs. Building boards that mirror our communities gets us all a step closer, n’cest pas?
Chief Instigator at DMOproz (aka Zeitgeist Consulting)
Bill Geist is the Chief Instigator at DMOproz (aka Zeitgeist Consulting), a firm specializing in strategic planning, governance, marketing and legislative issues for convention and visitor bureaus, tourism-focused chambers of commerce, economic development organizations and communities.
Bill is the author of the acclaimed Destination Leadership for Boards and a contributor to Fundamentals in Destination Marketing. He has provided consulting services to over 180 Destination Marketing Organizations since 1995 and is a popular speaker on marketing, trends and customer service across North America. He has also served as a guest lecturer on Internet Marketing at the University of Wisconsin's Small Business Development Center.
Prior to forming Zeitgeist Consulting, Bill served as the President/CEO of the Greater Madison (WI) Convention & Visitors Bureau from 1990-1995. During his tenure, he was the lead spokesperson and co-strategist for the successful public referendum fight to build the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Convention Center. Bill has also held various management and programming positions with broadcast media in the Chicago area.