Published 3 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: Henry Gillis/Unsplash
Travel Unity — a nonprofit focused on increasing diversity in travel through individual and community empowerment — has established a set of standards for
DEI in travel and tourism, as well as the industry’s first holistic DEI certification program.
When George Floyd’s murder by police was captured on video amidst the global
pandemic, it set off a wave of protests that amplified racial discrimination and
violence in the United States and around the world. Something about this
moment in time finally captured the world’s attention and pushed the Black
the spotlight. Millions of people responded by posting black squares on their
social media accounts; and dozens of brands pledged to make diversity, equity
and inclusion (DEI) a cornerstone of their companies’
The travel industry, which has long been dominated by a white narrative, was no
“It’s no secret that the tourism industry has a lot of work to do when it comes
to building a more diverse and inclusive
— you don’t have to look much further for evidence than the countless all-white,
all-male panels at almost every travel conference,” said Kelley Louise,
founder and executive director of Impact Travel
Alliance. “Representation in leadership
teams, marketing campaigns and the rest of the industry isn’t reflective of
travelers’ identities — and that’s a big problem.”
At Travel Unity, the message of diversity — all
aspects of diversity — has always been the driving force behind its mission.
Founded in 2016, the nonprofit organization focuses on increasing diversity in
travel through individual and community empowerment. Taking a holistic approach,
the organization sees opportunities to make travel more welcoming for people of
all backgrounds and abilities — which includes racial and ethnic diversity; as
well as diversity in ability and accessibility, language, gender identity and
expression, age, religion and spiritual affiliations, socio-economic status,
citizenship and land of origin, and partnership status.
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When companies working in all sectors of the travel industry actively broaden
their DEI efforts internally, they then pave the way for attracting a more
diverse array of travelers — which has economic and societal benefits. As the
travel and tourism industry attempts to claw its way
from the devastating impact of
COVID-19, Travel Unity
executive director Roni Weiss notes that this holistic and circular nature
of DEI will be vital.
“There is an interplay between the people who work in your company and the
visitorship,” he said. “Whether its tapping into new visitors or tapping into
their perspectives, having a diversity of opinions and voices within a company
allows you to then figure out how you can navigate bringing more visitors in
from different backgrounds.”
Inclusive tourism isn’t just good for business; it’s essential for a more
sustainable future for the industry. Weiss notes that some organizations excel
in specific areas of diversity, yet still fall short in others. For example,
some travel companies focus efforts on making products and services affordable,
but still have work to do in reaching travelers spanning a wide range of ages.
Or, companies that have done a good job of integrating racial and ethnic
diversity internally may still be inaccessible to those with mobility
restrictions. The theory of
a term coined by scholar Kimberlé Williams in 1989 to explain how different
aspects of a person’s identities combine to create different modes of
discrimination and privilege, is a key consideration both within DEI-specific
efforts and in the wider context of resiliency within the tourism ecosystem.
“It’s important that we don’t silo DEI work as one thing that needs to be
improved within the industry — diversity and inclusion are tethered to building
a more sustainable industry where all travel has the potential to support local
communities and protect our environment,” Louise said.
To assist travel companies and organizations benchmark their commitments to all
aspects of their DEI efforts, Travel Unity established the DEI standards for
travel and tourism — which were updated
in August and are free and available for anyone to access. These standards were
developed with feedback from more than 100 people and serve as the anchor for
Travel Unity’s certification program, Certified by Travel Unity — an
external validation mechanism launching in 2021.
The standards enhance DEI efforts in three primary categories: management and
workforce, visitorship, and community impact.
“All of these things are a virtuous cycle that, when you do one thing well and
are thoughtful about it, it positively impacts another component,” Weiss said.
For four years, Travel Unity has been in dialogue with organizations committed
to DEI efforts; but the pandemic amplified and accelerated the need to publish
industry standards and launch a certification program underpinning the
organization’s work. Given its work in this area already, Travel Unity was in a
natural position to assume leadership and provide DEI guidance in a holistic
“To us, even if there was no pandemic and there were no massive protests, these
would still be useful mechanisms. I think within the world of pandemic and
social protests — for some people who might not have initially looked at this,
the urgency becomes clearer,” Weiss said.
He noted that a commitment to DEI is one of the opportunities for the tourism
industry to build back better during this particularly challenging time: “With
the pandemic and people scrambling to find solutions, our view is that DEI is
one of those solutions.”
On October 1, the organization closed the application window for its pilot
cohort to work through the certification program. This carefully selected global
cohort of destinations, tour operators, accommodations and other travel-related
companies have already shown a commitment to the standards by ensuring
leadership is completely on board with ongoing work toward systemic change. The
Travel Unity team will provide support and facilitation as these organizations
work through the standards. This collaborative process is intended to help
Travel Unity learn what resources and support the tourism industry and
organizations working in it need to achieve the DEI standards.
“Ultimately, it’s their responsibility to do the work,” Weiss said. “We’re going
to guide them and help them with what they need, but they’re the only ones that
can do the work that they need to do.”
The paid certification program, which will open to the industry early next year,
validates this work.
And there is a lot of work to do: “Tourism has a long way to go,” Louise
asserted. “But the first step is just acknowledging where we are right now,
because that helps us to see where we can go. Travel Unity’s DEI standards offer
us an opportunity to hold ourselves accountable and showcase our commitment to
diversity and inclusion in a clear and transparent way.”
Published Oct 15, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
JoAnna Haugen is a writer, speaker and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for her entire career. She is also the founder of Rooted — a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact and storytelling. A returned US Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer and intrepid traveler, JoAnna helps tourism professionals decolonize travel and support sustainability using strategic communication skills.