Tourism: the most diverse industry in the world?

By design, tourism is the most diverse industry in the world. That was the main focus at the session on Diversity and Inclusion at WTM Africa 2022.

“Tourism is the most diverse employer globally by virtue of who we are and what we do. Inherently, diversity is a factor that predicates the success of our industry,” said Ndumiso Mngomezulu, Managing Director Bold: House of Brave. “Travellers look for diversity: they seek out different experiences, languages, cultures through their travels.”

Unfortunately, when diversity is not achieved, it reflects on the reputation of the entire destination, Mngomezulu added. “If travellers don’t recognise themselves on your website or if they walk into a hotel and experience micro-aggressions in the form of staff bias towards them, it affects how they feel about the destination. This is often hard to pinpoint, and a feeling travellers have. It reflects in the way people connect and do things.”

To overcome these challenges, Mngomezulu explained a lot of training and ‘unlearning’ will be required. “As an industry, we need to communicate with people at their level to achieve meaningful change. We shouldn’t lecture; we should communicate and educate as people are often not even cognisant of their own bias.”

However, Mngomezulu also warned the conversation needs to take place at a South African level. “Before you a product owner, you’re a South African. Diversity and inclusion challenges happen throughout our society. If you’re not dealing with civilian education, you’re just putting a plaster on the wound.”

Tarryn Tomlinson, Founder and CEO: Able2Travel, agreed and explained that as a person with a disability herself, she often finds that hotels that claim to be accessible very often are not. Most important for her is to overcome stigmas and change mindsets. “Some people are scared to address us, others are overly enthusiastic and just push our wheelchair uninvited, while others still will infantilise you. Training will go a long way in alleviating this problem,” she said, adding that hospitality establishments should update their websites with relevant and inclusive marketing material as well as information for people with disabilities.

A lot needs to be done to make travel and tourism PR more inclusive, added Mandisa Magwaxaza, Co-Founder of Locals Who Wonder. She explained that properties should partner with diverse businesses to create a diverse tourism industry reflective of South Africa as a country. “If we look at our society, tourism is a product of colonisation. Our industry still reflects that today, and we need to take a sober look at that.”

According to Magwaxaza, we need to bridge the social and cultural divide in tourism through experiential training. A housekeeper in a 5-star hotel needs to have experienced what it’s like to stay at a luxury hotel and eat at a luxury restaurant. “We need to invest and create tourists out of the people in the industry,” she said.

Mngomezulu concluded the session by saying that key was to communicate authentically and with meaning. He said: “Diversity is bigger than your product. It’s your #countryduty.”

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