On the Friday for trade visitors at the virtual We Love Travel! event the focus of the second CSR session entitled ’Human Rights & Recovery’ was on whether the industry recovery can take diversity into account. Taking part in the panel discussion moderated by Rika Jean-Francois were Thomas Bömkes from Diversity Travel, Philip Ibrahim, general manager of the Student Hotel in Berlin, and live from New York, Reginald Charlot from NYC & Company, the official tourism marketing organisation of New York City, and Antje Monshausen from the Round Table for Human Rights.
Thomas Bömkes emphasised the importance of travel for the LGBT+ community. It was particularly important for those people who felt uneasy at home. It was extremely important for them to escape that environment from time to time. As far as the tourism industry was concerned, he said many companies and organisations were keen on this lucrative segment for marketing reasons, but that it was not really part of their DNA. It was essential to be authentic, also to ensure that employees identified with their employer’s values in the long term.
The experts on the panel also discussed diversity. Philip Ibrahim said that good examples of inclusiveness were lacking in hotels. As a person of colour he was often taken for a custodian by the otherwise fair-minded young customers of his hotel. The fact that he was the general manager often surprised them, something that revealed prejudices even if there was no bad intent.
As ambassador for New York Reginald Charlot also voiced his support for more diversity in key positions in the tourism industry. People of colour should not only be occupying traditional service sector jobs, at the reception for instance. They should also be given back end positions not just confined to welcoming hotel guests – key jobs in strategic areas such as sales, communication or marketing for instance. As a rule diversity was not particularly visible in the job world, something he often experienced himself. In Europe too he was often the only person of colour at white-dominated meetings.
Were human rights especially threatened in these times of the coronavirus? That was a question Rika Jean-Francois put to Antje Monshausen, who acknowledged her concern. Tourism was more than just being able to reserve a warm bed, said the representative of the Round Table for Human Rights. She pointed to tourism’s crucial role in the world and stressed that the weakest were the ones who would suffer most economically from the pandemic. If the industry did not take countermeasures they would possibly be even worse off after the crisis as they were the weakest link in the value chain. One example was seasonally employed cleaning personnel.
What can companies and organisations do to support the struggle for equal rights and combat discrimination in the long term? To summarise the discussion: they had to first become aware of where the issues were, work on the challenges, then ensure those who were barely visible were seen. The travel industry played a crucial role here. It literally broadened one’s horizon, which was why the current travel restrictions hurt so much. In recent times travel had become widely democratised. Quite possibly that was now at stake.