Dear Travel Industry — “If You Stand For Nothing What Will You Fall For?”
I find myself at the tipping point of frustration. While racism, xenophobia and sexism have always been present in American culture, there is simply no denying that tidal wave of hate and ignorance spilling out of the current administration has infected the nation. As someone who has worked with many leading travel and hospitality brands, I am simply stunned at the silence on these issues by so many people, especially at a leadership level. This is not the time for silence or apathy in favor of greater financial returns. Where is the integrity? Let me explain my specificity of industry here…
First of all, I work in/with these industries — as well as media & communications — and see posts, stories, and interviews day in, day out. If the barrage of instagram posts in various destinations with rarely any local cultural/historical context in a feed drove me crazy a year ago, it has seriously sped up my deletion of inauthentic “travel influencers” from my social outlets now. And my eye-rolling at a certain type of wooden executive repeating the same, empty talking points has lead me to tune out, as so many of us tire of hearing tired verbiage in an industry that is ripe for multicultural celebration and storytelling. Now this could read a little ‘on the high horse’, and I love a good travel tip or pretty picture as much as the next person – I share these too – but at a time where so many people around the world are suffering and being attacked for being “other”, where is everybody? Why aren’t more people speaking out against the intolerance? (*I hardly mean everyone, many people are walking the walk, but far too many are not saying anything, anywhere. Not online, not offline). Travel is more than sticking a pin in a new location, it is about experience and growing from meeting new people, seeing new things, learning about differences. Our world is richer for diversity, so is our country and so is our workplace. Speaking on behalf of your staff (which here in Los Angeles where I currently work, is largely made up of a Latino workforce), after regularly being attacked both on a government level and harassed on the street, OR speaking out against overt racism when you fancy yourself a travel expert, conveniently trying on different cultural hats on your journey’s only to toss them aside with indifference or fear of losing followers, is just sad. It should be a fundamental responsibility by leadership or those with a platform — speaking out against racism as an entire industry building itself on multiculturalism. Hiding behind a corporate title or you “personal brand” is just lazy privilege. And sadly those with the most privilege, are usually the most quiet, usually back-patting about the wrong kind of ‘help’ or empty philanthropy, and I am constantly being disappointed.
“If you stand for nothing (Burr), what will you fall for?” ~ Hamilton (Musical)
Cultural diversity has a significant role in the hospitality industry. Both due to global customer-relations as well as an international workforce. Anyone who has worked with hotels or restaurants in particular knows their incredible, diverse staffs are the very foundation of their business. Just as writer & bloggers know their stories are richer for meeting with a wider range of people. I have worked in both areas, and learned new languages, customs and history along the way — it has been wonderful. There is frequently an obvious racial divide between management and workers, which I have seen reflected in many of the largest companies and cities in America. And so the silence at the top, breeds suspicion and distrust on various other levels.
“The white male culture is still rampant in the travel industry and there is very little incentive to change it” and “Hugely surprising to me when I first started digging into the travel industry is that the majority of top U.S. executives lean Republican, when I would have expected a more progressive political leaning in a sector like travel. Except, of course, for their aversion to the current commander-in-chief.” ~ Rafat Ali, Founder & CEO of Skift from his brilliant article “The 21 uncomfortable truths I have learned about the travel industry”
Yes, I realize people avoid publicly commenting on politics for many reasons, and find other ways to pursue their activism on a personal level, and I can respect that BUT…is speaking up about human decency ‘politics’? Is anti-racism and anti-sexism ‘politics’? Is sharing factual, historical, or contextual information ‘politics’? Is educating people ‘politics’? Is regularly supporting organizations who are fighting the good fight ‘politics’? I say this through a symbolic megaphone across industries, because I know far too many silent leader-types or “influencers” with platforms seemingly afraid, or disinterested, in speaking up. Charlottesville, slander against Mexicans & Muslims, threatening the Dreamers act, the ridiculous border wall, and still…crickets. As the saying goes — what happens when they come for you? Does the bottom dollar mean more than your integrity? If you have a platform, if you are (in theory) an ally, then be a freaking ally. For you to hide in the shadows at this point does not serve anyone, not even yourself. While artists and activists continue to lead the charge, and (good) journalists report the facts, perhaps more CEO’s and CMO’s should look to leaders like Bill Gates and Tim Cook who regularly make public declarations against what it wrong, and what is likely affecting many people who are working for them.
While I personally am an involved activist, always trying to learn more about topics I don’t know enough about, and use my twitter outlet to post political and cultural information, I too have had to confront the fact that I have not previously spoken up nearly enough. With each step up the career ladder, with every new media platform I have access too, with every mentor opportunity I have, it is an opportunity and honor to shine a light on people and topics that could use amplification. I have previously written about the lack of female, multicultural voices in travel stories — particularly perspectives from locals — but I think it’s important for everyone to remain humble and related on as many levels as one can, putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. (*As a side note — can travel editors, influencers, PR friends, please do more to share incredible multicultural blogs and outlets? You are ignoring massive parts of your audience. See the video on the black travel movement below)
So to hospitality leaders, I say this: PLEASE use your panels, your speaking appearances, or at the very least, the time you spend with your staff to show support, unity and speak up for what is right. You want to be an inspiring leader, lead and maybe, you know, show that you actually care about the planet at large. We need more business leaders to stand up.
And to “ travel influencers”, I say this: PLEASE use your platform to share more about the culture you are currently in, anything, to inspire others. And better yet, share other influencers/businesses across borders who are doing great things you think people should check out. And maybe fear losing some followers less, and care about calling out big issues affecting a place or your home, more.
Look for the every day heroes telling stories, talking action, making it happen. Because I can assure you, no one will remember what you did in the boardroom (sorry, they won’t), or the instagram you posted, but they will remember the authenticity of which you speak, how you make them feel and the real change/action that was made. Need inspiration? Look no further than the incredible Chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen