Travel companies that fail to keep diversity high in their agenda during the Covid-19 crisis are risking their chances of successfully emerging from the pandemic.
A Future of Travel panel on diversity in the workplace discussed the possible impact of the pandemic as firms battle to survive the hit the travel sector has taken.
But speakers said firms that put aiming for greater diversity on the back foot will lose out commercially, particularly among a younger generation acutely aware of the issues.
Jamie-Lee Abtar, executive director of BAME Women In Travel, said the travel sector’s audience is, by its nature, diverse because it is a global marketplace.
And she said the growing demographic of Millennial and GenZ consumers expect the companies they spend their money with and work for to be socially responsible.
Abtar said: “As we reimagine and rebuild the travel and tourism industry, diversity and inclusion needs to be at the top of the agenda.
“Because you are not only missing out from a social perspective, but the business side is massive in terms of the audience that is out there and that younger generation wants to see that you are being socially responsible.”
Abtar said firms will also benefit from diversity in terms of recruitment because the younger generation of employees will see that as a factor when deciding who they want to work for.
She added: “It’s very important for the industry to take stock of its diversity and inclusion initiatives, on what you are doing, as an organisation to make a change.
“No one is asking for immediate cultural change, that does not happen overnight, but you do have to start and it starts with conversation. Conversation equals transformation.”
Claire Osborne, chair of the Association of Women Travel Executives (AWTE) and Travelport head of local product, said diverse companies are winners commercially.
“It’s proven that diverse companies are generally more successful and have a higher turnover because they’re appealing to a wider base of people.
“In light of Covid, perhaps some reinvention of business is needed. The more diverse your workforce is, the more ideas you have, the more creativity you have, and the better positioned you are to come out of Covid in a stronger position.
“Any company that is ignoring diversity inclusion right now is ignoring that potential for the future.”
Osborne said Travelport’s intern programme has been a major boost for the firm because it has brought young people into the business.
“It’s great to see these young people coming through and bringing that energy into the company and seeing what they deliver in terms of their ideas.
“It’s great that we’re bringing them into the company and feeling some of that energy and understanding how to communicate with that generation as well.
“If companies are avoiding diversity and inclusion right now they’re doing themselves a disservice because they’re not setting themselves up for the where they need to be at the end of 2021, into 2022 and 2023.
John Tanzella, president and chief executive of the global LGBTQ+ organisation IGLTA, said he has seen companies that have “stepped up” during the crisis, like Delta Airlines, but he was concerned some have gone in the opposite direction as they focus on survival.
He said: “For the most part we’ve been seeing diversity is still a priority. Large corporations have let a lot of employees go, but we will do our bit to make sure diversity is factored in to the first round of bringing back employees because it is really important for corporations to keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront.”
Tanzella said Covid has brought new opportunities like remote learning and digital engagement which IGLTA will incorporate into its future events having been forced to cancel this year’s annual conference in Milan.
“What we’ve done, as probably a lot of organisations have done, is we’ve really pivoted to offer online education as well as networking for businesses in the tourism field.
“So that’s worked out really well and I think we will continue that after Covid because you have your convention but not everyone in the world can always attend those so having these online forums really opens up the opportunity for tourism businesses from every corner of the world.
“So I think Covid has created a way of thinking about doing business differently and there’s definitely opportunities.”