During vTREX, NTA’s online conference in November, four association members led a panel discussion called “A Conversation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Where do we go from here?” The session, which was moderated by 2021 NTA Board of Directors member Linda Horowitz of Visit Fairfax (Virginia), offered both personal reflections and business insights on this important topic.
“This is not a fad. We aren’t going to check off a box: ‘We’ve had the diversity conversation and showed them some sites.’ It has to go deeper, and you are looking at ongoing solutions,” said Portia Conerly of the Arlington (Virginia) Convention & Visitors Services, who was part of the panel that also included Sherry Rupert of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association and J. Chris Babb of The Group Tour Company.
Here were some of the comments these four tourism professionals shared during the session:
“Definitions of the terms are important. For instance, when we say equity, people think that means equality. Equity is resource allocation based on the specific needs of an individual or group, and equality is providing the resources at the same level for everyone in the group. It is a subtle, but important difference.”
“A lot of the Native stories have been ignored or, at minimum, significantly downplayed. Some of our tribal members have great traditions they like to share, and theirs is a rich history that can be impactful. When it comes to marketing, we also have to think about our customers. We have to have conversations with our attractions about how they promote themselves, even something like moving past casino ads only showing white visitors and instead representing the wide range of people who come.”
“We are more divided now (in the U.S.), but it is our responsibility to work together. We know this as travel professionals. There are many local places that have gone deeper into other histories of underrepresented people to tell their stories. The new National Museum of the United States Army in the Alexandria area offers a number of different perspectives, which can be eye-opening. Also, Arlington National Cemetery is working specifically to present more diverse stories, ones that people have not heard before.”
J. Chris Babb
“As tour operators, we are storytellers. We get the chance to present history, and that gets complicated because it is messy. We have to make sure we deal with these complexities, though. We ask, at our company, ‘Who wrote the history our travelers know'? In most cases, it is white males like me. And so we look at offering additional perspectives. Those complexities are important, and with a city like Washington, D.C., a lot of the sites were built with slave labor. These are hard conversations to have, but they are so necessary.”
Rupert and Babb also pointed to recent organizational name changes that signal a recognition of how language plays a role in stereotypes. Rupert shared that a popular attraction in the Lake Tahoe area, Squaw Valley, was rebranded as Olympic Valley.
And Babb cited the dropping of Redskins by the National Football League’s Washington franchise as a major shift: “The owner swore he was never, ever, ever going to change the name, and this year he did. That is an incredible thing, and this is the moment where things like this are possible.”
Keep watching NTA’s weekly e-newsletter, Tuesday, for recaps of additional vTREX seminars.
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