“Change is good—you go first.”
It’s a line that Dawnielle Tehama says is too often the prevailing sentiment regarding organizations catching up with shifts in public values. But when Tehama and 11 other NTA members assembled as the association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group, they not only embraced change … they ran with it.
NTA launched its DEI Advisory Group in early 2021, pulling together a broad cross-section of the membership: representatives from tour companies, tour suppliers, and destinations who volunteered to serve. That included Tehama, executive director of the Willamette Valley (Oregon) Visitors Association.
“You have to be willing to do the work and have the hard conversations,” she says. “Those are two things I have never feared doing.”
The purpose of the group is to advise the association’s staff and leaders in three areas, says NTA President Catherine Prather. “The main goals are cultivating a culture of inclusion, expanding the diversity of the NTA membership, and providing opportunities for deeper learning about DEI so it can be integrated into the packaged travel landscape.”
In September 2021, the group recommended to the NTA Board of Directors that NTA sign on to the Travel Industry Association DEI Pledge, which has been championed by Travel Unity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing diversity in the world of travel. Not only did the board agree to sign on, they further charged the DEI Advisory Group with using the guiding principles of the pledge to review NTA’s mission statement and operating principles—and, with DEI concepts in mind, to recommend updates.
Portia Conerly of Stay Arlington (Virginia) chaired the group in 2021 and 2022 and embraced the assignment. “Despite the daunting task of updating NTA’s decades-old mission statement and core values, our group worked together cohesively to produce an intentional, all-inclusive, and updated statement of NTA’s mission and core values.”
To help the DEI Advisory Group with the work, Prather enlisted the help of Roni Weiss, executive director of Travel Unity, who explained to the group the reason for—and the challenge of—updating the association’s operating principles.
“By having clarity on an organization’s mission and values, you can better make sure that everything you do links to that mission—and you’re better able to retain the members who align with that vision and find others who share that philosophy,” Weiss says. “One of the biggest issues with implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion is when people treat it in a vacuum. But by recommitting the association’s mission and resetting its values, NTA is able to make DEI part of the core fabric of the organization, not just an add-on that can disappear or never become fully part of operations.”
After receiving its marching orders from the NTA board, the DEI group initiated monthly meetings. They worked diligently to uphold the ideals and business focus of NTA while also honoring the task of reviewing NTA’s principles through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“When discussing the mission statement, the group felt it important to use words that literally signaled intent, such as ‘diverse,’ ‘welcoming,’ ‘all,’ ‘responsible,’ and ‘communities,’” Prather says. “They knew the association’s mission needed to reflect a holistic inclusion of the current members and those we hope to welcome, as well as the communities where our members are based or where our tour operators may take them. And they also included consideration for the impact on the planet.”
Once the group was satisfied with the revised mission statement, they tackled the core values. While they retained many of the original words, the group added definitions to show the new intent behind longstanding values, and they also placed them in priority order.
The work that started in September 2021 concluded in October 2022, and the DEI Advisory Group recommended the following operating principles to the NTA Board for its November meeting:
- What we believe: As a community of diverse people, we work together to improve our businesses, to better serve our clients—and the communities that host them—and to protect our planet.
- What we promise: NTA strives to create an environment that is welcoming to all tour and travel professionals who seek to grow business opportunities, and to present educational experiences that nurture equitable and sustainable business practices.
- Our mission: NTA seeks to lead the responsible growth of travel to, from, and within North America by connecting diverse professionals and enhancing the travel experience, always considering our impact on communities and the planet.
We base our actions, policies, and relationships on a set of core values:
- Integrity: NTA demonstrates and advocates for consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong ethical principles and values.
- Sustainability: NTA strives for responsible growth that balances the needs of people, profitability, and the planet.
- Inclusivity: NTA recognizes that professionals go through life with different experiences, strengths, and challenges. By inviting and listening to representatives from an array of sectors, businesses, and communities, NTA becomes a stronger organization for its members.
- Collaboration & Teamwork: NTA facilitates environments and opportunities for people and organizations to work together, creating something greater than what can be achieved individually.
- Learning & Innovation: NTA strives to constantly evolve, respectfully and strategically seeking new ideas and perspectives.
All members of the advisory group helped revise NTA’s operating principles, and because they each come from a different place and background, they have different highlights and takeaways. Conerly is especially proud of the “what we believe” section.
“It is a visionary statement that speaks to a strong, inclusive, sustainable, and thriving business community,” she says.
Another member of the group is Paul Nakamoto, with Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco. A 37-year member of NTA who served as chair in 2014, Nakamoto says, “The association has always practiced diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, and I’m proud NTA redefined its mission and statement to include these aspects. An association is only as good as its culture, and building the right culture sets the tone of the association.”
Nakamoto is particularly proud of one of the stated values: NTA strives for responsible growth that balances the needs of people, profitability, and the planet. “I was an advocate for including the planet in the principles,” he says. “Sustainability has been one topic NTA has encouraged, believed, and lived for many years.”
Dawnielle Tehama, as the leader of a destination marketing organization, is especially invested in the belief statement surrounding the communities that travelers visit.
“This principle is a very important one,” she says. “If we, as DMOs, are not serving our communities, how can we guarantee the longevity of the destination? And as community members ourselves, we should make sure we have our destination’s interest at heart.”
Tehama suggests that tourism professionals take a deeper dive.
“We need to be better advocates for those voices that are the soul of the destination, ensuring that community stakeholders understand, prioritize, and support the value of the industry and can collaborate on ways to truly become more inclusive,” she says. “Through these proactive efforts we can broaden and diversify communication and collaborate on tourism plans and itineraries that lead to responsible economic growth.”
The DEI group was satisfied with its work, but how did the NTA Board of Directors view the outcome?
“The board unanimously voted to adopt the DEI mission and value statements as a first step to move NTA toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive association,” says Debra Asberry, president of Women Traveling Together and NTA chair in 2022. “We believe that DEI aligns with NTA’s core values for our members today and in the future.”
Although they achieved their goal, the DEI Advisory Group is not resting on its accomplishment. The completion of codifying the mission and values of NTA marks the beginning of seeing that those principles are upheld—with intent and consistency—in all aspects of the association’s actions, practices, and policies.
“This is no longer solely the DEI group’s responsibility,” Prather says. “It’s now NTA’s work.”
Members of the association have a solid foundation they can build on, according to Weiss.
“I really am proud of the DEI Advisory Group, how we worked to bring the words and ideas together in a cohesive way; there was a lot of input from the whole group that we processed together,” he says. “As we finished each statement and sentence, group members would consistently say the same thing … ‘This is really who NTA is.’”
Change is good—you go first. … NTA, through its DEI Advisory Group, certainly wasn’t the first organization to set forth principles that honor diversity, equity, and inclusion. But now that the group has stepped forward, they all agree that the change is good.
Photos by Normand Huberdeau unless otherwise noted