One silver lining of COVID-19 is that there seems to be growing consensus that progress toward a truly diverse and inclusive global travel market necessitates going beyond webinars, panel sessions, policy statements and workshops.
We are seeing strong voices like the Black Traveler Alliance, BAME Women in Travel and others call on travel brands to step up to the plate not only regarding internal equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) efforts, but also concerning travel marketing, consideration of guest experience and legitimate allyship.
If a destination is known to be less tolerant of travelers’ sexual orientation, life choices, or race, travel brands should make travelers aware of this.
What is notably missing from the dialogue around EDI, BIPOC allyship and advancing a stronger and better travel and tourism industry is critically evaluating the way we manage travel-related risk and the lens through which it has traditionally been viewed.
For decades, the primary focus of risk management in travel and tourism has focused on things like preventing drownings, carbon monoxide poisoning in guest rooms, falls from balconies, fire safety incidents and food-hygiene related illnesses.
In the context of COVID-19, preventing the spread of infection is also a key aspect of risk management.
The driver of risk mitigation efforts in these areas has traditionally been to avoid insurance claims and protect brand reputation.
Issues such as sex trafficking; hate crimes against minorities and vulnerable travelers on premises and in-destination; and outcomes of over-tourism on communities, cultural heritage practices, etc., go largely unreported and are rarely included in formalized risk management criteria.
Thinking in a more holistic way
I’d like to put forth the argument that the new frontier of both EDI initiatives AND effective risk management practices is one of intersectionality.
To drive meaningful change and be more inclusive in the way we manage risk, EDI functions within travel brands need to engage in dialogue and collaborate with the health, safety and security teams, and most importantly to take a data-driven approach to understand the landscape of risk as experienced by BIPOC travelers, LGBTQIA travelers, vulnerable travelers and destination community members.
If we understand the unique ways they are exposed to risk or the experiences they have whilst traveling, we can ensure that our risk management practices reflect the diversity of the guests we serve and the communities they share experiences with.
Travel risk management practitioners have long accepted the fact that our role in safeguarding the welfare of tourism providers and participants is one that exists in the shadows. Our role has been to partner with hotels, restaurants, tourism boards and ministries, tour operators and OTAs and develop strategies to mitigate risk in a manner that is not visible to the end consumer.
This is to say that if we do our job well, concerns around food hygiene, child safety, fire safety, etc., never cross the minds of the guests and travelers they welcome.
COVID-19 has flipped existing paradigm on its head
There has been a fundamental shift in consumer demand for health and safety assurance practices. There is now an expectation for the brands we choose to travel with to do better regarding health and hygiene practices and stewardship on premises and in destinations.
To put this into practice, travel brands need to get EDI, health and safety and sustainability teams in the same room, and mutually acknowledge that the risk travelers encounter is as diverse as they are.
Audit protocols, safety policies and procedures need to be amended to reflect this diversity and mitigation efforts need to be targeted to be effective.
For example, if a destination is known to be less tolerant of travelers’ sexual orientation, life choices or race, travel brands should make travelers aware of this, train their staff on specific safeguarding practices, have audit protocols in place to assess hotels’ ability to manage these issues and provide resources to guests to reduce their vulnerability.
Giving travelers overt signals that these practices are in place and that they are traveling with a brand who is proactively managing risk unique to them is a critical part of ensuring an incredible guest experience.
Helping travelers know that the full spectrum of risk exposure has been thought of and adequately safeguarded is one of the most sincere and tangible forms of allyship a travel brand can offer and will pay dividends.