Around the world, social justice and inclusion are themes that have taken on more urgency over the past two years. As vice president of DE&I at American Express Global Business Travel, my job is to infuse diversity, equity and inclusion into every part of our business. This is something responsible employers must do, and it is what our customers expect.
It is also a priority for corporate travel programs. Making sure travelers feel comfortable as their true, authentic selves while on the road is as important as protecting them against any other risks. As organizations develop more diverse work forces, duty of care responsibilities need to be examined with a DE&I lens and should be a central consideration for TMCs when developing digital tools and technology-supported travel services.
Although DE&I practices are now fairly ubiquitous, it is easy to forget that not long ago they were not prioritized by the corporate world. For example, the first online booking tools (OBTs) were built more than 25 years ago without accessibility in mind. Today it’s the industry standard. This makes sense when you consider that 15% of the world’s population are people with disabilities, making it the largest minority group on the planet.
We believe that with time, compliance with accessibility standards such as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) are likely to become mandatory, as is the case with other consumer protection standards, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).
Today, some tech companies are playing catch-up to comply with these standards. This means auditing and retrofitting legacy tools. Thankfully, all new developments are built to meet these standards from the ground up.
As this work is being done, developers follow one of the main concepts of corporate DE&I practices: involve the target group in the process. Within organizations, inclusion groups formed by the members and allies of a given community - women, people with disabilities or LGBTQ+, for example – work together to create awareness and answers to the issues they face personally. They know better than anyone else what they need to thrive.
Similarly, R&D teams should not assume to know what people with disabilities need when using their technology. Tech teams can rely on standards and expert consultants in the field to provide guidance from real-life experiences and data. The result is a solution that truly meets the needs of those who face physical, cognitive or neurological challenges.
Evolve and adapt
Solutions and service providers also need to be agile. Like technology, societal demands are constantly evolving, and travel tools need to adapt quickly. An example is in the field of gender identity. Today, at least 15 countries recognize a third gender on passports and both American Airlines and United Airlines are offering non-binary gender options for bookings.
Subscribe to our newsletter below
This is only the tip of an extremely complex ecosystem iceberg that will need to adapt. For business travel, a good place to start could be to offer this option in the traveler profile so travelers can match their chosen gender between passports and bookings.
There are many existing tools used to address travelers’ DE&I concerns. Communication is important for safety during travel. Whether it is for women traveling alone, or LGBTQ+ people traveling in regions that may be hostile to their community, it is important to provide a reliable, constant flow of up-to-date information.
It is also important that travelers can stay in contact for assistance. This is something travel solutions providers have been working on for years. Mobile apps, dedicated messaging platforms and in-tool alerts help travelers stay in touch and get personalized information on potential risks linked to their travel. Configuring those tools with an eye to DE&I concerns will go a long way in helping travelers feel more comfortable.
Travel is a force for good. Our industry is in a unique position to expand cultural understanding and diversifying experiences. With DE&I now firmly in the spotlight, companies and technology providers must stay ahead of the curve to ensure travel is an inclusive and equitable experience for all.