Issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are being discussed all across the travel industry now more than ever before — but one organization is doing more than just talk about making change.
Destinations International (which bills itself as the world’s largest resource for official destination organizations, convention and visitors bureaus, and tourism boards) has hired Sophia Hyder Hock as its chief diversity officer, a newly created position for the company. The goal is to help ensure that the travel industry’s opportunities are open to everyone, as well as to aid destination organizations in implementing DEI strategies within their communities.
Hock’s professional background has her well-primed for the new role. After 15 years in international development work — including economic development, gender empowerment, sustainable development and land rights — she started her own business working with women entrepreneurs from India and Bangladesh.
“I came to a point in my career where I wanted to create more impact with the work that I was doing,” Hock said.
Following that endeavor, Hock had an idea for an app that would provide pre-trip cultural etiquette advice to travelers. Ultimately, that segued into DEI work within the travel industry.
Asking open-ended questions can start dialogue in a way that does not make anyone feel guilty. And sometimes that dialogue is an avenue for future discussion — and for change.
“I drew upon my skill sets in policy development, economic development, design and facilitation — as well as my personal love for travel and the experiences that I've had as a person of color — and I started designing and facilitating DEI strategies, trainings and workshops for the travel industry,” she said.
Here, Hock discusses what she would like to accomplish in her new role, as well as strategies for travel advisors who want to foster more diversity, equity and inclusion within their own businesses and throughout the travel industry as a whole.
Tell me about your new position, which is a brand-new role for Destinations International. Why was it created?
I think it's really important to emphasize the fact that Destinations International took a stance to do a better job [with] DEI in the industry starting in 2017. That’s prior to when the industry [started] trying to make sure that DEI was on the purview for everyone. And as the years progressed, conversations turned into action.
While serving our members, we did see that there was a need to provide support and to have greater dialogue about DEI-related initiatives. And this role came about because we wanted to ensure that there was someone dedicated to serving our members [in order] to create that impact in the travel space. So, the fact that they have created this position really shows the importance that they place on DEI, but also that members are looking to incorporate DEI into their organizations and their destinations.
How do you think travel overall can become more inclusive and diverse? What are some of the steps that need to be taken?
I think the first step is having an open mind and an understanding that we need to change as an industry. In my trainings, I've talked about the fact that unconscious bias is something that has come up quite a bit in dialogue the past few years. And we all have them, we're all human.
If we can start there — just be open to the fact that we are human and we have biases — and be open to learning about ourselves and other people, that's where [change] starts.
If we can start there — just be open to the fact that we are human and we have biases — and be open to learning about ourselves and other people, that's where [change] starts. The other part is acknowledging that practices will need to change within an organization, and then being committed and open to figuring out how it will be done.
How do you plan to work with destination organizations to accomplish these goals?
I'm a big proponent of talking to people and really connecting with them to understand what's going on. And I plan to do a listening tour within our members to understand who they are; what they've done thus far; what some of their challenges are; and the barriers toward implementing diversity, equity and inclusion within their destination or travel organization. I want to create dialogue, so I can then help prepare a participatory strategy that provides services and resources toward closing that gap.
Do you think the work will be more of an internal effort within the organizations themselves, or more external, with the communities they serve?
It's actually a mix of three things.
The first is within the organization – defining diversity, equity and inclusion for the staff, from hiring practices to company culture to representation. It has to start with yourself; you have that self-awareness before you can attract someone from a different background and perspective.
It has to start with yourself; you have that self-awareness before you can attract someone from a different background and perspective.
Then, there’s engaging the community and fostering links with them. Understanding who's in your community — the demographics and the different businesses that are in the tourism economy — and creating that culture of shared community values.
And the third thing is then creating a sense of welcoming for a diverse set of visitors from different perspectives, backgrounds and abilities.
Do you have any advice for travel advisors looking to embody these values in their own businesses?
I think it's important, first, for travel advisors to define what diversity, equity and inclusion means for them. It's also important for them to believe that they can create change within their role — even if they're a small business or a team of one.
After that, they should be curious and ask questions about the different cultures in the destinations they work with or represent. Provide education to clients about how to dig deeper when you travel, about what responsible travel means or how to connect with a culture. Really think about [how] to help travelers feel safe in a place so that they can connect. Think about how we can humanize travel a little more than we have. Because it's more than just a business. It's about connection.
I also think external messaging is really important. So, on their website or in their messaging, including language that exemplifies their principles of diversity, equity and inclusion — that they're working to represent and serve people of all different perspectives and backgrounds. [Use] the language of, “We're open to hearing your questions, and we'll do our best to help you feel safe.”
What should travel advisors look for in the partners they choose to work with and support?
When you look at a partnership, get a sense of who the partner is, what their values are, who they represent and who they work with. Think about who your ideal partner is — do they adopt the same type of ethos you would like to have?
Maybe ask some initial questions about how they work with diverse vendors. Do they adopt DEI practices that maybe you could think about, as well? Asking open-ended questions can start dialogue in a way that does not make anyone feel guilty. And sometimes that dialogue is an avenue for future discussion — and for change.