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Opportunity and Action: Community Conversations About Diversity and Inclusion

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The first-ever AdventureELEVATE Virtual (15-16 September 2020) was an inspiring opportunity to regroup and connect semi-in-person with fellow entrepreneurs, storytellers, and forward-thinkers in the adventure travel community. Under the theme of Springboard, 400+ attendees found inspiration in virtual exploration of what kind of future is possible when working together as advocates for humanity, culture, nature, and the outdoors through adventure tourism. 

As the second of Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) first two large virtual community gatherings since the global racial reckoning in June in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, it was also an opportunity to make space for conversations about race, diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and people who are systemically and institutionally marginalized in our societies and our industry due to facets of their identity.

We Go: Creating Diverse and Inclusive Companies and Experiences

A 90-minute concurrent session at AdventureELEVATE Virtual invited participants to look internally to first “understand what we believe and why,” and then opened the dialogue to explore ways to be inclusive leaders by developing the skills to walk through the messy and hard conversations that help us partner across differences. Acknowledging that the roots of adventure travel lie in explorer travel and the privileges of race, money, gender, and colonization, we also recognized that though our industry is culturally diverse in geographic terms, we still have far to go to have diverse representation, inclusion, and equity in our business, hiring, and marketing practices. 

So what did we learn? 

Session co-facilitators Moe Carrick (author and consultant) and Sharon Conceição (ATTA Community Lead for Latin America and co-author of this article) conducted polls of the mostly white audience that provided insight on where participants were on their DEI journeys. We discovered that the people present wanted to have these conversations, and are open and prepared to learn about what they don’t understand or know yet. Those that identify as white in particular felt humbled to accept guidance and insight from people of non-white races and ethnicities as they come to understand unconscious bias and race literacy. In a multiple choice poll about why participants care about DEI, the top three answers were:

  • I want people of all races, genders, and other dimensions of difference to feel our industry is for them 
  • I want to make the future more sustainable for next generations
  • I think our industry will suffer if it does not become more inclusive

When polled about the barriers that interfere with DEI in this industry, the top answers were related to historical privilege: that the “industry’s roots are white, male, hetero, and middle class,” that “the people with power and influence remain mostly white and male,” and that the “stories of other explorers are rarely told.” 

Though the majority of respondents disagreed with the poll question asking if they “often felt not sure what to say or do regarding issues of race,” the group conversations that followed were not easy. Some participants who identified as Black or a person of color shared how they do not always feel welcome in spaces–including the outdoors and industry gatherings–nor do they see themselves represented, which leaves them feeling overlooked by the industry. 

Carrick led a portion defining insider and outsider cultures, and how the dominant culture of the insider sets the norms and makes the rules. The privilege of insiders–who are often unaware of their insider status–impacts outsiders who have to work hard to fit in, and have less access to the power, advantage, and influence that is afforded to the insiders. After identifying examples of some different facets of people’s identities that might be considered insiders within the industry (such as middle/upper class, white, fit, able-bodied, male, cis-gendered) and outsiders (such as working class, a non-white race or ethnicity, unfit, differently abled, female, nonbinary or transgender), practices and questions were shared to help participants examine their own world view and reality as a path to a more inclusive and equitable industry that we can all create together. Primary among the practices is working to understand the impact and effect that our different privileges have on our partnerships, relationships, and ways of doing business, rather than focus on apologizing for it. 

James Edward Mills – Closing Keynote at AdventureELEVATE Virtual

In an inspiring and insightful presentation, writer, professor, and ATTA adventure media member James Edward Mills highlighted how critical it is that the industry recognize the emerging and changing demographics of adventure travelers, citing findings from the ATTA’s Diversity in Adventure Travel Report: US Travelers of Color. He emphasized the opportunity of this moment we are in, to restart the industry by doing a better job of engaging, having these conversations, and being proactive about making change so that all people feel welcome, secure, and encouraged to experience adventure and the outdoors. 

In the Q&A portion of the keynote, ATTA adventure media member Lauren Gay asked Mills how the industry could not just make performative changes, but real, lasting changes for diversity, inclusion and equity. Mills noted the assumption that increasing the number of people of color equals success, but that it does not solve the problem. 

“It’s not enough to ask people to come in,” he said. “We have to create an environment where they can bring in the things that are important to them–food, culture, music–all the things that makes a person a complete person” and that bringing everyone in equally together to the center is how to build something new. “That something new will be a much more engaged and inclusive environment where everyone can be successful.” 

Diversity Session at Una Fuerza Experience

Two months prior to AdventureELEVATE Virtual (1-2 July) at a virtual gathering of professionals in the Latin American region, a diversity discussion facilitated by Conceição provided a space for attendees to ask questions, listen, and share opinions, concerns, and ideas around the lack of diversity and representation in the industry. The discussion was primarily centered around community-based tourism and the importance of recognizing which specific communities and markets are marginalized, and how. The lack of representation and inclusion efforts for Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ identifying people was the main topic of conversation. Those gathered felt that though the path is long, discussions like this are major steps for greater equity and inclusion, and there is a need and want for more discussion spaces like this.

Moving Forward

The engagement and participation in sessions like these and Designing Trips and Marketing to African American Travelers (AdventureELEVATE Banff 2018), Adventure Without Barriers (ATWS 2018), and Designing Trips and Marketing to LGBTQ+ Travelers (AdventureELEVATE New York 2019) indicates the interest and willingness of the community to participate in discussions around DEI, learn more about successful practices and case studies, hear inspirational stories, and foster connections. 

With the guidance of the internal diversity council, ATTA is integrating ways to do that, including an upcoming webinar to explore the findings and gain actionable business insights from the Diversity in Adventure Travel Report: U.S. Travelers of Color with Mills (a main contributor to the findings of the report) and head ATTA researcher Heather Kelly. 

“One of the most enriching aspects of travel is the ability to immerse ourselves in cultures unlike our own. Experiencing new destinations improves our diversity consciousness and provides us a deeper appreciation for people with different backgrounds. Given this, the onus is on key players within the travel industry to ensure equal access to these experiences, regardless of one’s race or ethnicity,” notes Flywire CEO Mike Massaro in the foreword to the report (sponsored by Flywire). As Massaro also notes, the findings in the report underscore the importance of operating travel businesses with DEI “not only embedded, but also top of mind. Not only is it the right thing to do, but these findings suggest it’s also an economic imperative.”

The Diversity in Adventure Travel: U.S. Travelers of Color Research Review Webinar is 15 December 2020 at 8:00 AM PST / 16:00 UTC. Registration is free. 

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ATTA has convened a council to guide and champion diversity, inclusion, and representation efforts in the adventure travel industry and within the organization itself. Comprised of a diverse group of ATTA executives, team members, advisory board members, and ambassadors, the nine-person council’s short-term focus is on internal examination, learning, commitment, and action, as well as strategic planning for mid- and long-term goals and actions for better representation of the diversity of people in the world we all live in and love. The council was formed after ATTA’s editorial statement against racism and discrimination in recognition of racial inequality as a root cause of unnecessary violence and harm to people, the effort’s alignment with ATTA’s core values, and the strong belief that a more diverse and inclusive community helps business, economy, and innovation thrive. If you’d like to get involved or share ideas, please email the Diversity Council at [email protected] 

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