It’s time to embrace diversity

Diversity is a hot topic at the moment. But what do we mean by the term? People often talk about things like gender, race, age, physical ability, sexual and religious orientation. But at its most fundamental, embracing diversity is about accepting that everyone is different. We all have unique perspectives and experiences which we bring to the purchasing decisions we make and the jobs that we do. Whilst past business models typically focussed on achieving scale through standardisation and favoured workforce homogeneity, modern businesses need to be more flexible to succeed in today’s fast-moving world and to satisfy the myriad demands of customers.

Employees and customers are demanding diversity

A new generation of employees are arriving in the workplace. Millennials prize diversity a great deal. Deloitte surveyed nearly 8000 in 29 countries in 2016. 87% want to be part of a business that behaves responsibly towards society and sees success measured on more than pure financial performance. Meanwhile 62% of respondents said a business’ performance could be judged by how it treats its employees. An Ogilvy study¹ in 2017 found nearly half of Americans say they are more likely to spend money with brands that are LGBT inclusive.

Diversity enhances business performance

Intuitively, you might think that businesses that embrace diversity would be more complex and thus less profitable. But research shows the exact opposite. Recently McKinsey² analysed the Fortune 500 companies in the USA and found some fascinating correlations. Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have better than average financial performance. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to perform better. Conversely companies with the poorest levels of diversity lag behind their competitors. Research by the Open for Business Group shows similar uplifts in performance for companies that employ higher levels of staff who identify as LGBT.

Where are the opportunities for Travel & Tourism?

Travel & Tourism is people-centric and reflecting the diversity of customer opinions, outlooks and backgrounds in the make up of staff is thus particularly important. Some 70% of all travel purchases are made by women and women are increasingly comfortable travelling solo. We’re seeing the sector respond with women-only tours and trips more tailored to things women want from holidays like learning, self-discovery and self-improvement. It’s not just niche players like Wild Women or Living Big — Intrepid, Austin Adventures and REI offer trips like this too.

The LGBT sector is seeing similar growth. UNWTO estimates³ that annually the LGBT community rack up some 36 million overnight visits, so there’s huge opportunity here. As increasing numbers of destinations legalise same-sex marriages and partnerships, demand for overseas weddings and honeymoons in particular is growing.

Whilst the sector is nowhere near as advanced there are also developments in tours for travellers from specific ethnic backgrounds. A great example is black history with companies like Travel Noire, Henderson Travel and Travelling Black offering tours to places like Ghana focussed on the history of slavery.

Perhaps one of the most interesting case studies when it comes to diversity is the Illunion group in Spain. It was founded to provide jobs for people with disabilities. With 25 hotels in 12 destinations, 40% of the hotel’s staff have a form of disability. The hotels are targeted at travellers with disabilities too. Rooms and shared spaces are designed for higher levels of accessibility and all staff receive training on accessibility, as well as work protocols they must bear in mind when receiving people with disabilities.

There’s more to do

Of course there’s plenty still to do. The recent WTTC report Driving Women’s Success found that Travel has almost twice as many female employers than other sectors. But women still only make up 26% of senior management positions in UK Travel businesses. This doesn’t compare badly with other sectors but we obviously have a long way to go. Many businesses are working to redress the gender imbalance like Hilton with its Women in Leadership programme.

The numbers are worse when it comes to racial diversity with only one in 33 leaders in UK Travel businesses identifying themselves as black, Asian or minority ethnic. Statistics for members of the LGBT community are not readily available.

There’s huge opportunity for businesses that successfully adapt and foster more diverse workplaces. Customers are demanding it, employees want it too. So what are we waiting for?

Further deep-dive into this topic in one of our exclusive Strategic Insight Issues at this year’s WTTC Global Summit 2019 in Seville, Spain on Thursday 4 April. You can watch live on the day at: wttc.org/livestream


¹ Source: European Travel Commission Handbook on LGBT tourism
² Source: Women in Hospitality, Travel, and Leisure 2020, WiH2020 Review
³ Source: Second Global Report on LGBT tourism