The lodging industry perhaps has one of the most diverse customer bases on the planet. Almost everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or religion, has stayed or will stay in a hotel. Being able to understand and serve a diverse group of customers is imperative in lodging, but data and statistics have shown over and over that there is a massive disparity in the number of minorities with positions of power in the industry.
This is why the 2016 Diversity & Inclusion Conference, which took place April 27 and 28 at the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia, attracted lodging giants and hospitality students alike. The result of the combined efforts of Lodging Media, PHL Diversity, a division of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Temple University, and Visit Philadelphia, the Diversity & Inclusion Conference brought together C-level executives, association leaders, educators, and many more to develop effective strategies to enhance minority access, increase corporate social responsibility, improve education, and foster cross-cultural understanding within the hospitality workforce.
Ed McNeill, president and CEO of Lodging Media, noted that Philadelphia is the ideal place for a diversity conference. “I think that we’re all in agreement this is a great city to host it because it underscores what diversity and inclusion is all about.” Philadelphia is indeed very diverse—44 percent of the city’s population is African American, 13 percent is Hispanic, and 7 percent is Asian.
The conference kicked off on Wednesday with an Academic Think Tank and Minority Hotel Association Round Table. These forums allowed for an open discussion of the issues inherent in the lodging industry, as well as an opportunity to find solutions. Jeffrey Montague, associate vice dean, School of Tourism at Temple University, who was a panelist on the Academic Think Tank, explained, “Our goal was to talk about recruiting and retaining potential minority students to come into higher education. So that’s what the think tank was about, and how we could build strategies as teams to get people in masters and PhD programs.”
Yesterday, the morning general session featured an opening keynote speech from Luke Visconti, CEO and founder of DiversityInc. Visconti spoke passionately about diversity and how the industry must adapt to incorporate the talent that is currently being overlooked. “Diversity is now wallpaper. Look at our country, there have been more non-white births in our country than white births for the last five years. Diversity—it’s over. It’s here. It’s not coming, it’s right now. And if you miss that wave, it’s going to be tough to catch up,” he said. “It’s here, it’s now, and it’s forever.”
The opening session also included a CEO roundtable moderated by Joseph McInerney, emeritus president and CEO of AH&LA. Panelists Stephen Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels International, Jay H. Shah, CEO of Hersha Hospitality Trust, Norman Jenkins, founder of Capstone Development, Matthew Schuyler, chief human resources officer, Hilton Worldwide, and Chip Rogers, president of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, all weighed in on the issues facing minorities in lodging today, and what industry leaders can do to usher in change and foster opportunity. Joyce commented, “These conferences are important so we can get out in front and say, look, if you want to get into the business, we have a real opportunity to get ahead and rise up.”
Thursday also offered four breakout sessions for attendees that covered the minority leadership gap, supplier diversity, diversity and inclusion best practices, and franchise ownership.
The 2016 Diversity & Inclusion Conference closed with speeches from Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney and former Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell. Both Kenney and Rendell spoke at length about Philadelphia’s plans to host the Democratic National Convention in July.