Diversity Marketing’s New Look

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Destination diversity marketing plans—those programs that seek to define locations and hospitality and tourism brands as welcoming and equipped to host different population segments—are not what they were a couple of decades ago. As populaces have diversified, so have initiatives to reach various markets.

Differences in people, including their races, ethnicities, ages, religions, lifestyles, gender identities, and travel styles, are getting recognized. And the initiatives are not in motion just because it’s hospitable to welcome and entertain people of all profiles. It’s also good business, say those who are spending significant resources to train employees and forge partnerships.

The City of Philadelphia launched its Multicultural Affairs Congress in the late 1980s to give its large African-American population a voice in lifting the city out of blight into new economic realms via development of tourism and hospitality. Today, the scene is more varied.

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“Back then, people were looking at employment opportunities and procuring convention business with African Americans,” said Greg DeShields, executive director of PHLDiversity, a division of the Philadelphia CVB (PHLCVB). “We had to develop a product to get them to come to us, and to ensure that their time with us would provide a good experience. So then we focused primarily on African-American groups.” Today, he said, the city’s diversity initiatives have the cornerstones of African American, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian-Indian groups, and, more recently, LGBT markets.

DeShields said PHLDiversity focuses on meetings and conventions procurement, and Visit Philadelphia carries tourism’s leisure side, with some overlaps. “The Business of Diversity in Conventions and Tourism” will be the theme at an annual industry luncheon on Oct. 9 that will focus on the city’s efforts to be recognized as a leading multicultural and diverse tourism and convention city.

The luncheon will be held at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, a property that demonstrates its brand’s wide-ranging diversity marketing endeavors. “Today, initiatives must be about being culturally competent and authentic,” said Apoorva N. Gandhi, vice president of multi-cultural markets and alliances for Marriott International Inc. “It’s about getting into the trenches with various groups to take their pulses and show support.

“You can use the same ad with different faces, but that’s not authentic. People see right through that. Our goal is to be engaged with a specific community, not to just show up and ask for money. This means we work alongside CVBs and associations that represent communities of people, to make sure they know we are supporting them. Marriott wants to demonstrate inclusion at all levels, whether someone does business with us or stays with us. We want them to have a great experience.”

One of the ways Marriott promotes associate awareness and relativity with its target groups is with culture days. “Maybe a hotel is in a city with a big Asian-Indian population, and they want to book more social and business events with them,” Gandhi said. “We’ll organize a meal of Indian food and maybe entertainment, and then take people to the culture—into restaurants, retail outlets, and cultural sites—to elevate awareness.”

Destination diversity marketing isn’t limited to big cities and big hotels. Reaching out for good experiences with the LGBT market is core of a new CVB marketing campaign in Richmond, Va., called OutRVA. Its objectives include spotlighting the city’s attractiveness for LGBT travelers. Vishal Savani, communications manager for Linden Row Inn, a 70-room historic boutique property in Richmond, said his company is a leading sponsor of the new campaign.

“We contribute financially and in kind to the campaign,” Savani said. “We actually began with this sector by hosting a large press trip in 2011, and we’ve donated room nights and auction items for other marketing initiatives with the CVB, and we’ve seen good increases from this market.”