Appealing to Black travelers, staff starts at the top
Appealing to Black travelers, staff starts at the top
02 SEPTEMBER 2020 8:05 AM

The hotel industry needs to employ more Black leaders to appeal more to Black travelers, and associates need training to avoid racism, sources said.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—To make Black guests feel more welcome at hotels, companies need to employ Black leaders, and diversity and inclusion will trickle down through the workforce to associates on the front line and their customers, sources said.

Martina Jones-Johnson, a board officer with the Black Travel Alliance, said the organization has a Black Traveler Scorecard which ranks hotels and other travel companies in terms of Black presence in employment, conferences and trade shows, marketing campaigns and press.

“The most relevant here is employment because when you get Black people in leadership, it trickles down to every other part of the business. It helps you make better marketing decisions (and) better decisions all around in consideration of other Black people because oftentimes your circle, it reflects how well you are able to influence something else and the decisions that you make,” she said. “So when there are no Black people in leadership at hotel companies or whatever industry, it makes it really difficult to make fair and inclusive decisions.”

  • Click here to read “Black hoteliers call for direct action on racial bias” and here for data on how Black leadership is lacking in the hotel industry.

During a webinar hosted by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants in July, Tracy Prigmore, founder of TLT Solutions, said its associates are most productive when they can come to work and be who they are.

She said there needs to be an understanding of diversity of thought and diversity of experiences across team members because real innovation happens when all employees feel comfortable at work.

For example, she said, a Black team member raised the issue that not all hotel products work for Black guests, especially the shampoo and conditioner that’s available to guests.

“If you have a diverse team, they can actually speak up and let you know things that you wouldn’t really think about. I wouldn’t expect a white woman or a white male to understand that the shampoo doesn’t work for us. I never use the shampoo,” she said.

“If there’s a diverse team and (an employee) who can step up and say, ‘hey, let’s offer some different varieties,’ then you’re welcoming a whole other market segment that may have not looked to you or didn’t feel comfortable in your place or feel welcome in your place.”

Tyronne Stoudemire, VP of global diversity and inclusion at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, on the webinar agreed that hotels need to do a better job of supplying amenities Black people can use.

“Talk about shampoos and lotions, with (Black travelers spending $63 billion) in the industry and we don’t have shea butter, we don’t have shower caps to fit women who have braids or extensions, we don’t have darker towels for women to wash their face and makeup so (it’s not visible) on the white towel. That isn’t rocket science,” he said. “It’s just hearing what the consumers are saying and taking action.”

Regarding diversity in the workplace, Stoudemire added that hotel teams “can’t just have one of any.”

“Because if we just have one of any, if it’s a woman or someone of pride, he or she is often trying to prove themselves and oftentimes are on the defensive,” he said. “It levels off when you get three (diverse employees). … If the environment is not set up for that person to speak out, if psychologically they don’t feel like what they say is going to be heard, they will become withdrawn.”

Employee training to avoid racism
In June, an employee at a Hampton Inn was fired for calling the police on a Black family who was staying at the hotel because the employee believed the family was using the pool and not staying at the hotel.

Prigmore said if that hotel team had diversity at the hotel level, not just the management level, “this woman, who was very blindsided and not sure how to handle the situation, probably would have been more comfortable diffusing the situation and probably would not have made the assumptions that she made, but she has probably … never had leadership to help understand and figure out a way to handle that situation.”

The video of the employee at the Hampton Inn went viral, and a “price will be paid for that,” Stoudemire said. Black guests will see that and not stand behind Hampton Inn, he said.

Kerwin McKenzie, a board member with the Black Travel Alliance, said there’s a lot more hotels can do to make Black travelers feel welcome, and he’s had many experiences where he has not felt welcome when staying at a hotel.

McKenzie said he is a loyalty member with all of the major brands, and he’s gotten suspicious looks from employees at some hotels when he enters the loyalty member line.

“I’m in this line because I’ve spent a lot of money with your hotel or I have your credit card or whatever it takes to get the status. I have the status, so don’t look at me like I don’t belong here,” he said.

A lot of this has to do with training, McKenzie said. Employees need to know to check their unconscious biases and treat all guests fairly.

Hotel companies need to speak out
Some hotel companies have been silent on racism, discrimination and Black Lives Matter, Jones-Johnson said, and Black travelers are going to remember that when it’s safe to travel again.

“Those (hotel companies) aren’t going to be the first places on my list to stay at their properties. Not at all,” she said.

In this article from April, HNN rounded up commentary from hotel executives who had spoken out on social media against racial injustice and inequality after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.

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