February 2015

Diversity marketing broadens its scope

by Ruth A. Hill


  • /Portals/0/images/articles/MFG/2015/0215/Full_Spec_MonicaRobinson.jpg


    Monica Robinson, Executive Director,
    National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners



  • /Portals/0/images/articles/MFG/2015/0215/Full_Spec_Apoorva_Gandhi.jpg


    Apoorva N. Gandhi, Vice President, Multi-Cultural Markets and Alliances, Marriott International



  • /Portals/0/images/articles/MFG/2015/0215/Full_Spec_GregDeShields.jpg


    Greg DeShields, Executive Director, PHLDiversity, a division of the Philadelphia CVB (PHLCVB)


The right rhetoric and people in brochure photos used to suffice for a good diversity marketing effort by destinations and other industry suppliers, but no more. Today, marketing initiatives that define brands as welcoming and equipped to host varied population segments must be not only authentic, but diverse themselves.

Destinations, hotels and other industry suppliers who are winning business from people of varied ethnicities, age, religion, sexual orientations, gender identities and travel styles are getting into the trenches with organizations that represent those they are trying to reach. They are also devoting significant resources to staff cultural understanding and sensitivity training, and the mentoring of individuals who are tasked with carrying out diverse marketing initiatives.

Monica Robinson, executive director of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and an experienced destination marketer and event planner, says training that promotes the understanding of varied cultures is a key component of effective diversity marketing. And so is the mentoring of individuals tasked with diversity outreach.

To illustrate her point, Robinson recalled a person who was working as a hotel valet parking attendant in the medium-sized city where she was attached to the local CVB staff.

“The hotel general manager liked this person and decided to promote him to a diversity sales position. But the man didn’t get much training of any kind,” she says. “Because he was very personable and realized he needed to learn some things, he was able to align himself with people who could train and mentor him, but it took him far longer than it should have because he had to seek out his own training. This was an insult to the person and the industry.”

Some larger cities are going at diversity marketing in effective ways, she adds, but others haven’t ramped up.

“Some larger cities get the business impact that various groups can make, but we need to bring smaller cities along,” Robinson contends.

One city that leads in the diversity marketing arena, she points out, is Philadelphia.

Philly Pioneers Diversity Marketing

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

“Back then, people were looking at employment opportunities and procuring convention business with African-Americans,” says 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 says, the city’s diversity initiatives have the cornerstones of African-American, Asian, Native Americans, Hispanic and Asian-Indian groups, and more recently, LGBT markets.

DeShields says PHLDiversity focuses on meetings and conventions procurement, and Visit Philadelphia carries tourism’s leisure side, with some overlaps.


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