Destinations International Launches Equity, Diversity and Inclusion ‘Tourism for All’ Pilot Program

November 21, 2022

Destinations International, the world’s largest resource for official destination organizations, convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) and tourism boards, recently unveiled its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) pilot program, “Tourism for All.” Announced at the 2022 Destinations International Advocacy Summit, held Oct. 26-28 in Bloomington, Minn., the new initiative is designed to support CVBs in being more inclusive, welcoming and accessible to prospective visitors, including event attendees, and tourism businesses.  

Launched in partnership with the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau in Charlottesville, Va., and powered by Tripadvisor, the new program will illustrate the value of CVBs in a new way: through their engagement with the entire community, access to opportunities in the tourism economy and being leaders in welcoming all people to their destinations. 

“Destinations International is committed to bringing intentional EDI practices to destinations around the world,” said Sophia Hyder Hock, chief diversity officer at Destinations International. “What sets this initiative apart is its focus on destination and partner accountability. This work is essential to our roles as CVBs and building trust in our communities.”

Through a focus on inclusive marketing, welcoming diverse demographics and creating accessible spaces, the CVB can become the bright beacon to which people from anywhere can find commonality and community, while also attracting new and underserved travelers to the destination, she added. 

The “Tourism for All” pilot program will focus on the following:

  • Creating an action plan and an EDI pledge for the Charlottesville Albemarle CVB’s “Tourism for All” initiative by engaging a diverse array of community members, tourism professionals and businesses involved in the tourism industry
  • Developing intentionally inclusive tour products that tell the stories of historically excluded populations and reach broader audiences
  • Supporting the growth of the Charlottesville Albemarle CVB “Tourism for All” initiative by helping tourism partners cultivate safe physical spaces and developing strategic partnerships to become a more welcoming destination
  • Educating traditionally excluded businesses on how to participate in and benefit from the visitor economy

According to Destinations International officials, the new program comes as traveler studies highlight the economic benefit of different demographics. For example, Black travelers spent nearly $130 billion on travel in 2019, closely followed by Hispanic travelers, who spent $113 billion. Additionally, people with disabilities spend $95 billion globally on travel annuallya number that will grow as destinations and travel products become more accessible.

The Charlottesville Albemarle CVB began its journey to address EDI when Executive Director Courtney Cacatian joined in August 2019, two years after the violent and deadly Unite the Right white nationalist rally in August 2017.  

As Charlottesville continued to dominate headlines, Cacatian recognized the need for a more complete narrative of the destination while working toward real change. She engaged Talia Salem, a tourism marketing strategist, and Hyder Hock, formerly an EDI consultant, to help guide the community and the CVB through this effort. Thus, the initiative “Tourism for All” was born. 

Meanwhile, bringing her knowledge of the process in Charlottesville when she joined Destinations International as its chief diversity officer, Hock recognized the opportunity to create a replicable model for other destinations. 

Seeing the need for trackable metrics, the team partnered with Tripadvisor to leverage its research. This work will identify trends among participating tourism partners through Tripadvisor’s market segments, business ratings and by identifying EDI terms within traveler-generated content showcasing the work the destination and partners are undertaking.

“Everyone should be able to travel anywhere and have an enjoyable travel experience,” said Steven Paganelli, Tripadvisor director of destinations, hotels and OTAs, Americas. “However, our studies with MMGY focusing on Black and Hispanic travelers and travelers with mobility issues highlight a commonality: Our industry has more work to do.” 

He continued, “This program will rely on actual user testimonials through both reviews and discussions within Tripadvisor’s Forums, to track how service levels for underserved travelers change and improve as a result of ‘Tourism for All.’” 

The pilot program will take place first in Charlottesville and will be launched to all destinations wishing to participate in early 2024.

“I’m so pleased to see our community’s work over the past couple of years be formalized into a usable model for other destinations,” Cacatian said. “Building on the success of our Destiny Award-winning Discover Black Cville and ‘Tourism for All’ effort, I look forward to seeing how broadening our scope of creating a welcoming space for everyone will bring positive impact to our community, residents, businesses and visitors.”

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.