Louisville Embraces a More Equitable Future With New Hospitality Initiatives
Louisville Tourism, the marketing agency charged with promoting the Kentucky city as a travel destination, has unveiled hospitality industry initiatives designed to address racial imbalances inside and outside the organization while promoting its reputation as an inclusive and welcoming destination. Launched on Sept. 23, the same day that charges against one police officer involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor were announced, the new initiatives come as Louisville finds itself in the spotlight while the nation reckons with its history of racial disparities.
“As we process the grief and raw emotions our community is experiencing right now, we realize we are treating more than one pandemic, addressing sustained systemic racism as well as fighting a health crisis,” said Karen Williams, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism. “During these difficult and painful times, we all have a responsibility to help our city grow in order to pave the road for a better future.”
She added that while Louisville Tourism’s primary focal point is economic development, its broader mission is a thriving community where tourism can make a difference to quality of life.
To help advance racial equality and inclusion, the agency is taking thoughtful and direct action. Efforts include launching a Black Tourism Advisory Council led by Louisville Tourism’s COO Cleo Battle, who is also one of the leaders of an industry-wide effort to address social justice in the tourism industry via ongoing summits within the Destinations International community.
In order to improve Louisville’s hospitality organizations and overall destination experience for visitors and residents, members of BTAC have been focusing on intentional inclusivity in the hospitality industry via ongoing conversations that have included representatives from all major local hospitality industry sectors.
“It is important that we create comprehensive experiences that demonstrate that we understand the needs and desires of Black tourists – they must feel safe and welcome in Louisville,” said Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center and a BTAC member.
Showcasing the city’s Black heritage and providing increased exposure for Black-owned businesses will become a point of focus for the agency via promotional campaigns and new Black heritage experiences to be launched this fall.
According to agency officials, Louisville Tourism staff has been working with local attraction partners over the past 18 months to increase interest in Muhammad Ali Tourism and to spotlight African American influence within the Bourbon and horseracing industries. These new more diverse, inclusive and immersive experiences will be designed to benefit all visitors to the destination and will be promoted through collaborative partnerships with the National Civil Rights Trail, Black Bourbon Society, Kentucky Department of Tourism and the African American Travel Conference.
Meanwhile, Louisville Tourism is currently assessing its own organizational culture by conducting a diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) analysis of its practices around diversity in hiring, employee education, ways to work with a more inclusive variety of vendors and diversity representation in its marketing collateral.
Additionally, the agency is offering an ongoing DEI training program for local hospitality industry professionals. Created to help ensure that all who interact with the city’s hospitality industry are respected and treated appropriately, the new and ongoing educational opportunities for Louisville Tourism staff and industry partners are being provided by several women and Black-owned businesses.
In August, more than 450 local hospitality industry members attended a virtual DEI workshop, with the next one scheduled Oct. 1 and more planned for the future.
“Our primary mission remains to grow the economy through tourism and it is our responsibility to our community to do that inclusively,” Williams said. “We will be guided by organizations that have access to the best research, training and resources in DEI.”
She added, “Travel and tourism have long been a foundation in helping change perceptions to bring people together – something we all need now more than ever.”