5 Challenges to Diversity in Meetings and Business Events

March 03, 2023

Last month, DCI teamed up with Questex Travel & Hospitality Group to host a roundtable with industry leaders on diversity in meetings and business events. The goal was anything but simple: have a real, honest discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the business events sector.

Top leaders from DMOs representing Bermuda, London, the Netherlands, and Sydney joined meetings industry professionals including directors of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals, the LGBT Meeting Professionals Association, East West Connection Inc., Canvas Meetings & Incentives, and Streamlinevents. Both destinations and meeting planners alike weighed in on the work that’s been done, and the work that’s left to do by destinations for their partners, their communities, and meeting planners looking to book events.

An overarching theme throughout all DEI conversations is that the most recent catalyst for these conversations – the 2020 killing of George Floyd – is often overshadowed. Diversity issues are broad, but especially in the U.S., racial inequality remains an unresolved topic that everyone, including the meetings industry, needs to help combat continuously, no matter how uncomfortable these discussions may be.

To that end, and to address the meetings industry more specifically, the roundtable participants and DCI identified five key takeaways that destination professionals alike need to keep in mind when considering diversity in meetings and business events.

While planners want to incorporate more DEI practices into their events, destinations face an uphill battle in helping create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive meetings industry.

1. Diversity Measurements are Inadequate
One of the major takeaways during the roundtable is that definitions and measurements of what DEI means are inconsistent at best. Participants shared that debates over whether the “E” stands for equity or equality still occur among colleagues.

What’s more, assessing how a destination has achieved more inclusion and diversity in meetings and business event bookings is difficult to ascertain. For example, participants shared that KPIs for diversity are unreliable since so much of the process depends on workers self-reporting their identities. If someone does not report how they identify, a hotel or convention center cannot reliably say whether or not its workforce is diverse or not.

Participants agreed on a need to find new ways to measure DEI in destinations to help create more clarity about where they are succeeding and where they need to improve efforts.

2. Industry Leadership is Lacking
Among other challenges, participants agreed, there is a lack of firm and stable leadership for meeting professionals and destinations when it comes to DEI. The Events Industry Council (EIC) is currently the umbrella for all DEI efforts, and its ambitious Equity Acceleration Plan is a powerful first step.

But even EIC’s 2022 research underscored the need for more localized leadership on national, regional, and even city levels to help address shortcomings in inclusion and diversity in meetings and business events. The roundtable’s participants agreed that more collaboration would go a long way in addressing the ever-broadening scope of DEI challenges.

3. Destination Bias is Difficult to Overcome
Another point of debate during the roundtable was how to address and – hopefully – overcome destination bias. Participants discussed whether or not meeting planners should avoid a destination because of discriminatory behavior or a negative perception among certain communities.

While some agreed that not planning in a negatively-perceived destination was a way to send a clear message, others at the roundtable suggested going in the opposite direction. For some, investing in these places and showcasing diverse voices during events and conferences could galvanize communities in those destinations who may not align with politicians and local policy. Through event contributions and other acts of community service, the meetings industry can work to make a positive impact in a destination with a negative image.

The debate underscored the polarizing effects of local politics on site selection as a challenge for both buyers and destinations to navigate.

4. Governments and DMOs Aren’t Aligned
In line with overcoming destination bias, participants discussed discrepancies between DMOs and their governmental policies. Most DMO representatives affirmed a commitment to DEI in their business tourism sectors that far outpaces what their local governments have achieved. These efforts, however, don’t always overshadow the destination bias mentioned above.

For destinations, the question of how their convention bureaus can overcome negative political views continues to be difficult. Some participants, however, offered hope that local governments eventually see the value of embracing more DEI efforts thanks to their meetings and conferences.

Challenges remain, however, in aligning governments and their convention bureaus to help avoid the negative preconceptions that meeting planners often have.

5. Leadership Lacks Diversity at the Top
One of the most obvious challenges, participants agreed, was showing future leaders that today’s convention and tourism leadership is diverse and inclusive. While much leadership at the top of the meetings and business events industry remains largely white and male, it’s not always a given for individuals from marginalized groups to rise to the top. Due to a lack of access and entrenched gatekeeping that keep certain groups in power, it remains a challenge – and for some, a near impossibility – to obtain leadership roles.

Participants agreed that elevating more diverse leadership to the highest levels is a much needed step to help ensure that DEI efforts don’t lose steam. Organizations need to evolve hiring practices to ensure they are creating space for more diverse candidates to succeed at the top.

While challenges remain to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive business events industry, they are anything but insurmountable. Identifying the problems are the first steps to creating solutions. DCI and Questex Travel & Hospitality Group are proud and thankful for the industry leaders who attended the roundtable to help take the first step.

Looking to reevaluate diversity in meetings in your destination? Here at DCI, we have more than 60 years of working with destinations to create more interest among meeting planners. Contact Pamela Laite at [email protected] to learn more about how our business events division can help bolster your DEI efforts.

Written by

Nkechi Mitchell

Project Manager, Digital