Visit Oakland Reaffirms Commitment to Advancing Equity in the Travel Industry

The destination marketing organization for Oakland, California responds to Black industry leaders.

(Oakland, CA) - In support of the Black travel industry leaders who released an open letter reflecting on systemic racism in the travel industry, Visit Oakland has set forth a number of responses on the organization’s successes, commitments and opportunities to advance equity and inclusion in the travel industry.

“Visit Oakland is committed to lifting the Black community and amplifying Black voices,” says Mark Everton, CEO of Visit Oakland. “We also acknowledge the opportunities we have to continue to grow and learn, to have our work be informed by the Black Lives Matter movement’s vital efforts to address systemic injustice in our communities, across the United States, and around the world. We recognize our role as leaders in the travel industry, and we will continue to lead by example.”

21 Black travel industry leaders penned the following open letter this week:

Recently this country has been experiencing situations and events that have forced us to see everything differently. We have been beseeched by a health pandemic that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings and all but shut down TRAVEL as we have known it. Now the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police officers has refocused the world’s awareness of another deadly pandemic; blatant and systemic RACISM.

The murder of George Floyd is a painful tragedy, not only for his family and friends, but also for the wider community of humanity, especially the Black sector. It is symbolic of the degree of marginalism and disenfranchisement that infects every level of society, including the meetings/travel/hospitality industry.

Like every Black person in this country, we well know that at any point in time in any city in America our rights as citizens and yes, our lives, could be taken in a moment at the hands of someone who sees themselves as superior and “in control.” Nationally, Blacks are denied equal access to job opportunities. In the hospitality industry, specifically destination marketing, our efforts to improve the representation of Blacks continues to be a challenge at all levels, but specifically at the executive and C-suite positions. We have watched the protests in our cities, and in the cities globally of our peers. We support the protests with the hope of change to a narrative we have lived with our entire lives.

We are further saddened by the deafening SILENCE from many of our peers and colleagues in this industry. To paraphrase civil rights activist Eldridge Cleaver, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” Clearly, whether we realize it, admit it, or like it, all of our lives have been impacted and our world has changed. This industry must and will also change. HOW will be determined by the actions we take NOW. One thing is for sure, going forward, we can no longer “do business as usual.”

Although it is not imperative for creating change, history has taught us that it is helpful for those concerned to fully recognize the NEED for changes to be made. So if we can at least begin by accepting that racism has no place in this country or our industry, perhaps a starting point for making things better would be to establish meaningful platforms to have open conversations to LISTEN to those in the industry, as well as the broader traveling public whose experiences are shaped by the policies and decisions made by those of us in positions of leadership.

To further gain some enlightenment, we might do well to ask some pertinent questions, such as (listed below).

If our industry is going to emerge as a winner in the travel and tourism game, we encourage you to embrace the philosophy of the late professional tennis player, Althea Gibson, who in 1956 was the first Black to win a Grand Slam title. Her motto was: “A Loser says, “It is possible, but it is difficult.” A winner says, “It is difficult, but it is possible.”

We stand ready to do our part to make the possibility of a new, better, highly evolved, inclusive travel industry a reality in 2020 and the years to come. Will you join us?

Visit Oakland joins Black travel industry leaders in a commitment to an inclusive travel industry for the future, and as such responded to the following considerations offered by these travel industry leaders.

In general, what are you doing in your own organizations/cities to nurture cultural change as it relates to racism?

Giving space and heightened visibility to Black, POC, women and LGBTQ+ voices is in Visit Oakland’s DNA. Our marketing efforts have been wholly inclusive, especially to reflect and support Oakland’s Black community. We’ve been diligent about Black representation on our TV and print advertisements, and particularly on social media. We have specifically engaged Black and POC events and partnerships, from Afrotech to Black Panther Party History Tours, with the vision to create a more equitable tourism economy in and for Oakland.

What steps are you taking to ensure local industry boards, committees, and staff have African American representation and leadership in your office and hospitality community?

Ensuring Black representation and leadership in our office and hospitality community comes as second nature for Visit Oakland. We currently have Black leadership in our management team and on our board. We have an ever-present eye on ensuring Black and POC leadership by nurturing young leaders in the community and on our staff.

How are you engaging underserved communities to attract the talent of the future?

We engage underserved communities directly to promote their leaders and businesses. Our social media is dedicated in large part to sharing the work of Black and POC photographers, artists, musicians, chefs and activists. A large percentage of the influencers and journalists we invite to Oakland are Black and POC, because we understand that people are more likely to go where they already see themselves, and we want talent from underserved communities to see themselves here.

We also as an organization engage in direct outreach with local schools and students to drive their interest in the hospitality industry through job preparedness presentations. Our staff members are volunteers at Oakland Unified School District’s Ralph Bunche Academy and mentors in OUSD Special Education Department. Previously, some team members have done hospitality presentations at San Francisco State University. Moving forward, we commit to Oakland-based schools such as Laney College and Oakland High School. 

Are you broadening the conversation to include young people, activists, community leaders, faith-based groups, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (and other) students?

We recognize that we can always do more work in the area of including young people and students into our conversation. While we’ve historically engaged young students as interns at Visit Oakland, and profiled young community leaders in our blog posts and video content, we can strengthen our efforts moving forward to do more proactive outreach to local schools and community organizations to engage young leaders of the future.

Have you developed a policy for procurement that ensures a percentage of purchases and professional services are from Black and/or minority-owned businesses?

We currently do not have such a procurement policy in place, however, given the diversity of Oakland we strive to amplify, a large number of our vendors are Black-owned or POC/women/queer-owned businesses. It’s imperative for us to reflect the demographics of our community, and we always look to our local communities first to source services.

How do you engage your stakeholders to participate in co-ops and strategies with Black travel businesses to attract Black visitors to your community? (According to Mandala Research, the economic value of Black travelers has increased in 2018 to $63 billion from $48 billion in 2010.)

Working with Black travel businesses has been integral to our strategy to attract Black visitors to Oakland. In October 2017 we secured Oakland as the host city for The National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners. In 2018, Oakland hosted the very first AudacityFest, the first travel festival created to unite travelers of color. In November 2019, we helped bring 10,000 Black techies, startups and entrepreneurs to Oakland by hosting AfroTech. Also in the Fall of 2019 we hosted UMOJA, which promotes African American student success. Locally, we partners with Black-owned businesses including Black Joy Parade, Black Cowboy Parade and Heritage Festival.

Do your print, digital, website, POS materials represent the faces of your community and the traveling public?

We are very proud to say that all our assets represent the faces of our community and our traveling public. We invite you to engage with us on our social media channels.




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