Travel companies should invest in more-inclusive marketing and more-diverse recruitment practices to ensure better representation of BAME people across the industry, according to experts.

Speaking during a WTM Virtual session entitled ‘Racism in Tourism’, representatives from organisations including the Black Travel Alliance, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and Muslim travel specialist CrescentRating debated ways to improve diversity and inclusion across the industry.

Uwern Jong, editor-in-chief of OutThere magazine and board member for IGLTA, said: “I think the most important next step is to ensure representation of BAME people or people of colour in the upper echelons of travel businesses and the industry at large.

“People of colour struggle to rise in the travel industry – fact. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds in 2020, and for there to be a wholesale change, we need to level the playing field, or at least get to a point where it proportionately represents the real world.

“We need to be proactive – it’s all of our responsibility, not just that of HR. Everyone needs to be an ally.

“We may live in an age where equality is stronger than ever, but equality does not mean diversity, and diversity does not mean inclusion. We all have to work hard to ensure we have all three in the travel industry at any one time.”

He added that companies needed to integrate diversity and inclusion into everyday operations or risk appearing “tokenistic” and said today’s travellers were increasingly looking for brands with a strong sense of social responsibility.

Martinique Lewis, president and creator of the Black Travel Alliance, said travel advertising rarely includes people of colour, those with disabilities or plus-size people, but creating marketing images that were more reflective of society is crucial.

She said: “People fail to realise that multi-cultural travellers are 70% more likely to do business with brands where they see themselves reflected.

“Think about how to represent people outside of social stereotypes that you’ve placed on them. We want heartfelt, purpose-driven marketing.”

Including Muslim travellers in marketing images was also a key consideration, according to Fazal Bahardeen, chief executive of CrescentRating, although he cautioned against typecasting.

He said: “That message has to come through your marketing. When you promote [a destination], have a female with a headscarf, it shows that you understand something.

“It’s sometimes misused but those are ways of giving a message that all kinds of people are welcome in the destination.”

However, those images should be authentic and used to promote businesses owned or run by people of colour rather than reinforcing unconscious bias, warned Keith Henry, president and chief executive of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.

He said: “Indigenous tourism is not new to our country. We love to promote Indigenous images, we love to promote this perception that we’re really supporting Indigenous businesses, but the fact is we have a long way to go.

“[Indigenous people] don’t just drum and sing, we’re contemporary. Culture evolves, we’re not stuck in the past, but those are the images people want to use.

“Let’s make sure that it’s inclusive and a truly authentic message. If it’s about us, it better not be without us.”