March 16, 2023

Diversity and Inclusion Track spotlights trailblazers in tourism

An eye-opening panel led by Rika Jean-Francois cast a spotlight on different perspectives regarding diversity and inclusion within the tourism and travel industry 

The panel was made up of Keshav Suri, Executive Director at The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, Carol Hay, Global Tourism Consultant at McKenzie Gayle Limited, Neha Arora, Founder of Planet Abled and Kasia Pankowska, Chief Executive Officer at Hotel Treats. 

First to speak was Mr. Suri, an activist, entrepreneur and warm personality who spoke about his sexuality as a gay man, and also about using his platform to make a positive change in India and across the global industry. His father, Lalit Suri, was a politician in India and Chairman of The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. Keshav Suri was open about his background and how that has given him a platform to exact change in the industry. “Sometimes it’s what you do with the privilege,” he said. 

Upon joining the hospitality group, Mr. Suri came out to his colleagues, but wanted to do more than just share his personal information. The decision was made to make his hospitality group inclusive for all, with the intention being to influence India and the world. “You have to make your team members fall in love not just with you but with the cause,” he said. 

Next to speak was Carol Hay, who discussed how people and their culture should be at the centre of the discussion regarding diversity, equality and inclusion. “To appreciate the culture, the heritage, the soul of the people, you need to experience that destination. Then you can tell their story.” Ms. Hay brought up anecdotes she heard about people not travelling to destinations in Africa or the Caribbean due to guilt regarding poverty. “[That does] exist but that’s why we need storytellers who can visually and orally articulate what a destination and its people have to offer,” she said.

Ms. Hay also mentioned the importance of being warriors in the business of tourism, and how understanding conscious and unconscious biases is key to that. “We too need to be aware as to what we are in agreement and alignment with. And where we will have to look to ourselves to ensure that we too are warriors of all the causes out there.” 

Neha Arora, who’s company Planet Abled provides accessible travel for people with disabilities, used the panel to discuss the obstacles she overcame. Ms. Arora’s parents were both born with disabilities, which meant travelling as a child in her home country of India was basically impossible.  

Challenges continued when those in the industry did not see the aim, with hotels claiming there was not enough business. “I was like ‘it’s a catch 22, they are not coming because you are not accessible and you’re not telling them that you are accessible’.”

Ms. Arora said the solution comes by providing equitable avenues for those with disabilities, and also by companies making the effort to inform disabled travellers that they provide an accessible service.

To round off the panel, Kasia Pankowska discussed how she started to understand the prejudices against women in the industry when she moved from her small town in Poland to London at the age of 30. There, she conducted a test, using a fake, male LinkedIn profile to reach out to contacts after her real account was being ignored. 

“[The fake account] got two invites for a demo and one referral,” revealed Ms. Pankowska. “That was a bit of a watershed moment for me.”

She said a priority should be promoting intersectionality for women to help navigate issues at large. “Hotel companies, travel companies, [they] know they market to women and they do.”

“What I want to see is more diversity in that group, we can’t just […] be happy that we’re targeting four billion people who live in the world,” said Ms. Pankowska. 

“It’s actually about talking about disabled women, women of colour and women who are [LGBTQIA+] and all of those segments and sections that we fall into.”