Is Greater Cincinnati ready to make its travel and tourism industry more diverse?

'The entire country is having this discussion'
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 17:43:51-04

CINCINNATI — Greater Cincinnati’s multibillion-dollar travel and tourism industry lacks people of color in leadership roles, and discussions began Tuesday about how to change that.

The Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau board of directors took up the issue during a meeting in what CEO Julie Calvert called “the beginning of many (discussions) to come with regard to equity and inclusion.”

“We know that people want to travel and visit places where they feel welcome, they feel a sense of belonging, they see people who look like them,” she said. “And importantly want to frequent businesses, whether it’s restaurants, attractions or hotels, that have people of color in management and, more importantly, in positions of decision-making.”

The travel and tourism industry traditionally is worth $5.3 billion annually in the Tri-State, employing more than 80,000 people and serving more than 26.6 million visitors to the region each year, according to convention and visitors bureau data.

While the coronavirus pandemic will no doubt alter those numbers for 2020, it’s important for the region to work on becoming more diverse and inclusive in preparation for the future, said Jason Dunn Sr., the bureau’s group vice president for diversity sales and inclusion and chairman of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals.

Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau names Julie Calvert new president and CEO

Julie Calvert is the new CEO of the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In a June 22 email to Calvert and other business leaders, Dunn asked to address the convention and visitors bureau board about the need to make the industry more inclusive.

Dunn noted in the email, obtained by WCPO, that there are no Black sales managers in any of the major hotels and said the Sharonville Convention Center has no people of color on its executive committee. He added that the Regional Tourism Network has no people of color in executive positions and that the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau has only one person of color on staff.

“The vast majority of people of color in our region are within stereotypical hourly service roles,” he wrote in the email.

Black meeting planners have noticed the lack of diversity in leadership roles, Dunn wrote, adding that imbalance can make it more difficult for him and the people on his team to attract diverse groups to the region.

“The entire country is having this discussion in every industry about diversity, equity and inclusion and how are companies preparing themselves for the changing demographics,” Dunn told WCPO after Tuesday’s meeting in his first interview about the issue.

He said the discussion Tuesday “had a very positive tone.”

“I’m looking forward to what comes of that,” he said.

Dunn has been working to bring more diverse events to the region since 2006, helping Cincinnati win the opportunity to host most of the largest multicultural conventions in the industry.

He helped attract the National NAACP Convention and National Baptist Convention in 2008, the Prince Hall Shriners Convention and League of United Latin American Citizens Convention & Expo in 2011 and the World Choir Games in 2012, along with many more recent groups.

Welcoming ‘majority minority’ visitors

The visitors who attend those big meetings pump millions of dollars into the local economy. The Cincinnati Music Festival, for example, typically brings more than 90,000 visitors and more than $107 million in revenue to Cincinnati during the festival weekend, according to the Procter & Gamble Co.

P&G has been the music festival’s presenting sponsor for the past six years, and the company is “supportive of anything that would better equip the city to be welcoming to serve anyone who wants to visit us in addition to the people that live here every day,” said Damon Jones, P&G’s chief communications officer.

“Over the past four or five years that I’ve been involved, the city has done a significantly better job in rolling out the welcome mat, if you will, to ensure that guests feel welcome,” Jones said. “To the degree that we can extend that beyond that weekend, I think it’s great.”

The U.S. population is expected to be “majority minority” by 2040, making it more important for regions like Greater Cincinnati to be attractive for people of color to visit for business and leisure, Calvert said.

“We need to start making sure that we are a destination that is prepared to welcome visitors that are going to be spending a lot of money in our region over the next two decades,” she said. “Listening is the first step in making progress toward that goal.”

City works hard to make sure the red carpet is plush for NAACP convention

Jason Dunn is vice president of multicultural and community development for the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau. (WCPO file)

The convention and visitors bureau can’t force other businesses to become more inclusive and equitable, she said after Tuesday’s meeting, but the organization can lead by example.

“This is about us as an organization modeling behavior that we want to see happen in other organizations,” Calvert said. “This isn’t about controlling anybody else. This is about putting our best foot forward, making sure that our visitors know that they’re welcome here, we want them here. We want them to feel a sense of connection to the community.”

Dunn said he would like to see the region build upon the success that it has had since 2006.

“I think innovation is key,” he said. “I’m not sure where the board will go from here. I do know that I did present some conversation that hopefully will get some traction. It is a collective effort. It’s not just me, and it’s not just one person’s responsibility.”

Dunn is hopeful, he said, that hospitality industry leaders will work together to make the kind of progress that will help Greater Cincinnati in the long run.

“I see hospitality as a way to impact, to empower communities,” he said. “We have to align ourselves with what’s happening nationally and then lead in this space and be unapologetic, that we have, frankly, created this road and path and are a role model for the nation. And embrace that and keep running forward.”

You can read the entire text of Dunn’s email below.

Jason Dunn Email Copy by WCPO Web Team on Scribd

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.