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For the last 30 years I have worked in a sector I have come to love dearly. Travel, at its very heart is about inter-cultural experiences and I have always felt very proud to be part of a sector that helps to broaden minds and bring people across the world together. I have always felt that it was a sector which didn’t particularly suffer from gender, sexual or racial prejudice, that it was a beacon for other sectors, and I am proud of the great examples of diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives which have developed over the years. But I was blind.

The work of my business partner, Caroline, over these last few years has shown me that gender inequality does exist, that if you look properly you can see it, even in a sector where we have a good mix of gender, like ours. And so, the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have caused Caroline and I to confront the lack of racial diversity in our own business and to question how racially diverse we truly are in our sector. The question I ask myself is, have I become colour blind?

So, like we always do at Festive Road, we are starting to think about how we can change and how we can help. And as we do when we don’t fully understand a subject or know the answers to an issue, we are embarking on a listening journey with the black community in the business travel sector. Whilst we have only just started, initial conversations have helped us see a range of emotions from anger to disappointment to a positive drive to see change for People of Colour in the systems and practices of our sector.


Now, some of you might be saying to yourself right now, “What racial bias?”, but ask yourself these questions…

  • How many black travel professionals do you see on our stages?
  • How many senior leader team members are from the black community?
  • How many black CEO’s are there in our sector?

I have been asked these questions and my answers have been left wanting. At first my response was to push back, to try and list the black professionals I have worked with and placed on stage – because to admit that there’s an issue reflects on me as well as our sector. But in reality, when you do it, you’ll see that the numbers are poor, and the exercise in counting is a stark demonstration of that.

If you look at our sector leadership you will see white, middle aged men in the vast majority of roles.

Now, that’s hard for me to say. I am one of those white, middle-aged men and I believe I am a tolerant, liberal, engaging person, so why shouldn’t people like me lead businesses in our sector. But, as my wife regularly tells me, this isn’t about me. It’s about creating an industry which has as diverse and inclusive leadership as possible so that we can all benefit from broader thinking and equal opportunities.

So, as part of our listening exercise, I was asked if Festive Road could help to create an environment for open and honest dialogue about prejudice in our sector. As a result, we have recorded an interview with three black leaders in travel management, to ask them to help us all understand so that we can all be better global travel sector citizens, which you can view on our YouTube Channel here.  I don’t expect it to provide all the answers, and I’m nervous about saying the wrong thing as I continue to learn, but unless we take the time to start the dialogue we will never change. And change must happen. It’s no longer acceptable to be colour blind – we must see colour and champion it until it needs championing no more.

Written by Paul Tilstone, FESTIVE ROAD, UK

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