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Special Events Blog

For Responsible DEI in Travel, Turn to DMOs

How DMOs can help create responsible destination events

Destination events are ever-so-popular, and especially after global pandemic restrictions, it’s easy to see why.  

One thing to consider as you plan destination events is a branch of sustainability: your DEI footprint. 

According to Tourism Diversity Matters, “Responsible tourism is about reducing social and economic inequalities and building awareness.” When you plan destination events, you have a responsibility to the local population. Thankfully, there are ways to elevate your DEI practices when planning destination events, and one of the biggest resources—and most often overlooked—is a location’s DMO (Destination Management Organization). 

Destination management is the thoughtful and coordinated planning of all elements that make up a tourist destination. DMOs can be forgotten if they don’t have a planner on staff, but they are the local experts and can provide a plethora of resources for planning inclusive and accessible events. 

Special Events (SE) sat down with Claire Dunlap of Tour Cayuga, who works with Marketing & Group Sales for the DMO of Cayuga County, NY. For Tour Cayuga, their DEI journey started when Dunlap and her director were hired and saw a disconnect between the county’s history and their current offerings. 

“We're like...what the heck, this is Harriet Tubman’s hometown, and nobody knows that, right? We don't have African Americans in our marketing. We don't have this setup for Black tours and Black History tours and Underground Railroad tours. That wasn't anything that was explored.” 

They had two options: put out the information and sit back, or form a committee and “do this the right way.”  

So they formed a committee, reaching out to local equal justice organizations, grassroots organizations, different attractions, and voices that hadn’t been brought to the table. Dunlap says they had to build trust to prove that they were serious about elevating Black voices in a location that’s about 90% white. Between media visits, marketing strategies, words, and their website, everything Tour Cayuga has done has been bounced off that committee. “It really is all coming and vetted through them,” says Dunlap. 

Dunlap went through Travel Unity’s CDTP (Certified Diversity Travel Professional) training program and created a 17-page DEI plan for the DMO. 

“When we started, this was something that we wanted to make sure outlived all of us, you know, the next director, the next marketing, whoever. So we wanted to make sure that the organization had its roots and really a plan for going forward,” she told SE. “It's something that's reviewed every couple of years, it's a living document, it's never, never done. Because I don't think this work is ever done, you're always going to find new methods of education, new themes of education, to be able to apply to the work.” 

Her plan didn’t get approved immediately, however. It was only once she added a timeline with realistic, time-specific goals that the plan got approved and the organization could really get to work. “We have this plan, opening that up for questioning and for people to say, what are you actually doing?” 

The plan gets checked by the board, checked by folks sitting on different committees, and even checked by the public. Dunlap says it’s the difference between talking about sustainability and taking real action. 

Beside a plan, Tour Cayuga has partnered with the local Chamber of Commerce and New York State Department of Economic Development; they’ve created an internal document of businesses and vendors they can supply; and they’ve shared these lists with their local hotels and conference centers. They also have extra funding for free events that surround Black history or Harriet Tubman’s history. 

Tour Cayuga isn’t the only DMO providing resources, however. “Use your DMOs,” encourages Dunlap. “We’re not unique in the journey that we’re taking and the steps that we’re taking. We are very intentional about it and very serious and committed to it, and we can offer additional support and additional resources, and I think that sometimes is overlooked.”  

DMOs who are invested in DEI can offer partners, resources, and local expertise to planners. “Give me your work, I want to help,” says Dunlap. “I want to [help] you have an accessible event in my destination.” 

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