Travel Industry Executives Share Progress Updates on Diversity Efforts

Diverse group of friends traveling in the city (photo via xavierarnau / Getty Images ) (xavierarnau / Getty Images)
Eric Bowman
by Eric Bowman
Last updated: 11:23 AM ET, Thu February 10, 2022

Travel Industry's DEI Efforts

The travel industry, and really the entire world, needs to continue to get better every day when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Following the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, which sparked a huge movement, many companies posted black squares on social media and made statements about diversity. As we begin 2022, we asked travel industry executives to provide an update on their DEI efforts and answer the following question: "Where are you seeing the most progress in your diversity and inclusion efforts?" Click on through to see what several companies had to say about their continued DEI efforts.

TravelPulse Managing Editor Codie Liermann also contributed to this story.

Abercrombie & Kent

Geoffrey Kent, founder, co-chairman and CEO:

"I am proud of Abercrombie & Kent's history as an organization that values diversity and inclusion. As a global company, we make room for different voices, backgrounds, and perspectives in our organizational culture. By establishing our own destination management companies in the places where our guests travel, we invest in people, providing job opportunities and training to over 2,500 citizens on six continents. Our strength as an organization comes from the diversity of our local staff in 55 offices in more than 30 countries. I believe that through travel, we can change lives and attitudes and, most importantly, build bridges between people from different backgrounds."

Keith Sproule, Executive Director, Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy:

"Plans are in place to expand our relationship with the Boy's & Girl's Clubs of Chicago (BGCC) and triple the number of student participants with the summer program in 2022. They are utilizing the summer program as a beacon of hope to encourage youth to remain engaged with their programs until they're old enough to make the "Journey to the West." Students will self-nominate for the summer program and then be selected by BGCC club directors. The opportunity to participate will roll out across all of the Boy's & Girl's Clubs in Chicago."

You can learn more here:

Southwest Airlines

"Summer 2020 was a season of learning for Southwest Airlines in many ways; it heightened our awareness of social injustice and initiated an increased focus on our own diversity and inclusion efforts. We started with evolving our existing Company Values around how we show up individually, how we treat each other, and how we work as a Team," said Bob Jordan, Executive Vice and incoming CEO at Southwest Airlines. "We identified that the first step toward accomplishing these goals was concentrating on key areas such as diversifying Senior Leadership, enhancing diversity in hiring, providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, improving the retention and upward mobility of diverse talent, and training Leaders and Employees. In the past year, we have taken tangible steps to update the required infrastructure, processes, and practices to meet these objectives."

You can also find more on Southwest's DEI efforts here.

AIC Hotel Group

Frank Maduro, VP of Marketing of AIC Hotel Group:

"For the last 35 years, AIC Hotel Group has fostered an incredibly diverse team across the board. This practice has also been reflected in on-property leadership and, in turn, the overall guest experience. We are privileged to also be partnered with a brand whose motto is "Love All, Serve All" and this philosophy continues to drive our practices. Additionally, in the past several years we have made a conscious effort to work with diverse faces and voices from all walks of life that further solidify our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion."

Travel Experts Agency

Susan Ferrell, Founder and President of Travel Experts:

"Travel Experts has always welcomed all interested advisors and employees and we have accepted travel advisors and potential employees that can come together to provide the best possible business and personal environment to encourage success for all. As a result, Travel Experts has members of all minorities, all races, all sexual orientations and all major religions who have come to us due to our program offering and the values we promote of respect, service and collegiality. Our company has been around for 33 years and over those three decades has always been diverse, equitable and inclusive. This long-standing policy has most likely contributed to our success as a host agency."


VISIT FLORIDA's President & CEO, Dana Young:

"Diversity and inclusion are priorities for VISIT FLORIDA. As one of the world's leading vacation destinations, we have the responsibility and chance to model what it means to welcome anyone on earth. In our advertising and storytelling, we strive to welcome every visitor, from travelers of color to travelers with special needs, to travelers that identify as LGBTQ+ and more." She adds, "In the past few years, VISIT FLORIDA has created a number of dedicated travel hubs that feature additional resources to help visitors find a variety of attractions, beaches, parks, events and activities for their vacation in the Sunshine State. These travel hubs include Hispanic Heritage, LGBTQ+, African American, and the latest, our Accessible travel hub, showing Florida's commitment to accessibility for locals and travelers alike."

Cruise Planners

Michelle Fee, CEO and Founder of Cruise Planners:

"Cruise Planners is the definition of diversity-- our company is led by an executive team who are 62% female and 57% of our total workforce self-identify as a minority. Inclusivity has always been an essential component of our organization. We are proud to have hosted a DEIB event where our industry partners also had a chance to present their current DEIB initiatives, best practices, and their personal stories pertaining to inclusivity and belonging. Cruise Planners is heavily involved in the LGBTQIA community as one of our owners openly identifies as part of the community.

"In 2020 we partnered with the Dan Marino Foundation to help lead a program focused on individuals with varying levels of ability (mentally and physically), and we welcomed our first interns. We shared and distributed sensitivity training to our Home Office team members in preparation for their internship to help them feel welcome, included, and valued.

"Our initiatives are to continue training our managers on how to handle mental health topics within the workplace, always have an open-door policy with every member, and to continue fostering a sense of belonging for all Team Members. We look forward to hosting more diversity events and trainings in the future. We've also been active in recruiting veterans, African-American and minority franchisees, as well as female travel advisors. Franchise Business Review also named us among their Top 50 Franchises for Women in 2021."

Marriott International

Ty Breland, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Marriott International:

"Marriott International has a more than 90-year history of fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging. Today, more than 50 percent of top U.S. leadership and our Global Operating Committee is diverse, and while we're proud of where we are, we know that success is never final. Last year, we announced an acceleration of our efforts to achieve global gender parity for women in leadership positions by 2023, two years sooner than our original goal. We also established a new objective to increase the representation of people of color in executive positions in the U.S. from 20.5% to 25% by 2025.

"We have global programs, as well as bespoke local programming to attract and develop a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline. One of these efforts is the Emerging Leader Program, which, to date has had over 1,200 participants that have come through the program and gone on to leadership roles with P&L and strategic responsibilities. It is programs like these, and a commitment to mentorship and advocacy for inclusive teams, that make us confident that we can achieve our accelerated goals. Additionally, Marriott is working with The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation and Howard University to establish the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership at Howard to address racial equity in the hospitality industry by building a pipeline of diverse leadership talent, which is a priority for Marriott and our industry."

Virgin Voyages

Alex Zeitz, Director of Crew & Sailor Experience:

"Virgin Voyages is focused on creating a work environment and culture of belonging. It is in our Creeds: A place where Crew can see themself as part of our future leadership, where they know pay equity, gender balance and personal expression is key to our success; the success that is helping us create and deliver the world's most irresistible travel and lifestyle brand.

"In 2021 we completed our first-ever global, brand-wide pay equity review, ensuring equal pay for equal work. We also had a focus on hiring diverse talent. I am proud to say that over the past 12 months, we have moved our gender balance 4% closer to our desired 50/50 balance. This made our fleet the most gender-balanced fleet at sea. At VVHQ (our corporate office) we conducted an external analysis, and we perform better than the state average when it comes to reflecting the human geographies of where we work. But we are of course committed to doing even more.

"In 2022, as a result of our Crew survey work, we are now driving our focus toward creating a year that will offer our largest Crew population (shipboard) even greater access and connection to the global tapestry of celebrations and holidays. We are also working on updates to our Crew systems to offer new features that will allow our non-binary Crew to clearly document and share their true gender. We also are setting our course toward using our brand influence to connect with even more like-minded suppliers that champion our Dive into Different principles.

"Of course, with the additional focuses listed above, we will continue to participate in the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative and drive OKRs that hold all accountable to our ambitions and aspirations."


Kristin Karst, Co-Owner, AmaWaterways and Executive Vice President:

"Since co-founding AmaWaterways in 2002, Rudi and I have always placed great importance on diversity and equity within our teams whether headquartered in California, in our UK and Basel offices or on board our ships. Our experience has shown that our teams, and the partners we work with, are strongest and most innovative when they bring together different perspectives and great ideas from around the world.

"Our ships are inclusive as we accept guests four years and older coming from all over the world and our crew, representing 14 nationalities, are trained to look for ways to adapt and personalize the onboard experience to ensure all guests feel welcome and appreciated. We often have groups of different nationalities or languages traveling together but we are particularly happy to see the success of our dedicated Latin Touch cruise in March this year that will see a complete ship cruising with Spanish-speaking guests from US, South America, Latin America and Spain.

"Our Cruise Managers are a great resource for ensuring inclusion. We have 70 Cruise Managers representing 21 countries bringing a remarkable richness of heritage, understanding and appreciation of different cultures to the experiences we share with our guests on board our 25 ships. Starting in 2022, we asked Cruise Managers to bring their insight to our regular senior management meetings as well, since their perspective widens our outlook and understanding of global issues impacting our product and guest experiences.

"One area we committed to do better was diversifying the images we use in our marketing and sales material. While the opportunities to invite travel writers and photographers to join us on board have been limited this past year, we have been more intentional in choosing to work with media from different backgrounds in order to reflect and appeal to a wider spectrum of guests. Our presence in social media is important and our loyal guests and travel partners have granted us rights to use many of their wonderful personal photos and this has helped us better showcase the diversity of guests who enjoy river cruising. Once we resume sailing in 2022, we will continue making improvements to the diversity of our image and video libraries."

American Airlines

"At American, we are focused on creating an inclusive culture for our team members and, in turn, our customers," said Cedric Rockamore, Vice President of Global People Operations, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, and Team Member Services. "That work includes hosting listening sessions and town halls, setting representation goals, and launching implicit bias training for all team members. In 2022, our customers will see more representation in our dining, in-flight products and entertainment offerings as we aim to better connect with diverse travelers."


Laura Fuentes, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Hilton:

"At Hilton, we're diverse by nature and inclusive by choice. Building a "For All" culture, where ideas and backgrounds of our workforce are welcomed and celebrated, has never been more important than it is today, but it's also consistent with the vision upon which Hilton was founded - to "fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality." We know that when our team members feel empowered to bring their full, authentic selves to work, they are more engaged, passionate, and inspired to go above and beyond for our guests and communities.

"Our journey towards inclusion really began in earnest about ten years ago as we became very intentional and deliberate in promoting an inclusive culture in every step of the talent life cycle. We're proud of the progress we've made - especially in the last year - to advance issues of diversity and inclusion through comprehensive commitments, benefits, training, and partnerships. Our belief in transparency and accountability also led us to share our diversity goals and publicly commit to advance representation at the corporate leadership level. By doing so, we demonstrate that our commitment is real, our progress is steadfast, and our focus is relentless.

"We are honored to have been recognized by DiversityInc as the #1 Company for Diversity in 2021, but we humbly acknowledge that there is still much more work to be done. We continue to build on our foundation because, as I often remind myself, this really is the work of many lifetimes and many people, and will never be finished. Our team members are and will always be an essential part of this journey. By working together and keeping our momentum going, we can make great change not only for our business and industry, but also society."


The popular resort chain has focused efforts on continuing to strengthen its Sandals Corporate University (SCU).

The basis of the SCU is equity inclusion for workers of all levels, putting them on a path to success that will result in more employees being promoted from within and climbing the ranks to achieve their goals, regardless of their economic and educational background, Sandals told TravelPulse.

"Success is powered by learning," said Head of Sandals Corporate University, Michelle LaMarre. "Sandals Corporate University provides a roadmap for all team members to bolster their existing skills and education levels, and most importantly, develops the Caribbean's next generation of managers, leaders, and strategic thinkers."

"Sandals Corporate University provides programs for entry-level hospitality employees all the way up to the executive suite," says LaMarre. "We meet team members where they are and work to provide them the education and training they need to be the best at their current position, as well as what they need to succeed at the next level."

"The University takes a holistic, integrated, and collaborative approach to talent development by working with team members individually to develop their current skills and as well as those skills and knowledge needed to advance in their careers," said LaMarre.

Apple Leisure Group

Alejandro Reynal, CEO and President of Apple Leisure Group:

"The travel industry needs to encourage inclusion, and this is not a task that can be led by some or solely by internal stakeholders. Rather, it is a collective effort, and I've seen positive progress with hospitality leaders joining forces to create and inspire meaningful, solutions-focused connections that champion diversity and inclusion.

"At ALG, one way we have committed to action is by becoming a signatory of the WTTC Cancun Women's Initiative Declaration to boost female equality and representation in travel and tourism leadership roles. We are also collaborating with external partners including, but not limited to, McKinsey Connected Leaders Academies to provide our colleagues with professional development opportunities and the Association of Black Travel Professionals that supports business development and outreach opportunities within ALG Vacations.

Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

Mike DeFrino, CEO of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants:

"At Kimpton, we believe embracing peoples' differences creates a culture of inclusion and heartfelt, human connection. One of our most successful DE&I efforts to date has been our micro-mentoring program which matches managers across the company with underrepresented employees to help develop and invest in our diverse talent. We're also continuing to advance our DE+I efforts through several other internal programs, including our training on unconscious bias, our leadership and culture development classes, and our employee resource groups like the Black Lives Matter: Act to Action committee. Externally, we are continuing to ensure diversity among our suppliers, in the amenities we offer our guests, the representation we feature in our campaigns, and our ongoing partnerships with organizations such as the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to end teen suicide among LGBTQ+ youth."

Expedia Group

Michael Davis Velasco , Chief Inclusion Officer with Expedia Group:

"Expedia Group is steadfast in its commitment to create an inclusive workplace and culture that is reflective of our global footprint in communities across the world. This year, we earned a top score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for the sixth year in a row. This recognition is achieved through many efforts, including our robust learning and development opportunities ranging from our decoding bias podcast series, ally skills training, disability fundamentals, and more. Another area of progress is our Inclusion Business Groups (IBGs), employee-led groups that bring our inclusion and diversity strategies to life and increase representation in our workplace. With more than 4,500 members, IBGs are a source of community for underrepresented identities. Not only does the program help instill a sense of belonging for our employees and allies, but it also provides leadership and development opportunities within those spaces and more broadly at Expedia Group. While we recognize there is still work to do, we look forward to the evolution of our learning and development programs and IBGs as we foster the next generation of leaders at Expedia Group."

Club Med

Amélie Brouhard, Vice President of Marketing Omnichannel North America and Sales U.S.A:

"Club Med operates on five core values, two of which are encouraging freedom and being multicultural. We are committed to providing our guests and staff with an environment where they can feel free, safe, welcome and accepted. Club Med Québec has specifically received Canada's Rainbow Registration accreditation, a national recognition for LGBTQ+ friendly businesses and organizations. The program sets rigorous standards in four key areas: company policies and practices, training, commitment to inclusive leadership, and a culture of inclusivity. Additionally, Club Med's international success combined with the nomadic nature of its staff allows it to bring people of very different origins, nationalities, religions, and cultures to live and work together. Currently, we have 109 nationalities represented in our teams worldwide, with 90% of our resorts hosting 9 or more nationalities and 33% hosting 15 more nationalities. We believe that everyone is welcome, everyone can become part of our community, and that this diversity enriches the lives of our teams and our guests."

Royal Caribbean

Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service:

"Continuous improvement is core to who we are at Royal Caribbean International. Fostering a culture of understanding around belonging and equality, alongside encouraging professional growth and development is in our DNA. The Royal Sales Diversity and Inclusion team prioritizes our commitment to being part of a more diverse, equitable and inclusive ecosystem. We encourage critical thinking, provide mentorship opportunities and training programs, and have partnered with organizations such as the Association of Black Travel Professionals, Travel Professionals of Color, and the Black Travel Summit & Expo as one of many ways that we support our employees and sales team to lead from within. We're longtime industry leaders in delivering accessible cruise vacations because we provide a variety of products and services that meet the diverse needs of our guests with disabilities, and by partnering with travel partners who specialize in inclusive travel for everyone."

Preferred Hotels

Greg Smith, our Senior Vice President of People and Communities:

"At Preferred we lead by example. We are proud of our record for appointing women to key global leadership positions. Forty-six percent of our senior leaders globally are women. We have been successful in creating balance across top leadership roles with women, including our CEO, President, and Chief Revenue Officer in positions traditionally filled by men. Our teams in China, Europe, and India are also led by women. We have been thoughtful and forward-looking in our global approach to leadership. We know that diversity, inclusion, and belonging are key to our continued global success."


Dayna Lee, manager of HBCU outreach and engagement for Disney:

"Established in 2020, Disney on the Yard is an initiative focused on deepening our engagement with HBCUs. By partnering more closely with HBCUs, Disney will continue to build a long-term pipeline of Black employee talent through the development of student internships, mentorship opportunities, career and employee spotlights, scholarships, and more."

Delta Air Lines

Ashley Black, Delta's Director of Equity Strategies:

"Delta has long been committed to diversity and inclusion and our focus through an equity lens has sharpened in the last year. While there is still more work to do, a top priority has been to remove barriers in our people programs resulting in a more equitable work environment for our employees.

Some high-impact examples of this work include:

- The sunset of our Ready Reserve Program, which converted part-time employees to full-time giving them access to benefits;

- The launch of skills-first development and hiring to close the opportunity gap for diverse talent;

- The creation of an apprenticeship program to develop and retain our internal, diverse talent pipeline through our frontline workforce.

While we're proud of the progress we've made, we know there is much more to be done.

Top executives from around the travel industry provide an update on their company's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

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