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Apoorva N. Gandhi performs a critical role for Marriott as its Vice President for Multicultural Affairs.
Gandhi oversees the company's dedication to inclusion, as well as its "respectful outreach to diverse leaders and communities."
In this role, he is tasked with managing many of the company's stakeholder partnerships and engagement, including people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, Latino/a communities, Asian and Pacific Islanders (including his own Indian community) and LGBTQ stakeholders and leaders.
Gandhi strongly believes that this mission cannot be taken lightly by a hospitality leader and that relationships are earned, not bestowed. He says it is not about earning awards, but instead about listening, understanding, communicating and welcoming every day.
While Gandhi explains that he is engaged in every sense, he stresses that this work is also undertaken by the company's executives, general managers and entire sales team.
Additionally, Gandhi says Marriott frequently works with national leaders including the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and others. Personally, he serves voluntarily on the PFLAG board of directors.
We spoke with Gandhi recently about the company's work in support of both LGBTQ associates and travelers.
TravelPulse: What are some of the ways that Marriott works to be more inclusive with the LGBTQ community, both on the corporate and on the property level? Are there training programs that the company offers, either guest-focused or with an eye on hiring practices?
Apoorva N. Gandhi: Marriott International is proud of our longstanding engagement with our LGBTQ associates and guests. You might say this began years ago when we were the first major hotel company to offer equal benefits to same-sex partners.
We've had a perfect 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for years and, to deliver on this promise, we also offer education and sales training across our associates to give them greater confidence about the market and the hospitality expectations of all guests. We learned long ago from our Executive Chairman Bill Marriott that if we take care of our associates, they will take very good care of our guests.
TP: Where do you think Marriott, in particular, stands out in being a leader on LGBTQ issues in hospitality?
AG: No company rests on its laurels, including Marriott International. As the world's largest hotel company today, we feel a unique obligation to bring our best to the market, including a deeper commitment to diversity and inclusion.
It's in our DNA, and I hope we are judged by how well we perform every day. We also have a vocal champion in our CEO who has consistently opposed anti-LGBTQ discrimination wherever it arises.
We also have longstanding ties to some of the LGBTQ communities' top advocates and causes including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, PFLAG and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, to mention a few. We frequently host LGBTQ nonprofits, celebrations and weddings and were very proud to host two LGBTQ U.S. presidential inaugural celebrations during 2009 and 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Personally, I am proud of my service as a member of the PFLAG board and the other ways that the Marriott team give back to the community.
TP: How would you suggest that a travel agent or traveler cull perspective properties-is it as simple as looking for an IGLTA or another logo or reading online reviews? What would you advise?
AG: Marriott International is an advocate and longtime member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (iglta.org), and we frequently rely on IGLTA practices and tips to guide our properties and sales force. Many choose to use the IGLTA logo as do we.
We believe word of mouth usually gets it about right, and again, almost all hospitality providers are judged by the personal experience of each guest. We try hard to exceed those expectations.
TP: Can you share an example of a misstep and how you learned from it?
AG: I can't think of a specific misstep, but I will emphasize the importance of continuing education and insight. As our transgender associates and guests become more visible throughout the community, we have invested more effort in educating all of our properties about transgender and gender non-conforming people-to make sure we anticipate their needs and consider them with the same respect everyone deserves.
For instance, hosting LGBTQ events over many years, we've acknowledged the purpose in making non-gendered bathrooms available for these attendees to help make everyone feel truly safe and welcomed.
TP: What about an example of a program or initiative that went well beyond your expectations?
AG: That's an easy one. We are deeply proud of our award-winning #LoveTravels campaign that we launched several years ago-as a personal way for guests to express their feelings about travel and the people closest to them.
I suspect we made history as the first marketer to launch the #LoveTravels campaign in the LGBTQ market-and then expanded it to other populations including our Latino and African-American audiences.
We feel that this is a universal expression that connects us all as humans and reminds everyone that we are alike-expressing our love for each other, for the work we do, for the destinations we visit, for the experiences we discover. In the initial launch, we tapped basketball wonder Jason Collins and a transgender supermodel, Geena Rocero to showcase our #LoveTravels campaign-and were able to present these LGBTQ icons emblazoned on the sides of our hotels in Washington, D.C. more than 10 stories high.
For us, that truly personified Marriott International's culture of inclusion.
Paul J. Heney is a lifelong writer and avid world traveler. He's served as Editorial Director for several hospitality...
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