Transcript 201: The Racial Conversation in Travel and Tourism, with Melissa Cherry and John Percy

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Nicole Mahoney: 00:17 Hello listeners. This is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. This week’s episode is going to be a change from our regular format. I welcome to tourism industry leaders to the show to talk about equity, diversity and inclusion in the tourism industry. Melissa Cherry COO of destinations international is joined by John Percy, president and CEO of destination Niagara USA. They’re joining me in the conversation that although uncomfortable at times is so needed in every aspect of our lives. Right now, through our conversation, we hear about Melissa and John’s personal story and how they have been impacted by bias in their lives. We talk about how the racial conversation can be both a challenge and an opportunity we explore what has changed and what has remained the same. And we get into detail about what we can do now to make sure this moment in time does not pass us by.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:17 You will also hear some familiar themes in our conversation. As we touch on creativity and collaboration, as they relate to equity, diversity and inclusion. I know you will get a lot out of this week’s episode, but first a little more about my two guests, Melissa Cherry serves as the chief operating officer at destinations international, and it was responsible for the development and execution of the overall marketing and communications product engagement, information, technology meetings, and education strategies to promote and elevate the associations mission and brand to drive awareness of its impact to advance the success destination marketing industry worldwide. Prior to joining destinations international, Melissa was senior vice president for marketing and cultural tourism at choose Chicago during her four year tenure at the city’s official destination marketing organization. She bled choose Chicago’s domestic and international marketing strategies, including all efforts for brand strategy, integrated marketing research, advertising, official publications and collateral websites, social media, and event marketing.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:30 Additionally, she launched the first ever cultural tourism strategy to increase visitation and awareness to Chicago’s cultural entities, events, and neighborhoods. John Percy is president and CEO of destination Niagara USA, the official tourism promotion agency and the full service destination marketing organization serving Niagara falls and they Agra County, New York USA. Previously John served as vice president of sales and marketing for the organization. Other prior experience includes vice president of tourism for the Niagara falls convention and visitor Bureau, and 15 years in shopping center, marketing and management, both Western New York and Detroit, Michigan. In addition to serving as vice chairman for the board of governors for the American bus association foundation and on the board of directors for the actual association of ABA. John serves as the current chair elect on the destinations international foundation board of trustees. He also serves on the boards for the nag or USA chamber of commerce, Niagara falls, community mission, and the Niagara falls national heritage area.

Nicole Mahoney: 03:39 That is also a cochair of the equity, diversity and inclusion task force for destinations international, a task force that Melissa Cherry oversees in her role. We will talk more about the taskforce during the interview, but first I want to share this important message with you, Melissa and John, thank you so much for agreeing to join us on the show today. I know this is going to be a really interesting conversation, uh, full of, uh, thoughtful, uh, input and things to think about really. So I know our listeners are ready to engage in this conversation, but before we get started, Melissa, could you share a little bit about your story and your journey in your own words? I just love how that gives so much more context to, you know, to the conversation we’re going to have. Yeah,

Melissa Cherry: 04:26 Of course. I’m Nicole. I am, I’m originally from Chicago. Um, I’ll be more specific on that for Chicagoans. Maybe listening in, I grew up on the North side in Evanston, you know, went to Howard university in Washington, D C and did my grad study at university of Southern California. I bring that up because, um, as we talk into the industry around tourism, my background was very much stemmed into the arts. So I have a, a BFA and a master’s in fine arts actually focused on public policy and public art. So an interesting combination, but then having spent my first four years of college at Howard, um, really taking a different approach to the arts from a non Western perspective, um, it being historically black college. So that had a lot of input, um, from my perspective where kind of my path into my adult life, so to speak, I actually came into the tourism industry by accident.

Melissa Cherry: 05:18 Um, I was sitting in an art gallery at the university of Southern California and met my first future boss, um, in a work study who said, I need to check out what his dad was doing and went downtown for an interview on the 60th floor of, I think it was then the first interstate building for the, then at the time the Los Angeles convention and visitor’s Bureau, um, where I applied for a job to be the first intern in one of the very few cultural tourism departments, um, that actually existed in the industry back in the nineties. And that was around 1996, too much information for people to do the math there. But, um, but, but it was, it was, I’d never heard, you know, this

Nicole Mahoney: 05:58 Whole world of really tourism to be honest convention and visitor’s Bureau was completely foreign to me. Um, and I have been in the industry ever since. Yeah. I just love that. Well, and I’ll say I can do the math real quick. Cause for those of us who were, um, you know, starting out careers in the nineties real quick, we get that 96. So, alright, well you can give us your numbers out when we get skewed. But what I really love about that, Melissa is I find so many guests on this show stumble into tourism and then our hook. Right? And so I just love that you have this background in public policy, public arts, you’re in this cultural tourism department, you know, in LA in the nineties and how you’ve evolved. Now, could you tell our listeners just a little bit about what you’re doing right now?

Nicole Mahoney: 06:49 It destinations that are national, just to kind of give them some context about your role. Yes, yes. I’m sorry. So, you know, attending the, after I’m being in Los Angeles, I moved back to Chicago after nine 11 to go back home and actually spent time at a museum and then work at choose Chicago and at to Chicago actually brought me to destinations international. Um, you know, I followed our then CEO at U Chicago, Dan Welsh, um, to destinations international, um, formerly then at the time DMAI where now I am the chief operating officer. Um, I came on board as the chief marketing officer and so have been very engaged with in last four years, kind of the restructuring of over 105 year old association. That’s really dedicated to, um, the success of destinations when it comes to tourism promotion, marketing management, so to speak. So our whole world revolves around, you know, telling the stories and driving visitation from both that leisure and business perspective and helping our members be successful in that capacity. Yeah, that’s a, that’s fantastic. And I know we’re going to get into some more detail about exactly how you do that, but before we do that, let’s hear from Jan. So we’ve got John per se. I’m sure a lot of our listeners know you, John, but if you could tell us a little bit about your story and, uh, you know, what you’re doing now and how you got to where you are today though.

John Percy: 08:13 Thank you, Nicole pleased to be with you, both of you and Melissa, uh, and kudos to you, Nicole, for building a woman owned business in our state and, and to Melissa, who’s done such a phenomenal job in restructuring and realigning, you know, de DMAI to now destinations international and just done such a phenomenal job. I’m pleased to be on their board. Uh, my start, uh, really grew up in Michigan, uh, and outside the Detroit area, um, from a move from the South, uh, to, you know, the, the car companies brought my father North, uh, and grew up there, moved there. Uh, I, during the race riots, believe it or not in Detroit. And I, even when I spoke at my mom’s funeral said here, a woman from the South, a small town in the South, moved to Michigan, uh, in the middle of race riots and made it her own.

John Percy: 09:03 And, and that just always impressed me. Um, but grew up outside. Detroit went to school eventually at Eastern Michigan university, where I got a degree in marketing and a minor in fashion merchandising thought I was headed to that fashion merchandising world in New York city was accepted, uh, Lord and Taylor as a junior buyer and, and never went that route because something else appeared as the assistant marketing director at a shopping center in Detroit, Michigan in downtown Detroit, a festival marketplace called trappers alley. Uh, and from there shut off my career into a shopping center management and marketing, where I moved with that company to Niagara falls, uh, 31 years ago, uh, as marketing director of rainbow center here in Niagara falls and did many stents and various properties around the Buffalo area, met my husband, uh, six months into the stint here in Niagara falls.

John Percy: 10:01 We’ve been together ever since celebrating 31 years, uh, coming up. But in that, when I moved out here, as Melissa said, I had never heard of a convention of it. This was Bureau. I had never heard of a DMO. I don’t even think it was called DMO at the time it was CVB, uh, and got heavily involved right away. I remember sitting, uh, at a, um, tourism local meeting, uh, when I was representing shopping centers. And I’m like leaning over asking all the tourism alphabet, what is ABA? What is OMCA? And, uh, and so through my sense in the shopping center industry, uh, got a seat on the board here to the Niagara falls convention and visitor’s Bureau, and eventually a position six months later as their VP of tourism, uh, that Niagara falls CVB evolved into this present agency, uh, the Niagara tourism and convention corporation and rebranded a few years ago to destination Niagara USA. So there’s, uh, a quick rundown of, of my stent and, and career path into where I stand today as the president CEO, I’ve been in this position now, um, 14 years, it’s hard to believe. And 22 years here in Niagara falls USA.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:10 Wow. That’s amazing. And 31 years with your husband, which is also amazing. So congratulations,

John Percy: 11:18 I haven’t told him, you know, so

Nicole Mahoney: 11:22 That’s fantastic. Well, John, there’s something I didn’t know about you that you started in shopping complete sense. Of course, the rainbow center in Niagara falls being such a huge destination for Canadians, as well as new Yorkers for many others. Um, yeah. And so I’m really excited about this conversation today, because this is not our normal interview that we do. I’ve had two, two people on before that, that part’s not the not normal part. The part that’s not normal is we’re really today on one specific, uh, issue that’s facing our industry. And I’m really excited to learn your insights and to hear about things that are happening out in the destination marketing world, in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. And, um, before we kind of get into some of the, you know, best practices or, you know, what’s happening, what’s broken, you know, all of those discussions, I thought it would be helpful for each of you maybe to talk about how you’ve been impacted by issues of diversity, equity or inclusion, if that’s impacted your life personally and professionally, or maybe just, you know, um, that, that you’ve seen it around you. And I just, as if you haven’t figured this out already, I just love those personal stories, you know, and, and the connection to, uh, to the subject that we’re talking about. Um, similar set, I’m gonna go throw this one back to you, and then we’ll ask John to chime in afterwards. So really? Yeah. How have you been impacted by diversity?

Melissa Cherry: 12:56 Yeah, you know, it was, it was funny when I kind of was prepping for this and reading the question. Um, you know, I really didn’t know where to go with this because, you know, I’m a black woman and I don’t really get to ebb and flow out of the conversation around issues of diversity equity inclusion. It’s, it’s pretty much my everyday though. I have to figure out from a balanced perspective, you know, where that balance happens from it being an opportunity to a challenge. Um, I would say right now with the most recent, um, events in, you know, in, in our U S history in terms of race, it’s just been a very interesting, difficult thing to personally process. And then at the same time also have to pivot to do my day to day job and having to solve a crisis, a crisis that’s not necessarily, um, I’m part of, but not necessarily contributing to a lot of the negativeness that’s part of it.

Melissa Cherry: 13:52 So it’s really difficult to filter that and to separate that on a day to day. But I think that, um, there’s, there’s, there’s a lot of opportunity. Um, I think when this moment right now, where, you know, these issues have become so relevant, so urgent, um, that I, you know, I see more of a light at the end of the tunnel. Um, you know, when I started in this industry and I would sit in a board room and I wasn’t at the table, I was taking notes in the back, but that’s only because I was new to the industry and young at the time, but there was no one else in that room often that looked like me. It was very rare. The women that I did see specifically black women in that industry, I can remember binding name by face, um, you know, from my early start in a career. And only one of them that I know is still in the industry and going strong. So, I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a huge impact. It’s a huge thing to carry. It’s a huge responsibility, um, as a woman, as a black woman, especially, um, especially when you want to see more boats look like you as of your day to day,

Nicole Mahoney: 14:52 Um, and trying to accomplish goals and especially being on the side of the industry where you’re trying to make an impact for such a broader group, um, for a greater good in terms of an impact. Yeah. I, I really appreciate you sharing that and, and you know, it, it, it actually really touched me when you said, you know, it’s a challenge to personally process this and then pivot to solve this crisis a crisis. And, um, I personally felt in that moment when you said that, that I could really relate to what you were saying, um, just in that, I think all of us personally are trying to process, right. And then trying to solve and try, and, and some of us maybe don’t even have the right tools or know where to look, um, to help make an impact. So that’s why I’m really excited about this conversation today.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:42 I mean, I think what’s even more kind of, um, really kind of critical to kind of underlay in the whole processing thing right now is that we’re all processing in a pandemic, which means we’re processing like literally in isolation. And so how do you do that? You know, when, when you, when you come to things are crisises, you know, that’s when people come together and you physically can’t be together. So it’s, it’s really an interesting balance, I think right now, not trying to get too much into your crazy and personalness, but then also kind of being a leader at a time when there’s an opportunity to do good. Absolutely. And I love how you talk about the opportunity and the challenge, but before we do that, I want to go over to John and just ask John for, you know, your reflection on this. And when you think about issues of diversity, equity or inclusion and how you have been impacted by that.

John Percy: 16:34 Yeah. I, you know, it’s interesting, and I’ve talked about this before, even with Melissa and Melissa’s presence that, you know, to look at me, you know, as a white man, white male, um, you know, red hair, freckle, probably waspy looking, you know, preppy boy, um, preppy man, you know, but I am a gay man and have been very proud of that and been out of the closet if you will. Uh, since I was 23, 24, before I left Detroit and moved out here to Niagara falls, I have never really had to deal with, um, the prejudices against, um, me being gay. Uh, until I moved out here, I’ve even out here, wasn’t bad until I came to work in Niagara falls. And especially when I became president and CEO. And, uh, this is a very conservative, um, rural County, um, that leans very conservative, uh, I think a very, um, Catholic based type of community.

John Percy: 17:39 Uh, and so there were some people, uh, elected officials that had difficulty with my sexuality, that sexual orientation, not, um, necessarily voice that to me directly. I heard through the grapevine indirectly, um, that I was trying to be pushed out. Many of you that may know me personally have no mind struggles here when they did try to run me out of town, uh, in a way, and that was really based, uh, underground, um, by my sexual orientation. Uh, and so have dealt with that. Um, but I, I’ve always, my mom, my mother has taught me since a young age just to stand up tall. And when you get knocked down, you get right back up, uh, and, and never let that sway from my vision here, uh, in my work here and my accomplishments, and that’s what I stand on it. And I think your integrity and, and, um, dignity and all of that, um, should not be swayed by others that see you differently and stand tall and stand with, you know, chin and trust out chin held high, um, to deal with the adversity of what was coming my way. And so, you know, I have always been like, I never have hidden from my sexual orientation and, and find that is one of the best parts of me and happy to be that person and, uh, stand tall next to that, you know, one pillar of mine that is sexual orientation.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:18 Yeah. And, um, what I, what I really appreciate about what you’re sharing John is that, you know, this isn’t just about, as Melissa said, she’s a black woman, you know, you just described yourself as a white male, but it’s not just about, you know, the color of our skin, or it’s not just about race. It’s about a lot of things. It’s about differences, right? And that’s, I think why we, you know, really, uh, when we were talking about doing this interview, you and I talked about, we want this to be more diversity equity inclusion. It’s, it’s not just about one thing. It’s about all of it,

John Percy: 19:51 You know, right now, you know, the systemic racism that the black community has felt and feeling and dealing with, you know, it hurts me deeply. And because I am part of this overall DEI community, if you will, that to me, I don’t see differences, but others do. And, and we all have to fight against the adversity that’s coming our way.

Nicole Mahoney: 20:20 Yeah. So I really appreciate you both of you opening up and talking about that. Um, so honestly, and, uh, you’ve, you’ve mentioned adversity, we’ve talked about challenge. Um, one of the things we do, uh, one of my favorite questions I usually ask on the show is about adversity and challenge and kind of creative solutions, um, that come as a result from that. And so, Melissa, you know, you had talked about it a little bit as it being an opportunity, as well as a challenge. And so I’m wondering what types of, you know, solutions, if you will, have you been seeing what kind of movement or, or impacts, you know, have you been seeing bubbling up within the tourism industry that really address this issue?

Melissa Cherry: 21:06 So I’m going to, I’m going to answer that, um, and take it back a little bit and kind of speak forward. I just want to know, you know, you know, I talked about my beginnings in the industry in the mid nineties, we’re still having these same conversations. So when you asked me this question, um, I had to pause in terms of the creative solutions or kind of impacts, or what are people doing and thinking like, Hmm, how much has that has changed over the life of my span in this particular industry, and then kind of where we are now, I think from a, where we are now perspective, um, there’s a lot more conversations. I think it’s easier to have these conversations. Um, I think there is an urgency to these conversations because it’s impossible to ignore what’s going around you, but, you know, it’s, it’s interesting because just two or three years ago, I st John at the destinations international. We really went down this path of having the conversations around equity, diversity inclusion, and it, you know, people want to have the conversation, they want to be part of it, but that’s not necessarily the case for everybody. And so there’s

Nicole Mahoney: 22:09 Just diversity and inclusion

Melissa Cherry: 22:12 Was part of this conversation. Right, right. But, but what I found interesting, even at that point in time,

Nicole Mahoney: 22:17 2017, 2018, is there

Melissa Cherry: 22:21 It’ll be, um, a place for me to have to convince someone to care or to make this priority or for it to be part of the conversation at all. So I would say though, um, now where we are is just that it’s, it’s, I feel more open to have conversations. I feel that, that, you know, organizations across the, you know, the association, the convention visitors Bureau world, like across the tourism industry, we’re all having open conversations,

Nicole Mahoney: 22:46 Things and words that people would cringe or kind of, you know, look away from,

Melissa Cherry: 22:50 Or kind of not pay attention to. And it’s now it’s, I think people are like, okay, let’s have these hard conversations. So I feel like in this time of adversity and it’s really people, I think having more empathy and being able to openly talk and actually acknowledge the fact that they don’t understand what this is about or sharing their own experiences or asking questions they wouldn’t have asked before. And I think that to me is a big step when, when you don’t know how to participate in something, but you’re, you’re choosing to lead. I mean, that’s a really, that’s a really hard balance to, to be successful when we’re trying to make a change in something. So, you know, I’m really, um, you know, a lot of the conversations that we’ve had, um,

Nicole Mahoney: 23:29 Specifically over the summer is, you know,

Melissa Cherry: 23:31 A lot of organizations are, you know, what can we do? How can we look at no talent acquisition? How can we look at leadership development? How can we create paths and open doors and have access? You know, what does my organization look? What does my industry

Nicole Mahoney: 23:46 Community look like? And let’s openly talk about that. So, you know, I’m really excited about having those open conversations right now. Yeah. I love that. And I think that’s really, um, great advice that you just offered up to our, uh, to our listeners and specifically about asking those questions that maybe you wouldn’t have asked before and feeling more comfortable in doing. So I think that’s just a really great, you know, great way to kind of think about it. Just having the conversation is a step, right? Yeah. Totally kind of conversation. Right. Exactly. And John, how about you, anything to add to that?

John Percy: 24:28 You know, I, I was just pleased, you know, a few years ago when I’m sort of taken aback. Cause, uh, I haven’t been part as much as I am a gay man and a proud one, not been part of an overall conversation about diversity and inclusion at the time. And now equity, diversity inclusion. And Melissa came to me and said, would you be willing to coach here? Uh, our effort at destinations international and I could not have been more honored and it was wonderful to have Melissa, uh, stepping forward and getting, um, not only Don while she was the president CEO and, but the board and the board chair at the time of destinations international to take on this effort, uh, and really bring it, bring it to the forefront. And I applaud them all. And even Melissa, that really, you know, let’s bring this to the forefront, let’s get into the conversations.

John Percy: 25:25 Let’s start there already been. I think we talked about this. There are already conversations that were taking place and, and this term of diversity equity inclusion was already out there in the masses. And how could we bring it to the forefront, uh, in our realm of destinations and I applaud them and it’s just been such an honor to sit on this group. I learn every day from such talented and passionate and wonderful people, just like you. And I talked about, um, Nicole, when we first started talking about this podcast and this topic that I said, you know, we were only going to change minds by talking from the heart and, and, and hearing from the heart. And I said to you that most recently when U S travel did, uh, their, um, a webinar series and there were many of our dear friends, Melissa and I have these dear friends of Elliot Ferguson and Al Hutchinson and Michelle Mason and, uh, others that spoke that day.

John Percy: 26:26 So personally, uh, from their personal experiences. And I’m sitting here in my office crying, and I’ve known these people forever. It seems like in this industry, they’re like my family and I have never heard their personal stories. And as I said to you, the more we can bring those personal stories into corporate world that we’re in, that’s how we’re going to change the world through those personal stories. And then the, I just did a video at the annual conference that was so moving, uh, w again, with a lot of those same people and their personal stories that was just, you know, extraordinarily, so perfectly done, uh, again, highlighting personal stories from the heart and that’s how it’s going to change. Yeah,

Melissa Cherry: 27:11 Yeah, absolutely. Um, we’ll get a link to that video if we can get a link to it, and we will make sure it’s in the show notes section, so our listeners can go find that and watch it. I really appreciate that. I would love for both of you to talk a little bit about this committee that Dai, uh, you know, the DEI. So not to be confused,

John Percy: 27:36 The tourism alphabets group. Yeah.

Melissa Cherry: 27:39 But, uh, destinations international diversity equity and inclusion committee, um, Melissa, since, since you were, you know, the champion of getting that going several years ago, can you talk a little bit about, you know, at that time, what was, what was the intent of the committee and then maybe you or John could kind of share like how that’s evolving now, especially given the times that we’re in right now. Yeah. I mean, actually I have to give credit to Al Hutchinson. Who’s the CEO and visit Baltimore, you know, he was a member of our board. Um, and this was, we were in Savannah, Georgia, December of 2017, um, having a conversation about our business plan and he made a very, uh, pointed comment at the end of that saying, you know, we asked the question about any additional questions, anything missing. And he raised his hand to share the fact that, you know, diversity and inclusion was missing as part of a priority as an association.

Melissa Cherry: 28:28 And from that point on is really when the conversations, uh, jumped into, you know, forming a task force. Um, we are, um, actually an equity, diversity inclusion task force. I know, um, I correct a lot of people, a lot of people, because it’s not usually people hear DEI, et cetera, et cetera, but we deliberately wanted to lead with equity, um, as part of that effort. And so that the taskforce was born. We had our first meeting in July of 2018. We had 30 members at the time. Um, we’ve now grown over to close to 70 members and we’re about to do another call for volunteers. So we’ll continue to see growth, I think as people want to be more engaged and want to address this. Um, but I mean, really that first conversation of just making the point out that we weren’t as an association looking at, um, diversity and inclusion was a moment for me, um, saying, you know, how did I even miss that? Right. So it was, it was really important. And from that point on, we made it a priority within the organization and not just as a kind of a side project, but then how do we integrate that operationally across what we do through our education training, et cetera, et cetera. Well, and I think, um,

John Percy: 29:42 I forgot about this sport. I always forget that little glitch that it was Al raised. And that was my first meeting with destinations international as important brand new board member, uh, on the foundation side. And I, I forgot that that’s how it actually happened was Al raising his hand. But since then, you know, I love that this committee has grown to 70 and will and will continue to grow. Uh, we have really tried to put a focus around, we have a mission statement that was developed and most recently been updated that we can share with you. Um, you know, there’s five pillars that we’re trying to really put a new strategic plan around. Uh, first one being CEO engagement and commitment from the CEOs, uh, from across the destination, uh, industry. Uh, second is workforce development, you know, to talk about growth and leadership development and succession planning so that we make sure, cause there’s a lot of diversity in our industry, but a lot of times on the lower levels.

John Percy: 30:44 And we saw that even in the research that we’ve done and we want to, you know, see that, that there’s escalation of that lower realm of diversity up to the higher ranks, uh, in the future, uh, industry partnerships as a third pillar, you know, we’ve developed one with welcome and environment with the association forum, with Michelle Mason and national coalition of black meeting planners most recently, uh, that, uh, Melissa and Don did, uh, university partnerships, uh, wanted of course start at the university level, whether it’s in the travel and hospitality, uh, departments at universities or in other departments, I think it was talked about like if you’re in a County department that they know there is, uh, an industry here that they, we need accountants, we need attorneys and so forth, uh, even on the hospitality and travel side. And then the fifth is research and, and, uh, we’ve conducted, uh, different levels of research in our industry so that we can have a baseline and build from that baseline so that Melissa and myself and all of us are held accountable to our board, uh, to show that we’re moving the needle and that we have are our KPIs and, and, and where we can grow from this and make a difference and not just talk about this, we’ve taught.

John Percy: 32:02 I think Melissa said it, Alice said it, we all say, we’ve talked about it long enough. Let’s make some change. Let’s create some change and let’s instill some change in our industry going forward.

Nicole Mahoney: 32:15 Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. And that’s exactly what I was thinking. John, as you were running through those five pillars is this actually gives you some action, right? And some ways I love that you have this baseline, you know, and we’re interested in moving the needle. We’re not just interested in having the conversation

John Percy: 32:33 Well, cause people are tired, Melissa’s tired, I’m tired. You know, we, there’s so many of black brothers and sisters in this industry that, and not just in this industry, around our whole world that are so exhausted and tired of discussing this and not seeing change taking place and let us be a small part of the change if we can.

Melissa Cherry: 32:56 Absolutely. And are you seeing, um, you know, you talked about, you started with 30 members just in July of 2018. So we’re only talking, you know, two years coming up on three years from when that initial idea was floated by, uh, by Al and, um, are, are you seeing this really starting to maybe snowball, you know, given the, the conversation that’s happening nationally, um, Melissa, have you seen some momentum start to build for sure. I mean, I mean, you know, right when this happened, I want to say it was, we were in April. So we were really only less than 30 days into kind of this whole, you know, pandemic of COVID and you had the murder of George fluid and you had the incidents of, of Texas and Louisville. And I mean, other cities I could go on and on, but I mean, the, the, the urgency definitely shifted, um, having to have these conversations, having to have a moment to pause, you know, it was really important right after a lot of that, to have those conversations.

Melissa Cherry: 33:59 And then, you know, we had had a path in February of 2020, we had just met as a committee and we’re kind of like, alright, here we go. This is what we’re doing. And then, you know, very we in April having to pivot. And so as John had mentioned before, we kind of took a look at how, you know, our strategic plan from a, from an equity diversity inclusion perspective was going to address kind of what was happening right now. And so, you know, I’ve had a lot of calls, inquiries, I mean, folks that I’ve known in the industry for years, that either, I didn’t know what they were doing as it related to diversity inclusion or, you know, vice versa. But you know, now we’re all on the same page, you know, all that other stuff that may have, you know, that allowed us to have conversations on it before, you know, we can have those conversations now and we’re sharing that information and leveraging that information.

Melissa Cherry: 34:44 I mean, the biggest thing that I see going on right now that I think is really compelling is the collection of data. Um, you’re seeing, you know, a lot of companies within, um, the tourism industry, you know, MMGY, they just launched a leisure tourism study, um, blacks and tourism, they’re launching a leisure tourism study. National coalition of black meetings planner is, is measuring really the meeting’s perspective in terms of, you know, their, their membership. Um, no madness, which is it’s a travel experience group that, that is run by a young man named Evita Robinson. I mean, they’re doing major work eight 25,000 followers in that group. And those are younger than me traveling all over the world. So I just think it’s, it’s just this moment where, you know, like, you know, people were working on things, but you know, when there’s not an urgency with everything around it, you know, it moves at a certain pace, but this pace is definitely picked up.

Melissa Cherry: 35:36 Um, it’s exciting. Um, but at the same time, it’s like, you want to keep organized, you want to make sure we’re leading down the right path and we’re doing it in a way that’s deliberate, that’s thoughtful and that’s going to be permanent because it’s not permanent. Then, you know, this is a time that you don’t want to waste on things that are just going to kind of go back to what it is. And that’s the history that, that has been my experience. It’s kind of like, look and do this work, but it is still kind of same old, same old. So I think everyone involved though is on that page where this is not going to be what it was. We’re not going to allow it to maintain. We’re going to keep pushing this forward. It is going to change. And that is the huge difference to where I feel that we are right now.

Nicole Mahoney: 36:11 Yeah. That’s, uh, that’s, that’s refreshing to hear actually, you know, I, I actually think that that’s, it, that’s a bright light that you just shared with us because, um, we sure would hope that, you know, we can move past where we were in the, in the nineties when you started your career. And I’m curious, um, with these pillars that you have that are going to keep you, you know, you said you need to stay organized and deliberate and make permanent change. I’m curious, would these pillars that you’ve identified, I’m, I’m wondering if there’s some key actions or, or takeaways that people in the industry, you know, might be able to do and take action on now. So let’s say they’re not on your committee or, um, you know, what are you talking to your members about? What are some things that they can do now to really feel like they’re starting to shift and move beyond the conversation?

Melissa Cherry: 37:07 So some of the things, you know, we’re in the process of actually launching, but one of the things that we, we started early on when we formed this task force was, um, really benchmarking the research of what our industry looks like from an equity, diversity inclusion perspective. So there’s a collection of data that we gathered in late 2018, actually presented in 19. And then just another round that we collected this past summer that we will release at our advocacy summit, um, in November of 2020, November, number 12, actually. And that really is important because when you talk about something like this and you want to talk about success and metrics, you have to be able to benchmark and track those firsts. And so that’s kind of where we have started, um, to really kinda understand, you know, to have the ability to kind of measure project progress and growth, excuse me, so that we can kind of set some industry standards and then more importantly, promote accountability.

Melissa Cherry: 38:01 So, you know, if you have these metrics in terms of what leadership looks like from a percentage of being, you know, nonwhite or, or inclusive of others, um, you know, what is that movement as we continue through this plan and kind of participate? Um, another thing right now that we’re very focused on is, is our industry partnerships. John mentioned that, um, we have relationships with the association forum with their welcoming environment initiative, um, and also the national coalition of black meeting planners. Um, John Tanzila with IgG LTA is also part of our committee. So conversations, um, across those, you know, organizations ongoing,

Nicole Mahoney: 38:36 Um, and then really right now, but we want to focus on is just the commitment that we can get from our CEO’s to be engaged, to make this a priority, to have these conversations with staff, to look at how their mission statements. I mean, our member organizations essentially are telling the stories of destinations and there’s many stories in a destination. So we want to make sure I’m a call to action perspective that our CEOs are part of that commitment.

John Percy: 39:00 And also the boards too. You know, we talked about CEO commitments and that’s vital because it has to come from the top. But, you know, we also are trying to look at there’s even a sheet that was developed, um, on board leadership and, and the makeup of boards and that they should mirror what your community looks like. And so I think there’ll be a shift towards us providing some guidance as to a timeline and a step by step process that you can look at your board and maybe work towards a redevelopment, or as you’re going through nominating processes and so forth, um, that you can look at the makeup of your board and, and have it be, become more diverse and have it mirror what your community looks like. Um, cause that’s vital important. Um, moving forward that your board also, cause you could do a lot within the organization, but if your board is not mirroring what the organization looks like or community looks like you’re not going to get that commitment and that support from your board level as well.

Nicole Mahoney: 40:04 Yeah, absolutely. That’s such a great point. And John, it’s not just for our industry. I think it’s for all, you know, all nonprofits are and all boards really need to be taking a look at that. Melissa, you mentioned how the destination marketing organizations are really the ones telling the stories of those destinations. And, um, I’m curious if you have seen, you know, earlier today I was reflecting on what’s happening in my hometown in Rochester, New York and what a challenge that is for our destination marketing organization. And in the time right now, when the headlines are, you know, all about racial injustice. And I’m curious if you have seen some of these other communities who have gone through perhaps these riots or these social, you know, uprisings and how they maybe have moved through that or how they can provide some leadership to their community as they move through that. I might’ve just stumped you with a hard question, but you know, that’s really something that’s just, you mentioned Louisville and I, right. We could all probably mentioned quite a few. My first memory of course, is LA in 1992 with the LA riots. But no, I wasn’t in the industry then. So it’s kind of hard for me to filter, but it’s hard because I also don’t want to pull anyone out specifically. But, um, I mean,

Melissa Cherry: 41:34 You know, you’ve publicly have had conversations around the narrative in cities where you’ve had either, you know, social justice or protest or, you know, the aftereffects of that. Um, you’ve had the after effects of, you know, the injustice with police brutality that’s happening and it’s not systemic to an urban center specifically. I mean, you’re seeing an in towns that just recently like Kenosha, um, that’s, you know, between Chicago and Milwaukee, um, you’re seeing conversations around, you know, the stories through Confederacy and statues and how that, you know, so it’s, it’s, it’s a hard question when you ask that because I’m not, you know, people have destinations of course have come back from that and they will come back from that. Um, it’s, it’s really what you do next and we haven’t gotten there yet. Um, I think that that’s going to be really the tale of, of what those success stories look like.

Melissa Cherry: 42:28 Um, but you know, in my, you know, I’m in DC and what I immediately thought of actually was Baltimore. I mean, Baltimore went through the incident where Freddie gray and, and, you know, that was tough. I mean, that’s, that was very public. I mean, you know, there was base national baseball game. I mean, it was just so much going on from an attention standpoint and, you know, they really did a lot of work to, you know, ensure they were welcoming after that incident, even though that story continues to play out. And I think that’s the hardest thing is that these stories continue to play out. It’s not the one incident, it’s not the few nights it’s been the trial and then the verdict and then the settlement, I mean, this can go on and on. So it’s like, you know, how to maintain that I think is just, you know, it’s just, it’s a, it’s a tough thing.

Melissa Cherry: 43:11 And I feel like I didn’t answer your question. Um, I think I’m more summarized the what, um, even if we’re all working towards, you know, what the answers to that I’ll probably defer to John, you know, I, you know, been out of Chicago for a couple years and I mean, you know, Chicago had its own kind of, uh, public, um, battles in terms of just the violence and other things that are portrayed in the news and having to battle that and, and just, you know, what goes on it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough thing because those things aren’t in your control, but you’re responsible for kind of branding and telling and promoting a story for designation.

John Percy: 43:46 I agree. And it’s so difficult. I think, you know, DMO is need to really have a crisis management plan in place and, and really have a, I think I synergy developed with your city hall with your police department, um, with all, uh, with your fire department, any agency of, of the city hall. And I think when you have that synergy or that, that crisis management plan or crisis communications plan more importantly, is that everybody is on the same page and the DMO can maybe assist. Um, you know, I think Baltimore, uh, is a great example that Melissa said that I think that city did a great job trying to work with me to, to diminish what was taking place in a, in one of their communities. It wasn’t right downtown. Um, but they had to get to the media outlets and try to, uh, separate if you will, a little bit that downtown, uh, was not part of this and because the media makes it sound like it’s taken over the entire city from the one from North to South and East and West, and it’s not that.

John Percy: 44:54 And so it’s Melissa said it’s a very fine line. Um, and one that we all should be prepared for because as she mentioned, whether it’s Kenosha, uh, the town of Missouri, uh, for way back LA I mean from big cities to small anymore, um, we all can experience this at any moment’s notice and we have to be prepared for that through the plans, um, because unfortunately every situation is different. So there is no cookie cutter approach to deal with the situation. But again, I think having, um, that communication plan and especially crisis communications plan in place will help alleviate the stress that can be developed. Cause if you’re trying to develop that plan while you’re building the plane or while it’s taking place, that’s going to be disastrous. And so you have to always be prepared, uh, for this situation right now because anyone can experience it.

Nicole Mahoney: 45:50 Yeah, I think that’s, uh, that’s really great advice. Um, and the other thing I really appreciate about what you just pointed out is having those relationships with, you know, with your government agencies, um, you know, with the police, with the fire, so that when you are responding to something you’re all kind of in sync and you’re all at the table, which just reminds me of what, you know, destinations international is, is really, you know, talking about right now for, for DMO is to be that community shared value to be part of that, of all of the cog in the wheel, you know, that makes the community go. So, um, I think that’s really great. And I appreciate both of you allowing me to put you on the spot like that.

Nicole Mahoney: 46:38 Um, I have, uh, just one more question for both of you and that has to do with collaboration. I don’t like to leave a show without asking something about collaboration, because I think it’s so instrumental to everything that we do successfully within the industry. And so I am curious, um, you know, Melissa, I’ll start with you again, um, how you see collaboration really playing a role in this equity, diversity and inclusion, um, you know, initiative, if you will change. Yeah. I mean, I mean, collaboration is going to be really important. I, you know, we can’t, we can’t do this by ourselves. We can’t solve everything in isolation. So, you know, I think it is going to is definitely a minimum requirement that you have, you know, organizations together under this joint,

Melissa Cherry: 47:30 You know, collective goal to accomplish something. And it’s going to require leadership as part of that. So, I mean, you know, the, the whole conversation around collaboration, it’s a word that’s been used to death. Um, but I think, you know, it’s really about it being again. But I think I touched on in the beginning about being thoughtful, um, about paying attention, um, because you know, when you’re going to take action, you know, all of those, how you got there is gonna really matter, um, in terms of, you know, the result of, of delivering success on whatever that collaborative effort delivers to, you know, to a broader audience. So, I mean, I think that the work that we’re going to be doing at destinations and national is not going to be possible unless we’re working with other organizations. I mean, of course, starting with our members to help them, but then also working with those other industry partners, because, you know, as an industry, we all need to be on the same page.

Melissa Cherry: 48:25 And if we’re not on the same page, you know, that’s where things begin to fall apart. So, um, I look forward to continuing to kind of have a lot of these, you know, how in ways we can, the alphabet soups, so to speak of the association world can kind of come together. Um, because it’s the degrees of separation aren’t that far apart. I mean, when we’re, when we used to be on the road and we used to be face to face, you know, we would all see each other, probably every two to three weeks, depending on, you know, what time of year. So we have hope. That’s why I think the power comp collaboration is important right now because in where we are and trying to collaborate where we can’t really do it in what we normally do as a collaborative environment, you know, it has to be deliberate. It has to be thoughtful. We have to be empathetic. We have to really dedicate the time. And it’s hard when, when we’re all in the middle of a moment of crisis to do that. So, you know, I commend people for having these conversations and excited that destinations international has taken the lead and that we have a strong board and board members like John Percy, who have committed to this, um, you know, for the last three years and continues to stay committed and John, anything to add.

John Percy: 49:39 She said it best. And I think we can move the needle, uh, in our industry, if you will, if this, this realm of, of destination marketing, uh, and provide case studies and, and tool kits and everything to better our industry, but we can’t do it in a vacuum. And I think we do need to collaborate. And I think we can leave and learn from other industries that have nothing to do with travel and hospitality. And that’s where collaborations can, I think be very effective for us as collaborating across industries that we’ve never even dealt with to, to discuss this issue, to learn from them, instill some of their success stories that have taken place in other industries. So Melissa said it best, we, we can’t do this alone and we gotta do it all together. Uh, it’s just great. Again, our committee going from 30 to 70, just to collaboration across all different walks of life on our committee, all walks of sizes of deemos. Uh, it’s been great to see, uh, I think this is one of the largest committees that we have at, at destinations international. Uh, so it’s exciting to see what our future holds.

Nicole Mahoney: 50:49 Yeah, that’s really amazing. Well, thank you so much for spending time with us today, and I really appreciate both of you being so transparent and open and, and letting me put you on the spot with some of those tough questions. I know our listeners are going to get a lot out of this, so thank you so much.

John Percy: 51:09 Thank you, Nicole.

Nicole Mahoney: 51:12 Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to tell you about our weekly. I see. Why am I in case you missed it? The newsletter each week, along with our podcast episode, we share an article written by one of the break, the ice media team members about the travel and tourism industry, our articles mirror, the mix of industry segments and topics similar to this podcast to join our newsletter text D O T L two six six eight six six, or visit break the ice forward slash blog.

John Percy: 51:47 It’s time to hit the road again, visit destination on the during your travels for more huh,