Developing an Inclusive and Competitive Workforce for the Travel Sector

October 20, 2022
Dr. Sumeetra Ramakrishnan (she/her)
3 min read
Dr. Sumeetra Ramakrishnan (she/her)

Dr. Sumeetra Ramakrishnan (she/her) is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Hospital and Tourism Management, University of Surrey. Her research lies within equality, diversity and inclusion in the tourism and hospitality industry, with particular focus on gender and ethnicity influences. She joins our expansive network of Women in Travel who are shaking up long-standing inequities to propel change for a better represented travel industry. Like Dr. Sumeetra, we want to hear from you; if you have a story or resource you want to share with the Women in Travel community, you can email

Why do we need an inclusive workforce?

Many articles and much online space has been devoted to addressing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the workplace. We hear of many successful travel businesses that have hugely benefitted from having a diverse workforce. From a commercial perspective, organizations are clearly aware of trends and themes around EDI and realize that it makes good business and social sense. EDI, however, is still a challenge for many organizations, which struggle to meet internal and international EDI benchmarks.

EDI should be integrated into the organizational culture, and not just a stand-alone policy  

Most companies when presented with the opportunity and awareness want to do the right thing. During the past five years, many international travel and tourism businesses realized the lack of diversity in their boardrooms and have appointed EDI leads to their Senior Leadership teams. The EDI roles lead to diverse policies and inclusive strategies, which often do not cascade down to the operations and departments. Businesses should ensure that strategic visions around EDI become part of everyday operations and include diversity training, unconscious bias workshops and race equality monitoring as part of their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and not just introduce them to employees during induction. There are many supporting resources, toolkits, data analytics available to help create inclusive work cultures.

Recruiting right

To attract a diverse group of applicants, we need to go beyond traditional recruitment methods and consider where to advertise, how to ensure the use of inclusive language in recruitment adverts, how to advertise in various social media platforms popular with different communities and groups. GEC PR’s Company Director, Fiona Anderson, said “My advice on attracting the best diverse talent is to make sure your website clearly highlights your commitment to EDI – not just through words, but with images of diverse employees and customers. Recruit from a wider pool of young talent by recruiting via non-specialist sector recruiters like Indeed, as in my experience young people often do not know about the specialist recruiters. Why not place vacancies on graduate websites like Internwise? You could also recruit through travel and hospitality colleges and universities too. To recruit returners to work, who may have previously left the workforce to care for children or parents, ensure you transparently demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to flexible working. Marketing more part time roles will also aid this.”

Representation beyond tokenism 

Inclusion should not be about ticking boxes, having percentages or filling quotas, it is about providing equitable opportunities for everyone to create a level playing field, where you get to choose the best talent and the most suitable person for your organization. HR policies towards recruitment and progression should consciously avoid symbolic representation of diversity, and work with the Executive Board to identify core organizational values around diversity and how they can be reflected in recruitment and retention policies. 

Retaining your diverse talent

Retaining talent not only makes commercial sense but is also the right thing to do. Fiona Anderson contends: “The U.K.-wide recruitment crisis means that the travel sector is having to compete for talent against sectors that can offer greater financial perks. It really is an employee market at the moment, and so the travel industry will inevitably have to pay more for new talent.” Organisations often see a high turnover of their diverse workforce due to barriers to progression, where diverse talented employees are unable to feel a sense of belonging or growth and leave for better opportunities. Businesses should invest in talent development that are customized to the needs of diverse staff, whether it is providing opportunities for women with caring responsibilities or supporting ethnically diverse employees facing barriers to progression. HR should provide equitable support and where necessary reconsider success metrics to support disadvantaged groups. 

Using AI towards best practice

AI can be used to create equitable hiring and training practices. AI software can use data points to eliminate hiring bias and unconscious stereotyping and hire the most suitable candidate for the job. Dr. Erin Ling, Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work in Surrey Institute for People-Centred AI, observes that “It was problem that organizations found challenging to identify, hire and promote diverse talent at every step of the process. AI can be used to help with talent acquisition and management through rigorous and objective assessments, which broadens a diverse pool and eliminate human biases in selection and evaluation. It isn’t AI that can fix the diverse problem, but AI can help recruiters screen more candidates fast and fairly, and quickly identify patterns of poor and unfair behaviour, misalignment, and inconsistency.”  

Sharing and co-creating EDI in travel and tourism

We need to remember that EDI is not competitive, it requires a social change and can only be achieved through shared collaborations. Academia, destinations and industry professionals should work together to generate useful data, identify strategic priorities to create inclusive organizations and destinations, and support each other to achieve the aspirations. The Gender, Enterprise and Social Policy Institute, within the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey, works with public sector organizations, industry, entrepreneurs and social enterprises to co create equitable travel experiences for all stakeholders.

As we work towards a socially conscious, empowered, fairer and equal society, organizations have to take on the mantle of becoming trend setters and key stakeholders in driving change and create workspaces that reflect the diversity and richness of the society they are part of.

Explore these additional resources

GESPi - Research resources for travel and tourism
CIPD- diversity and inclusion toolkit
WTTC- diversity and inclusion guidelines
Black Travel Alliance- data and research resources