PATA | Contact

All posts tagged ITB

White Men in Suits at ITB panels – part 2. Time to tackle the lack of diversity at tourism events

Categories: Blog Posts, Gender
Comments Off on White Men in Suits at ITB panels – part 2. Time to tackle the lack of diversity at tourism events

by Marta Mills (oneplanetblog.com), sustainable tourism specialist and sustainability adviser for the Transcaucasian Trail

 

 

 

Exactly a year ago after ITB Berlin 2017, I wrote White Men in Suits and Sustainable Tourism for PATA’s Sustainability Blog, referring to the nationality, race and gender imbalance of speakers at ITB, but also at other conferences and events in the tourism industry. Has anything changed at ITB2018?

The only non-male panel at ITB CSR Day, 9 March 2018. Still pretty imbalanced.

This article is not meant to provide solutions but simply describe a status quo in relation to the inequality. And I have nothing against people wearing suits. But in this context, the suits represent the (mostly) white men who spend their time behind a desk in a city office block as opposed to working on the ground in tourism destinations. They know how to manage big tourism or airline companies, or are respected academics, but often have little practical knowledge that could then be worth sharing with destination practitioners during ITB panel discussions.

Quick look back at 2017

The whole CSR programme of events last year showed the lack of inclusiveness and balance, but there was one particular session (“How Can Sustainable Travel Offers Be Marketed Successfully?”) that prompted me to write. Seven white men in suits, six Germans and one English, discussing sustainability in tourism.  How ironic.

The “White Men in Suits” panel on sustainable travel at ITB 2017

I wanted (and still want) to find out who and how makes the final decision on the structure of the panels, and why there seem to be the same speakers year after year. Is it really that hard to find a women specialist, or someone from the southern hemisphere? Neither in 2017 nor in 2018 ITB responded to my questions.

Hopes for 2018

Considering a few significant events that sparked the worldwide debate on gender inequality – the Harvey Weinstein case of sexual abuse allegations, the #MeToo movement, now the most recent outrage at unequal pay at the BBC, to name a few – I hoped that the situation at ITB might change this year.

Also, in the written foreword to the  CSR Program, Rika Jean-François, the ITB CSR Commissioner, mentioned that in 2018, the tourism industry will have to deal with numerous challenges, including “gender inequality and discrimination due to sexual orientation (…) If we see how many seminars are still dominated by men, even in the sustainability sector, we must invite women to raise their voice – women are definitively carrying half of heaven on their shoulders”. Wise words. But…

 ITB 2018

Take the panelists for the CSR Program 2018. In Hall 4.1 (Responsible/Adventure Travel hall) on the Big Stage, there were 95 men and 44 women (7-9 March). Discussions in Halls 7.1 saw 78 men and 22 women. But during the ITB CSR Day (!) there were 16 male panelists and only one woman. Three out of four sessions had men-only panels. The last had five men and that one woman. All except two men were German, all were white. Er… Unbelievable?

At the end of this last session, its moderator Matthias Beyer who also moderated last year’s aforementioned “all-men-in-suits” session, pointed out that „one woman joining the panel this year is an improvement but certainly it is not satisfactory“.

Recycled speakers

And if we are comparing these both sessions moderated by Matthias:  three of the panellist were on both panels. That again made me think: who and how selects the panels for ITB? Is there a pool of “recycled speakers” that are always invited, based on some unwritten – or maybe written, somewhere – criteria? Surely, these speakers are experts in their area, but also, surely, there are so many others that never get approached. Why not? Do the organisers even want to go that extra step and go beyond the old, recycled bunch?

Matthias Beyer, Prof. Dr. Edgar Kreilkamp and Norbert Fiebig, participants of panels in 2017 and 2018

 “Others take the decision”

„In general, I totally agree with you that ITB panels require a much better balance in terms of race, nationality and gender“, Matthias Beyer said. I asked him whether he had any say in the selection of the speakers on his panels. „The influence for me as a moderator is limited. I can make suggestions but others take the decision. In 2018 my whole panel was fixed before I came into play“.

Can he refuse to moderate such imbalanced sessions? „To refuse a moderation is certainly an option but then you lose any influence. I prefer to remain involved and to try my very best to initiate and encourage changes“, he said.

OK, so „others take the decion“. That made me think, again, who …

ITB, wake up!

I want to emphasize again that the worldwide perspective doesn’t only come from the European, white middle-aged men in suits. Particularly during debates on supposedly more inclusive and fairer sustainable tourism. When will ITB, WTM and other big events start taking notice?

Does Rika have any impact on the composition of the panels, at least for the CSR Day? If not her, then who?

Hopes for 2019?

 Rika admitted that she was “totally aware of the unbalanced number of female and male speakers at the ITB Convention. I can assure you that I am also trying to change this and as CSR commissioner have discussed the phenomena also with our teams and the relevant co-organizers and scientific directors”.  She added: “You can be sure that I will work on it and readdress it again and again. This is one reason why I initiated the Gender Equality Seminar during ITB 2018 -as a start of a new series. We will support the dialogue and we will keep on going.”

 One seminar is a step in the right direction, but it is a tiny drop in the ocean. I’d like to see more inclusion and more diversity on other panels that not necessarily devoted to gender equality! Is it so much to ask to have a mix across the board to discuss a variety of topics, so this issue of imbalance and inequality doesn’t draw attention and it is not an issue anymore?

Let’s see if I am here this time next year, complaining about white European men in suits at ITB 2019.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

Share

by Marta Mills (@oneplanetblog), Stakeholder Engagement and Communications Director, Transcaucasian Trail Association


According to UNWTO, tourism’s role in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is to promote inclusiveness: inclusive sustainable economic growth, social inclusiveness, diversity, mutual understanding. The word “inclusive” appears in five Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet one thing that was clearly missing from the ITB’s “Sustainable Tourism Program 2017” was inclusiveness.

ITB Berlin (held 8-11 March) is “the world’s leading travel trade show” with over 10,000 exhibitors from over 180 countries, and over 160,000 participants. The three-day-long Sustainable Tourism Program of seminars, workshops, panel discussions and award ceremonies included over 200 speakers on 12 different stages in seven halls. However, the programme lacked speakers from the southern hemisphere; it showed race, nationality and gender imbalance amongst panellists; and lacked the Responsible Tourism (RT) practitioners during debates on big stages as if RT was not part of the “proper” tourism industry. I found it quite puzzling and questionable, particularly now in the Year of Sustainable Tourism.

There were some very inspiring and insightful sessions I am going to refer to later on, but I will start with the challenges that should be addressed in planning next ITB.

Nationality, race and gender imbalance while discussing sustainability in tourism

Nationality, race and gender imbalance while discussing sustainability in tourism

 

My ITB hats

I attended ITB wearing two hats – a sustainable tourism practitioner and a MSc student of Responsible Tourism Management. With a background in sustainability communications, I work on developing sustainable tourism in the Caucasus region through the Transcaucasian Trail project. I study how to implement responsible business practices for the benefit of communities and the environment in destinations. I was therefore keen to hear the latest news, trends and practical solutions in sustainable destinations management and in maximising the positive impacts of tourism globally. And anything related to trails, understandably.

Morning queue outside the venue: 160,000 people from over 180 countries attend ITB Berlin each year

Morning queue outside the venue: 160,000 people from over 180 countries attend ITB Berlin each year

The programme and the venue – first obstacles

The first ITB challenge, even before going to Berlin, was to go through the 27-page-long (!) CSR programme, pick the sessions of most interest, and work out whether it is actually possible to get from one to the other (often held in different halls on different floors) on time. The venue is huge – there is a shuttle bus cruising between 28 exhibition halls!

It is pretty time-consuming to work out what sessions happen simultaneously, and the app doesn’t allow to put “my favourites” in order either. I ended up making a spreadsheet of my timetable to work it out and wondering why this can be simplified. Perhaps the ITB could make it easier next year and run a scheduled timetable of all sessions so we could see at a glance who, when and where is speaking?

But these are technical issues that can be easily resolved. I believe that the lack of inclusiveness I referred to above is much more serious. Here are the challenges mentioned in the introduction:

 

  • Nationality/race imbalance:

Vicky Smith of Earth Changers, a RT practitioner and the ITB veteran, made a point that “although held in Germany, ITB is the international show, and therefore has more of an opportunity to showcase international players, start-ups and initiatives on its stages in order to represent the worldwide perspective.” And the worldwide perspective doesn’t only come from the European, white middle-aged men in suits. Particularly during debates on sustainable tourism.

I believe that at such an international show there should be a better representation of speakers from developing countries. The practitioners on the ground in destinations are not given the chance to participate effectively. The ones with hands on experience and often have a much better practical understanding of various sustainability issues than CEOs of companies based in Germany.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for inclusive participatory processes from designing change to implementation of good practices. Without “southern” speakers taking part in global discussions we are not addressing the sustainability of tourism. One of those small handful of “southern” speakers, the Founder of the Gambian Institute of Travel and Tourism Adama Bah, told me that “the purpose of the global discussion is to raise awareness so that the industry will take responsibility of making tourism sustainable. Without hearing from “southern voices” where most negative impacts of tourism do happen, educative global discussions defeat their purposes to make tourism sustainable.”

 

  • Gender imbalance

And speaking of other imbalances… One of the most-attended debates on “How Can Sustainable Travel Offers Be Marketed Successfully?” was led by seven white men on stage. Six Germans and one English. I tweeted ITB asking whether it was really that hard to find at least one woman who knows how to communicate sustainability (didn’t get a reply). Some other tweets about “the glass ceiling in tourism” followed. A quick glance at the small presentation offer in hall 4.1 (dedicated to Responsible Tourism) would have provided a few names of women professionals to choose from. Again, something to consider for next year.

I understand that by supporting various sustainability awards, the ITB demonstrates its commitment to sustainable development and gender equality. And there were women on other panels (although just over 30% – 38 women compared to 115 men speaking on the big stages). But it was quite ironic that a major session on sustainability has forgotten about respecting SDG 5 – Gender Equality.

Interestingly, at the very end of the session, the moderator apologised that “there are all gentlemen up here” on the panel. Considering how much applause that comment got, I clearly wasn’t the only one feeling disappointed.

 

  • (not) knowing your audience

Sometime I also felt that some speakers were not aware who the audience was. While I understand that the level of knowledge of sustainable tourism in the audience varied, I also believe that it is safe to assume that most of us in hall 4.1 (Responsible Tourism hall) knew a fair bit. There was still a lot of vague language from the business representatives, particularly the more senior executives of big companies, for example “we are working to build more capacity and improve sustainability of our operations”. This sounds great, however doesn’t provide any meaningful information nor any clear examples of what exactly the operator did to “build capacity” and what exactly “improving sustainability” meant.

Also, we already are “the converted.” We know that – to quote a few panellists – “everyone has to take part,” “it is our shared responsibility,” “we need to accelerate in sustainable product offer” or “make the message about sustainability more visible.” I didn’t come all the way to Berlin to listen to such old and vague slogans. I came to listen and learn how others actually do it, what works and what doesn’t, how I can get involved in a practical way. And, as many sessions have proven again, the best advice will always come from those who work on the ground, who have tried various approaches, who have made mistakes and are happy to share them, so we can all learn together.

Practical overview and lessons learn from the Jordan Trail Association – an insightful, fun and informative session led by practitioners on the ground

Practical overview and lessons learn from the Jordan Trail Association – an insightful, fun and informative session led by practitioners on the ground

 

  • Not enough awareness

However, these messages are important and should be repeated to the ones who are not converted and who need a constant reminder about the importance and role of sustainability in tourism – and that’s why I would also argue for including more RT speakers in the wider programme of ITB Convention. The whole industry needs to transform to minimise its negative impacts. The ITB mentions that “additional panels dedicated to ecological and social responsibility can also increasingly be found e.g. at the ITB Destination Days, but it should do much more to mainstream sustainable tourism.

For example, “ITB Young Professionals day” discussed which graduates will the industry need in the future. That could have been an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and repeat the messages about sustainable tourism. Or the big debate on “World Tourism Trends.” or “Success Factors for Nation and Place Branding” – giving RT practitioners space on the panels would have demonstrated that sustainable tourism is one of the big trends and brings competitive advantage when it comes to successful branding. And, overall, contribute to raising awareness amongst the wider industry. 

 

But…

I found the events on smaller stages much more informative, useful, practical, and engaging. Most presenters used their 30 min-slot very well – a short summary of the project/issue, how the issues are being dealt with, lessons learnt, time for questions. I immensely enjoyed the session on the Jordan Trail on the big stage of hall 4.1 on Friday 11th – three women panellists, all of them working on the ground in Jordan, representing the business and government stakeholders. Giving that practical overview with challenges and opportunities I was craving for. Similarly, an engaging session on community-based tourism in Myanmar, with a step by step guidance on how to develop tourism in emerging destinations. Both of them proved my point – ITB needs an international representation of hands-on practitioners to share the potential and best practice examples of sustainable tourism.

Peter Richards, Expert on Community Tourism Development and Market Access during a practical and engaging session on tourism development in Kayah State, Myanmar

Peter Richards, Expert on Community Tourism Development and Market Access during a practical and engaging session on tourism development in Kayah State, Myanmar

 

ITB 2018

Matthias Beyer, the moderator of the aforementioned all-men-in-suits panel, noted that his panel in terms of gender balance doesn’t reflect the reality of the industry, emphasizing that for the future, it is imperative to find a better gender composition for such panels. Such an approach is much needed and gives me hope that at future ITBs the number of women and intentional speakers will match the number of white men in suits.

 

Note: ITB Messe-Berlin was unavailable for comment.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

Share