One of the most important changes in how the world sees diversity is the recognition that our variety of thoughts, desires and perspectives demand more than “acceptance.” They are fundamental assets that must be embraced.
At the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), our definition of diversity would not be complete without this essence of “inclusion.” Recognizing this early on, the PHLCVB became the first convention and visitors bureau to establish a Multicultural Affairs Congress (MAC), founded by A. Bruce Crawley and State Rep. Dwight Evans, and known today as PHLDiversity.
As a division of the PHLCVB, our bottom line is to increase the city’s share of the meetings and conventions industry and put heads in beds. PHLDiversity was created to ensure that, as these goals are met holistically, meeting and hotel bookings accurately reflect the shifting economic and cultural climate of our country.
Diversity is, after all, an ever-evolving portrait and demands ever-evolving practices. While our organization began with a focus on only the African-American market, we soon expanded to include the Hispanic and Latino community. Native-American and Asian-American followed not long after. As each growing population stepped up to claim their niche in the meeting and convention market, PHLDiversity was there to help cultivate the industry standard. As society evolves naturally, so too must we, to identify the emerging markets in need of recognition in all aspects of business.
For PHLDiversity, this was addressed by designing a strategy grounded in extensive research. Twenty-five years after MAC’s inception in 1977, the division took on a new story as we sought to more accurately reflect the changing dynamics of our country. Partnering with Temple University’s Fox School of Business in 2013, we commissioned a 110-page study that showed a new way forward, marked by the inclusion of emerging markets — women, international visitors and LGBT audiences.
Once these markets were identified, PHLDiversity commissioned a deeper dive in 2014, focusing on growth opportunities and a greater understanding of not just who to reach, but how to reach them. We’ve since adopted a much more methodical approach to analyzing the perception of Philadelphia as a destination and the needs of both meeting planners and attendees.
Thirty years ago, the LGBT community’s economic impact may have been profound, but it was not yet clearly defined or sought after. Up-and-coming LGBT groups meeting at kitchen tables have evolved into organizations like Out and Equal and the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, boasting major conventions and well-formed chapters at every level.
Since then, the city has become a mecca for LGBT groups. In 2014, Philadelphia hosted the National Gay and Lesbian Flag Football League’s Gay Bowl XIV and is home to the annual Trans-Health Conference, hosted by Mazzoni Center, and the nationally known Equality Forum. This year, we also hosted the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Sixth Annual LGBT Media Convening. Other major wins, including the 2015 World Meeting of Families and accompanying papal visit, as well as the 2016 Democratic National Convention, will provide opportunities to share Philadelphia’s inclusive ethos on an even greater international platform.
It is, however, not just what you know, but who you know. PHLDiversity builds community relationships among visiting organizations and local groups that share a culture and ideals. We work in tandem to create connections for meeting planners, whether this is with the local media, LGBT-owned businesses or political officials. These relationships prove invaluable to groups looking for speakers, exhibitors and ad sponsors, among other suppliers. With a well-represented group of 45 local leaders, often the connections our organizations seek are seated right around our board table.
As the PHLCVB, and thus PHLDiversity, continues to evolve, perhaps the most advantageous idea of all is that we do not “define” our markets. We allow them to define themselves, creating a more dynamic vehicle for individuals to express their needs and identities. A Latina lesbian, for example, is more complex than her gender, heritage or orientation, and PHLDiversity’s inclusive approach recognizes that our audiences are more than the sum of their parts.
By leading the charge in hospitality-inclusion efforts, PHLDiversity aims to spur the advancement of meetings and conventions in the coming years. We envision an industry in which each interest group feels valued not despite, but because of, its unique perspective, as we work optimistically towards this goal.
Greg DeShields is executive director of the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress (PHLDiversity). For more information, visit www.phldiversity.com.