Roni Weiss, Executive Director of Travel Unity, started his journey in the industry as a traveler visiting more than 70 countries, in addition to being an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Italy, France, Taiwan and Chile.
His travels and experiences led him into content creation through blogging and videography, before transitioning into social media and marketing consulting. Weiss eventually created the New York Travel Festival, which then birthed Travel Unity—a 501(c)(3) focused on increasing diversity in the world of travel through individual and community empowerment.
Through Travel Unity, Weiss is devoted to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in the travel industry.
Before 2020, we were mostly preaching to the choir. The folks who really understood why diversity, equity, and inclusion were important were mostly folks who embraced DEI in their personal lives or because they saw it as a continuation of sustainable practices. While we tried to explain that demographic shifts were here in many places and just around the corner in others, there was still a lot of complacency. The pandemic and social protests in 2020 have made a broader cross-section of people see that DEI is both a strategic and moral imperative.
There are a lot of different categories of individuals: Those who firmly understand and believe in DEI, those who see it as a business necessity, and those who are only going to do it performatively to avoid criticism.
At Travel Unity, we have what we call "the foundational commitment"—the belief that travel should be a place for people of all backgrounds and abilities. No matter how much you do or don't get it, if you start from there—with a willingness to learn and grow—you can get to the right place. When someone is only cynically or narrowly applying DEI ideas, there will always be a ceiling on how much change will happen. Strangely, once you accept that it's a lifelong journey, some of the pressure is let off, because you allow yourself to stumble and progress.
The first thing is to understand that little things do matter, as long as you don't stop there. A lot of people are paralyzed because they don't know where to start. This is why we worked so hard on getting folks together to create DEI standards for Travel & Tourism, so there could be more of a roadmap for people to think through how they address DEI issues around management and workforce, visitorship, and community impact.
Find people and places where you are able to be your authentic self. No matter who you are, you can find your tribe in this industry. The folks you might have thought would be the most like you don't always turn out to be the ones you make those solid bonds with. Keep trying until you meet your champions.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Mar/Apr 2021 issue of Groups Today.
Photo courtesy of Roni Weiss.