Michael Caines MBE Icons of Inclusion

Icons of Inclusion:
Untold perspectives


An inclusive forum dedicated to personalisation, OutThere’s first-ever Icons of Inclusion event showcased the sheer breadth of what DEAI – Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion – entails in the age of tailor-made luxury travel. Beyond the issues and concerns raised by those routinely overlooked within the high-end segment of travel, the predominant takeaway was that there are boundless opportunities to do better… and in doing so, trade with a competitive advantage.

If you thought pulling off one major event within the first quarter of 2024 was enough for us, think again: after launching our latest issue in honour of February’s Experientialist Awards, which celebrated the most pioneering luxury travel brands in travel today, we went straight into finalising #IconsOfInclusion, OutThere’s brand-new, purpose-driven one-day conference to bring diversity-related subject matters to the attention of decision-makers across the sector. 

The event, held at London’s The Dorchester Hotel in collaboration with Visit Malta, Aspire, Visit Los Cabos, Scott Dunn, IGLTA (International LGBTQ+ Travel Association) and the British Guild of Travel Writers, was introduced by our Experientialist®-in-Chief, Uwern Jong, with additional welcomes by Tolene Van der Merwe, Director UK & Ireland of the Malta Tourism Authority, who doubled down on Malta’s commitment to welcome all, and Eugenio Pirri, co-CEO of Dorchester Collection, who acknowledged the challenges faced during the boycott, while sharing his own story of coming out as a teenager, and inspiring a culture of kindness and respect throughout his organisation – a management style that today makes the property one of the most welcoming addresses in all of London.

A diverse range of speakers with a strong presence of women, trans and non-binary people, disabled people and people of colour from mid- to top-level management positions and small business owners, included Scott Dunn’s Chief People Officer Shelly Voecks, who advocated for the power of an inclusive, intercultural workplace (‘We have the opportunity to be standard bearers in our industry’), Moonlight Experiences Founder Aisha Shaibu-Lenoir, who warned of pink-washing (‘The LGBTQ+ community can tell when you’re not being authentic’), Vincent Jones, co-founder of the Black Luxury Travel Network, who spoke passionately about the value of black travellers (‘Brands say they “don’t see race”. But do they see green? Because the black community is driving culture, and so are black consumers’), amongst many others.

Michael Caines MBE, two Michelin-star chef and founder of Relais & Chateaux property, Lympstone Manor Hotel, Restaurant and Vineyard gave an impassioned keynote address that left many in the audience emotional, talking about his own experience of overcoming racism and a life-changing accident. He pleaded a strong case about why it is more important than ever to inspire and lift people from diverse backgrounds up, recognising and applauding the journeys made by the handful of people of colour in the audience.

Debbie Marshall, Founder of the Silver Marketing Association held a mirror up to attendees by calling out instances of casual ageism. From insensitive birthday cards to well-intended but often offensive compliments of the ‘You have great skin… for your age’ kind (just what you’d want to hear after splurging on a luxurious facial on your well-earned holiday), ageist behaviours continue to be largely laughed off or downplayed, despite their potential not only to offend but also to devalue and discredit old age – and those of it – on a societal level. ‘The older generation is a fantastic bunch of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. And largely, they are out there, having fun. And when it comes to travel, particularly luxury travel, they’re spending money: 60% of the travel budget in the UK is owned by the older generation’, Debbie explained.

Richard Thompson, Founder of Inclu Travel, shared similar insights during a panel discussion on creating greater accessibility within the industry, hosted by Aspire Editor Hollie-Rae Brader, joined by Chief Marketing Officer Henny Frazer of ÀNI Private Resorts and Director of Go Beyond Holidays, Ian Callen. ‘The narrative around accessible travel has to change’, said Richard. ‘There are billions of dollars worth of accessible room inventory that is simply invisible. Hotels have these rooms. But you won’t see them on their websites. It’s time for the industry to take pride in providing a product that enables a disabled person to have an enjoyable holiday experience’. The simple fact, as was made clear during the discussion, is that because disabled travellers often have a harder time going on vacation in the first place, they tend to make the most of each trip, booking more nights and added-value conveniences to make their travels more worthwhile.

When it came to workplace diversity, Dorchester Collection’s People and Belonging Champion Jane Grammer led a spirited discussion, supported by Intercultural Trainer and DEI Consultant, Rosina Budhani who pointed out some significant challenges posed to staff, even by the most DEAI-affirmative travel brands. Together, they made clear that until the ‘house is in order’ and there is adequate intercultural understanding and diverse representation, it will remain difficult for brands to be inclusive to guests and customers from diverse backgrounds.

Trans and non-binary people routinely find themselves confronted with their very own set of challenges when they travel, as well as in the workplace. While Tom Proctor, People & Culture Manager at The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, spoke of their commitment to fostering an environment in which staff feel at ease to approach others and ask questions in a respectful manner, freelance writer and consultant (as well as proud single parent) Marley Conte shared their experiences of going on holiday when you don’t fit into the male-female binary. From missing pronoun options on booking websites to documentation that takes years to change (and doesn’t reflect one’s gender identity – a major cause for anxiety, especially in the context of airports and border control checkpoints, where being ‘outed’ by travel documents can invite everything from ridicule to downright animosity at the hands of staff), it’s clear that trans and non-binary travellers continue to be overlooked in the luxury travel space.

Women working in the industry are no strangers to being neglected either, as Pegi Amarteifio, VP Global PR and Communications of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, pointed out. Though SLH itself does exceptionally well when it comes to providing opportunities to women, of the 560 properties within its brand portfolio, fewer than a third feature a woman in a General Manager position. ‘Every year, we hold nominations for the advisory board for hoteliers but throughout the company’s history, we have never had more than three women out of 12 people holding that position’ shared Pegi. While imposter syndrome and work-life barriers can slow down career progression for women, Allbright’s Chief Operating Officer Laura Dove also touched on topics like the gender pay gap or the importance of having a safe journey to one’s workplace, while Alessandra Alonso, Founder of Women in Travel CIC, voiced concerns about leaders regarding the topic as a fad, as opposed to a fully-fledged movement with both real-life implications, as well as opportunities.

And the idea of opportunity was the underlying theme of the day. Some brands are firm favourites among marginalised communities, for their dedicated efforts to express their allyship and engage with communities in meaningful ways. Maroma, A Belmond Hotel, was named as a positive example of how to make LGBTQ+ travellers feel welcome and celebrated, by Queer Weddings Founder Lexie Shaibu-Lenoir, who vacationed at the property with her wife. Meanwhile, IGLTA’s Vice President of Communications, LoAnn Halden, praised The LaLiT Hospitality Group for placing diversity and inclusion-promoting children’s books in their hotel rooms, while sharing that safari provider Time + Tide did an excellent job at welcoming her and her wife during a trip to Zambia in 2023. 

Sally Cope from Tourism Australia showcased Australia’s stunning Aboriginal experiences and inspired the audience to consider booking those led and run by Indigenous People when they travel to enrich a trip. Namai Bishop of Zowmelier heralded the start of a new no/low-alcohol movement. Patrick McCrae of art agency Artiq proved how you can encapsulate a brand’s DEAI values, engagement with the local community and storytelling ability, through art and highlighted the importance of fair economic flow between hotels and artists.

Back on stage, Tolene van der Merwe of Visit Malta, Carmen Roberts of BBC Travel and communications consultant Mathu Premaruban explored the topic of inclusive storytelling with great panache, moderated by British Guild of Travel Writers 23/24 co-Chair, journalist Sarah Siese.

Beyond personal anecdotes and praise, the opportunity to do better also manifests itself in numbers, as OutThere’s very own 2023 diversity survey showed: 73% of luxury travellers from diverse backgrounds did not feel that the industry is inclusive of today’s diverse traveller demographics, 71% of these travellers will overwhelmingly choose to book with a brand that proactively demonstrates inclusivity. It’s a clear message to an industry that can’t afford to miss out on catering to the changing sentiments and requirements of a new generation of luxury travellers – which isn’t to say that Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion don’t matter to the current generation, too. If Icons of Inclusion demonstrated one thing, it’s that while we might not find ourselves confronted with many of the issues outlined above, we all know (and travel with) people who do; from disabled relatives to LGBTQ+ friends, to non-white co-workers. When luxury travel becomes more inclusive towards overlooked communities, it becomes better for everyone.

With that in mind, we’re already working on next year’s edition of Icons of Inclusion and shape change for our beloved industry. We hope to see you there.


To register your interest in next year’s event, email [email protected]

Photography by Sarah Lucy Brown

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