Travel Industry Must Heed Lessons from DEI Roles Slashed in Company Layoffs

As tech and other major companies began laying off employees—starting late 2020 continuing into 2022 and the present—roles related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have been slashed at a faster rate than non-DEI roles.

The message these cuts send that DEI is not valued or necessary is alarming. But other impacts are now coming to light. More than 300 DEI professionals have left companies, which in some cases this has meant the departure of entire diversity teams—and this accelerated decrease of DEI-related roles is resulting in fewer diversity hires. Those are the latest findings from New York-based workforce intelligence company Revelio Labs, released on Feb 7.

“What we observe is in the last two years, there is a higher attrition rate for DEI-related roles at these companies compared to all other roles,” says Reyhan Ayas, senior economist at Revelio Labs. “And concurrently, we see that the there is a decline in the share of hires who come from diverse backgrounds, as well for some of these companies.”

Chart by Revelio Labs (Feb. 2023)

In the travel industry, American Airlines and TripAdvisor top the list of companies showing a decline in share of diversity hires since July 2022, Revelio Lab’s research also shows.

Additional data on travel companies pulled for Tourism Lens by Revelio Labs reveals percentage share declines in DEI hires from 2.2% at Marriott to 3.9% at Southwest Airlines, and 7.67% at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, among others.

Missing from this list, however, are the additional major media layoffs across travel publishing companies, including at Dotdash Meredith—which includes Travel + Leisure and TripSavvy—and at Lonely Planet, among others. Some of those layoffs were the few BIPOC editors in this space, though exact numbers are unknown.

There are also untold additional numbers of DEI editors and writers who have been exiting trade and consumer media companies—in the travel industry and beyond—as a result of a lack of internal DEI support from the C-suite, as well as general toxicity directed at BIPOC staff in the workplace.

A loss of BIPOC talent in media and other sectors of the industry comes at a time when tourism is purportedly now more focused on equity and sustainability. How such a big change can happen without diverse voices in critical spaces or in C-suites is anyone’s guess.

The data below from Revelio Labs shows the travel companies that delivered pink slips and are showing a parallel decline in share of diversity hires as of December 2022 (keeping in mind that travel staffing numbers haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels yet).

Air CanadaAir TransportationDatePercentage
Holiday Inn Club Vacations-PantegoAccommodationDec 2022-0.7
Apple Leisure GroupAccommodationDec 2022-1.16
MarriottAccommodationDec 2022-2.2
Lyft, Inc.Transit & Ground Passenger
Dec 2022-2.67
Hawaiian AirlinesAir TransportationDec 2022-3.16
American AirlinesAir TransportationDec 2022-3.33
Southwest AirlinesAir TransportationDec 2022-3.9
American AirlinesAir TransportationDec 2022-3.35
Delta Air Lines, Inc-Pilot BaseAir TransportationDec 2022-4.265
Crescent Hotels & ResortsAccommodationDec 2022-5.92
Piedmont Airlines, Inc. – John Wayne AirportAir TransportationDec 2022-7.16
Wyndham Hotels & ResortsAccommodationDec 2022-7.67%
Table: Travel companies showing decline in share of diversity hires as of December 2022 – Data from Revelio Labs

On Feb. 8, Disney World announced it would lay off 7,000 staff—it will be interesting to see the extent of BIPOC staff slashed and how that impacts its diversity in hiring there.

An Uneven DEI Focus

On the flip side, the work on DEI from tourism boards or destination management organizations (DMOs) continues internally as well as in terms of promoting the destination in a more inclusive and equitable manner. American DMOs are increasingly offering apprenticeships for future tourism and hospitality professionals, fellowships for DEI businesses, and undergoing DEI organizational assessments. Marketing campaigns are growing more inclusive in the past three years as well, even if some fall off course despite good intentions because they continue to be created by non-diverse teams.

The launch of an Alliance for Hospitality, Equity and Diversity in August 2022 with the mission of training BIPOC students and professionals to reach leadership roles is also promising.

But whether or not DEI remains a priority at major private travel companies is unclear. There is a sense that DEI is quietly being pushed to the back of the agenda as the C-suite at travel’s biggest companies and foundations remains primarily white-led. And when not white-led, particularly in America, there is a pervasive top-down anti-Blackness and anti-female stance. (No data on this one, but we who are the few diverse in this industry know all of the aforementioned holds true).

Lessons for the Travel Industry

The case of tech and other big companies putting DEI on the chopping block and ending up with fewer diverse hires as a result should serve as a lesson and a warning for the travel industry at large: Companies that keep their DEI teams not only end up with diverse new hires, but they also show higher employee satisfaction, Revelio Labs’ research confirms.

“Because DEI personnel are the ones who are charged with making sure that the company sticks with the DEI goals that it sets and those are the ones ensuring that there are there is a workplace that is inclusive,” says Ayas. “Even if these are just concurrent patterns, we must expect some effects down the line of these DEI layoffs because eventually it will really catch on to us.” 

If the travel industry purports to remain pro-climate action, pro-sustainability and seeks to shift the equity needle in tourism moving forward, it’s going to have to double down on its DEI efforts and take a course that’s opposite to tech and other companies that have done quietly with DEI.

Tourism is predicted to enjoy a year of rebound ahead, but it’s also an industry operating in a climate in which racial equity remains at the forefront of minds and pushback on neocolonialist practices in tourism continues to intensify from host communities, as well as from rising conscious consumers.

Ultimately, there’s a lesson here for the travel industry to act on DEI with more urgency. There’s also a reminder that the business of successfully selling destinations and experiences post-pandemic and padding that bottom line is more than ever—whether travel leaders like it or not—inherently tied to equity, diversity and inclusion.


Lebawit is an award-winning, independent travel journalist, author and speaker specializing in global tourism. Her reported stories on sustainability, equity, destination management, hospitality, responsible marketing, and climate action have appeared in consumer and trade publications, including Bloomberg, Skift, and Conde Nast Traveler. Read more about Lily here.

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