Q&A: Cincinnati USA’s Jason Dunn on the Business of Diversity for DMOs

May 3, 2019

Cincinnati USA has become known in the DMO world for making strides in diversity markets over the last few years, notably with the appointment of Jason Dunn as vice president, multicultural sales and community development. This spring, he was promoted to group vice president of diversity sales and inclusion — and is stepping into a role that’s quite novel in the industry. Corporate Event News sat down with Dunn to learn more about what changes he’s striving to make, and where the industry stands as a whole on diversity and inclusion efforts.

Kelsey Ogletree: In your newly expanded role, how have your responsibilities changed?

Jason Dunn: My role before was multicultural sales. But as we grow to diversity sales and inclusions, that’s widening to include African American, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, LGBTQ and women groups — not just multicultural. My concentration in developing our supplier diversity efforts within the CVB has also changed. It’s now [the entire] bureau — not just my department — that is focused on equality in our vendors. [Another change is that] we will be offering several conversations around cultural competency around the region for our hotel community, vendors and volunteers, and we’re also looking to do that with CTA — our Certified Tourism Ambassador program.

KO: Beyond the obvious reasons, why else is diversity important to hospitality?

JD: Tourism is also a key factor in talent retention. In our minds, if we’re able to plant the seed to reach a higher understanding of how the demographics will change in the next 20 years or so, a lot of different things have to happen. We want to be authentic in that, have discussions around it and align our sales strategies to meet those goals. We’re also focused on increasing diversity of management roles within hospitality, not just cooking and cleaning positions [where you tend to] see the most diversity in our industry.

KO: What is the biggest challenge CVBs currently face in attracting diverse groups?

JD: As a whole, we have to work on breaking the traditional role of the sales process, of being transactional instead of relational. Our different [diverse] groups are looking for authentic experiences and relationships. We have to be intentional about our marketing efforts, about whom we hire and about the types of activities we are packaging for those groups. Frankly, we have to create an environment where they feel welcome in our destinations. It’s about being aware of what the data is showing and leading with that.

KO: Data is not what people often think of first when it comes to inclusion. Can you explain?

JD: [My role] is not an emotional position; it’s a data-driven, business-oriented position focused on data and traveler results. If your city wants to be prepared for the next generation of travelers, you need to have people in the room who reflect and look like [those groups] to strategize to gain their trust and ultimately their business.

KO: What is the most difficult part of your job?

JD: It’s time, resources and changing the mindsets that this role is not a traditional role, and that we have to break out of the traditional mold of hospitality. I think there is an element to the multicultural/diversity space where people check the box and move on. But we’re bigger than checking the box — we want to blow up the box. Cincinnati is being intentional about our offerings, and not everyone is at that level of understanding. As we begin to lead that discussion in the industry, it’s a challenge, but we’re getting there.

KO: What are the limiting factors preventing more CVBs from establishing a role such as yours?

JD: Some of this, to be direct, is emotion. CVBs and the people around the table have to reflect the new statistics. They have to be reflective of new groups coming and traveling, and there have to be people who are aware and astute of changing demographics. There needs to be leadership from the top, and courage. Our CEO, both previous and current, and our board had enough courage to align us with the data. Because of diversity issues we have in our industry as a whole, [the process] will be slow, but I’m hopeful we’ll get there.

KO: What's a non-resume skill that allows you to be great at your job?

JD: Passion. In this role, you have to love what you do, love the people and love the possibilities that can come from this. Tourism is about empowering the groups we represent. It’s about providing new dollars to your destination, which increases jobs within your destination and tax dollars for economic development. You have to embrace your disruptive spirit in this work. Create an environment where you love to live, work and play.

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