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Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation: 4 Expert Tips for Hotel Operators

It's no secret the hotel industry is on a growth spurt, this year alone 2,480 new hotels openend and forecasted to rise to 2,707 next year, according to Statista. This is great for our industry and creates new, exciting employment opportunities! But with so many hospitality brands opening more and more properties outside of their home markets, how can we ensure that they are going for appreciation over appropriation? The topic of cultural appropriation in the hotel sector is one that I feel very passionately about as a DEI trainer and consultant.

Here are my top four tips:

  1. Hire locally. Diverse teams are essential to the future of hospitality and can be essential to avoiding and understanding cultural appropriation. If you are opening a hotel in a new destination, hire locally. Don’t just bring in your hot shot team from your most successful property to caretake the new one, this can cause many more problems than benefits. Hire locally where you can, and hire a diverse team. Make sure the people sitting around the table are representative of not only your target audience but society in general.

  2. Lean into essential "insiders perspectives." When hotel brands hire diverse employees, they gain internal voices who can question and challenge concepts before they are made public. People from different cultural backgrounds can address ideas before they make the cut. Diversity also allows brands to proactively address appropriation versus appreciation and create concepts and experiences that are more inclusive to customers overall.

  3. Honor the artistry and ideas of others while acknowledging their origins. Within hotels, it is common for the property to either reflect the locale and/or to find inspiration from multiple cultures especially when it comes to the decor, F&B and wellness offers. If this is the case, there are so many wonderful ways that, rather than appropriating cultures, you can celebrate and support them. When adopting the concept of cultural exchange, make sure the conversation goes deeper than just an aesthetic level - this can be a valuable learning opportunity. When this is done effectively and with respect, it will become obvious why for example adopting a sacred artefact - such a native American headdress - as a costume to be worn at a festival or beach club is absolutely not ok.

  4. Own Up to your mistakes, learn from them and grow. Navigating cultures isn’t an easy task, and we can all make mistakes. If you do, own up to them, use it as an opportunity to educate yourself, and don't forget to apologise to those people whom you have offended.

Rosina Budhani, founder of Hospitality & Diversity, specialises in intercultural awareness training and consultancy, focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hospitality sector.


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