Tahira Endean, CMP, DES, CED, is head of events at the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence and the author of Intentional Event Design. She is a well-known speaker on inclusive events and works to raise awareness on diversity and inclusivity for meetings.
What are most meeting planners missing when it comes to inclusive events?
Endean: We tend to not think about those people who are coming alone—probably 90 percent of our guests—and how many of them might feel uncomfortable. We do very little to make sure that people have an opportunity to connect with others when we could easily do a solo and/or first timer’s event with a facilitator to help break the ice and walk them through some networking tips. It’s basic human inclusion, actually.
Can you rely on your event venues to be ADA compliant?
Endean: Not without a walk-through. I was just in a space where the accessible bathroom in a new convention center was behind a heavy fire door. Attendees had to use a fire exit to go to the bathroom! There have been other situations where an elevator wasn’t working, so attendees with mobility issues had to go back-of-house to use service elevators. It’s not a respectful way to welcome them.
What are the biggest trends in inclusivity you are seeing?
Endean: Food sensitivities and preferences are at the forefront right now. People who have made lifestyle choices for health or values are being accommodated with better menus. It just takes good planning: collecting and sharing dietary needs ahead of time and being more thoughtful about F&B. When we did our SITE Global event in Bangkok, we had 70 people out of 370 with a dietary concern. We had one table with no nuts, gluten, or meat in a family-style Thai food venue and the meal was delicious. If we had served that meal at every table, no one would have been unhappy.
Another trend is the industry response to issues such as harassment and lack of representation, things like all-male panels, or “manels.” There have been better efforts to raise awareness.
What new technology can help?
Endean: I just saw Wordly.ai at MPI WEC. It uses artificial intelligence to do real-time translation into any of 15 languages to produce audio and text captioning on attendees’ own devices. It can also be used for attendees who want captioning without a translation. It is available on a subscription basis. There seem to be more translation services appearing now, which is a great thing for attendees who speak English as a second language or may have trouble following strong accents.