Diversity is increasingly in the spotlight: The face of the United States is changing, and associations — and their meetings — need to change along with it. Not surprisingly, one association in the vanguard is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which took its proactive approach to boosting minority business to heart at its 93rd Annual NAACP Convention in Houston, held July 6 to 11. While it is required to use the main city-contracted companies for much of its meeting services at the George R. Brown convention center, seven of the eight contracts it controls went to minority-owned subcontractors, including shuttle services, floral and decorating, and music providers, according to Ana Aponte, NAACP's director of events planning.

“I hope other associations are following our lead,” she says. “It's one way we can support the community and leave a little money behind.”

But NAACP isn't alone: For example, the 6th Annual International Multicultural Tourism/Hotel Ownership Summit and Trade Show in Miami Beach, Fla., sought to encourage better business practices between the hospitality industry and minority groups. On the agenda was educating attendees on how to market to minorities, sharing minority travel trends, and looking at diversity issues that affect the industry.

The City Connection

Cities are also jumping on the minority bandwagon. Milwaukee, Wis., which recently landed the NAACP's 96th Annual Convention in 2005, is anticipating gaining more visibility as a multicultural convention destination through the media hoopla that usually is drawn to NAACP events. Bureau officials say they have been pushing to gain more of that market and believe that the NAACP's commitment will bring them further along the diverse-meeting path.

The Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress, a division of the city's CVB, also is pushing to get more of this increasingly lucrative market. Earlier this year it launched a Web site designed specifically to highlight the area's points of interest for black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American visitors, which the city estimates constitutes a $90 billion market in aggregate. Customers also can book multicultural conventions into the region online. The hope is that the site, www.philadelphiamac.org, will play an instrumental role in increasing the number of multicultural conventions coming to the city.

NAACP's Hotel Diversity Report Card

While the lodging industry has made strides in their minority-advancement efforts, it still has a way to go, according to the NAACP Economic Reciprocity Initiative's lodging industry report card released in July. The ERI graded the major chains on their minority-related activity in employment, vendor development and contracting, advertising and marketing, equity investment and ownership, and philanthropy.

Overall, the industry scored a grade of 2.7 (out of 5) for 2001 and 2002, though the report notes that the hospitality industry has made some improvements in board appointments, employment advances, contracting opportunities, and advertising relationships.

Marriott got the highest grade, a B, with a 3.45 score. Cedant, Hilton, Wyndham, and Hyatt also were in the B and B-minus range; Choice, Omni, Radisson, Best Western, Six Continents, and Starwood all proved to be C students this year, according to the NAACP report, with scores from 2.69 for Choice to 2.19 for Starwood.