Sunday,  July 25, 2021  2:35 am

Let's get uncomfortable: Feb. 23 panel confronts racism in Ontario tourism

  • Buzz
  •   02-17-2021  8:20 am
  •   Pax Global Media

Let's get uncomfortable: Feb. 23 panel confronts racism in Ontario tourism
From left: Shalene Dudley, Co-Founder of UNPACK, Founder of Latitude Concierge Travels; Saiqa Sheikh, Co-Owner of JERKebago, Founder of Diverse Roots Rural Ontario. (Supplied)
Pax Global Media

Let’s Get Uncomfortable (LGU), a grassroots tourism group dedicated to providing safe spaces for travel professionals to have difficult conversations about race, is back with another virtual event that explores anti-racism in destinations across South Eastern Ontario. 

The informative series returns in preparation for the upcoming tourism season, which the Ontario Government has dubbed “The Year of the Ontario Staycation" in light of pandemic-related travel restrictions. 

LGU's next event is scheduled to take place Feb. 23, 2021 from 11:00 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET. (Click here to register).

Meet the panel 

The hour-long event will be hosted by Let’s Get Uncomfortable (LGU) and RTO 9, a regional tourism organization funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport representing businesses in Prince Edward County, Kingston, the Bay of Quinte, Lennox & Addington and Frontenac County, Rideau Canal, 1000 Islands Gananoque, Brockville, and Cornwall & SDG Counties.

LGU's next event is scheduled to take place Feb. 23, 2021 from 11:00 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET.

Featuring a frank conversation between LGU’s Shalene Dudley, co-founder of anti-racism travel consultancy UNPACK and founder of Latitude Concierge Travels, and Saiqa Sheikh, co-owner of JERKebago and founder of Diverse Roots Rural Ontario, an anti-racism consultancy for rural spaces in Ontario, the exchange will challenge participants to think critically about their role in building an equitable hospitality and tourism sector. 

Topics of discussion will include:

  • the realities of racism BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) hospitality & tourism business owners face in South Eastern Ontario;
  • structural shortcomings that prevent the advancement of BIPOC-owned businesses;
  • steps non-BIPOC business owners and organizations can take to be anti-racist in practice, as employers, colleagues, and service providers in their region. 

“The tourism and hospitality sectors of South Eastern Ontario, by nature, represent the identity, the challenges—and most importantly, the heart—of their communities,” Dudley said. “With that in mind, these industries must also play a leadership role when it comes to helping those communities evolve into stronger, safer and healthier places for people to live, work and visit."

READ MORE“Really? Black lives matter to you?” Black travel pros call for accountability in travel industry

This anti-racism event will shed light on the systemic challenges being faced by Black, Indigenous, People of Colour in tourism and hospitality, and explore what can be done to enact lasting, crucial change in the industry, Dudley added. 

"...because when a destination is made up of communities who work alongside each other, and support each other, it also becomes a place that people want to experience for themselves."

Promoting culture & diversity

“More and more folx are looking for a change of pace outside of city centres—especially after the 2020 pandemic,” said Sheikh, whose family moved to Prince Edward County from Toronto five years ago. 

Feeling nostalgic for familiar sights, sounds and scents, they created JERKebago to "promote culture, diversity and a spice of life in the Bay of Quinte region."

“One of the greatest deterrents for us as a BIPOC family considering a move out here was working through and understanding that rural spaces of Ontario are white-dominated, and these spaces are unfamiliar with and are not designed with BIPOC in mind," said Sheikh. "This begged the question, why not? I wanted to shift that narrative for myself, my family and for the greater BIPOC community." 

"We wanted to be the representation we did not see and make rural Ontario feel inclusive and accessible for BIPOC visitors and for those contemplating a city-to-country transition." 

Being one of the first BIPOC to set up a business in the region, Sheikh admitted the experience hasn't been seamless. 

"We have faced a lot of scrutiny," Sheikh said. "It’s crucial for community leaders to acknowledge that the idyllic small towns and cottage country getaways they’re promoting are not always safe or welcoming spaces for their own residents, let alone visitors.” 

Sheikh said her lived experience is what led to the inception of DRRO—Diverse Roots Rural Ontario—a consultancy founded to challenge, reimagine, and redesign mindsets and systems in Rural Ontario.

“We all stand to benefit from the progress that comes from greater Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Access (ID&EA) in rural Ontario, but in order to realize that potential, we have to address the existing barriers that make it difficult for BIPOC residents and BIPOC-owned businesses to succeed in majority-white spaces, and work to remove them together.” 

Register for LGU's next event on Feb. 23, 2021 from 11:00 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET. by clicking here. 


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