The numbers don’t lie.  The changing demographics of the United States and the world are creating new markets for us to understand.  According to some, the middle class of India is larger than the entire US population.  What does that mean?  Businesses have a unique opportunity through cultural competence to learn how to interact, do business and delight their customers.

Why should we spend the time to understand this?

Well, inclusion is always the right thing to do, and there are also significant business benefits.  For example, travel spend from Latinos in the US is about $70 billion a year according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.  The LGBT travel spend is $63 billion a year.  That’s billion with a capital B!  Those are numbers that cannot be ignored.

Cultural competence isn’t political correctness… it’s a business imperative to understand a changing marketplace The idea of cultural competence isn’t political correctness… it’s a business imperative to understand a changing marketplace.  New customers have different needs and requirements to earn their business.  By understanding the ‘differences that make a difference,’ you can open up new revenue streams and earning channels.  But this requires some effort and time.  You can’t just show up and say, ‘hey we have discovered you, come spend your money with us!’

Take time to do the research, understand the cultural norms, and solicit feedback from your employees of that culture (who are critical and valuable), to get the ROI that you want.

Cultural competence also reduces risk.  Words matter.  Imagery matters.  History matters. The wrong word choice or image can hurt sentiment, revenue, and your corporate reputation.  How many times have you seen a snafu where you say “if they had just talked to the right individuals this could have been avoided.”  In today’s zero attention span world, a PR crisis can soak up valuable media attention and leave you to defend your company instead of promoting your campaign.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In my business, hospitality is all about welcoming everyone.

It’s about understanding the steps of an Indian Wedding, what a Quinceañera is or what Kosher means.  By taking the time to understand a culture, its background, social and business norms, and holidays, you can leapfrog your competition.  It’s a compliment to us when we hear, “Wow you know more about our celebration than we do!”

Why?  Our hotels understand that welcoming different cultures and ethnic celebrations is the right thing to do, and makes good for business.  In recent years, ethnic celebrations have generated many millions of dollars for the company – and even more in word-of-mouth business.

Two years ago, we created a Culture Days program to build cultural competence and confidence with the growing number of multicultural travelers and their spending power.  We demonstrate the basics of many cultures, including social norms and business etiquette, and we trade best practices between our hotels.

Through education and awareness, individuals feel comfortable planning a Quinceañera, an Indian wedding or Bar Mitzvah.  We want our staff to know how to present a business card to a Chinese guest (with both hands and a bowed head), and we want individuals to understand the importance and expectations of various cultures.  We find that being culturally competent fits perfectly in our business as we welcome guests from all over the world.