Let’s Get Uncomfortable Ontario

In preparation for a tourism season that the Ontario Government has dubbed “the Year of the Ontario Staycation,” tourism & hospitality professionals hailing from across South Eastern Ontario are coming together for a virtual event exploring Anti-Racism in their destinations, scheduled to take place Feb. 23, 2021 from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET.

The hour-long event will be hosted by grassroots tourism group 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.

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 & 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,” says Dudley. “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.”

Sheikh explains that: “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—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.”

“More and more folks are looking for a change of pace outside of city centres—especially after the 2020 pandemic,” says 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. 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.

“It hasn’t been seamless, being one of the first BIPOC to set up a business out here—we have faced a lot of scrutiny. 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 says 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.”

“Anti-Racism: Let’s Get Uncomfortable” is free to attend and open to all travel professionals. Register here for access. A 15-minute Q&A session at the end of the event will invite further dialogue from participants.

Those interested in submitting questions in advance can send them to: [email protected], or via an anonymous form at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeEM1nIfBlgMj6l3FpnVLRxGRyvTPRZcwXJkib6w_j3gDo87Q/viewform

Tourism and hospitality professionals who wish to contribute to the event’s conversation can do so by sharing their own experiences with racism in rural Ontario at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeEM1nIfBlgMj6l3FpnVLRxGRyvTPRZcwXJkib6w_j3gDo87Q/viewform

Submissions will be shared during the discussion, and are completely anonymous

To register for the event, click here .

Photo Caption

From left: 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.