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How Can We Improve Diversity in Luxury Travel? Start Young.

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Erina Pindar, managing director of SmartFlyer, on safari in Kenya

Photo by Leila Brewster Photography

Erina Pindar, managing director of SmartFlyer, on safari in Kenya

A nonprofit mentorship program launches today to help young BIPOC people work in the luxury travel industry.

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Erina Pindar, managing director of SmartFlyer, has been a force in establishing SmartFlyer as one of the most respected, full-service travel agencies. It is headquartered in New York City, with offices and agents throughout the United States and outposts in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

Today, Pindar will help launch EQTR, Equity in Travel, a nonprofit mentorship program to help develop future BIPOC luxury travel leaders and entrepreneurs. College-age students will be paired with a mentor for the year-long program and meet on a monthly basis to explore career opportunities and ideas, have access to panels and speakers, and work on a project to present at the end-of-year Innovation Summit, currently scheduled to take place in May 2022. Mentors are joining from different sectors of luxury travel—so far, from travel agencies, public relations firms, hotels, and media. 

I talked to Pindar about the launch and her goals for changing the luxury travel industry, starting with college-age talent.  

Watch the video, or read an edited version of our conversation below.

Did the launch of EQTR stem from the recent social justice movement, and feeling like you really needed to do something to help change the (very white) landscape of luxury travel? Or has it always been in the back of your mind? 

Let me take it a step back. As a company, mentorship and bringing new talent into the industry is part of our DNA at SmartFlyer, and working with young people forces you to evolve and do better, always. You mention the social justice movements and over the summer last year, we had a lot of conversations internally. Last year was supposed to be our 30th anniversary [celebration] and we were either going to start a foundation or build a scholarship.

It was always in the plan, but when George Floyd passed away, it served as a watershed moment for a lot of companies. We always thought we were diverse, but then upon further inspection we realized that we could do better. We decided to combine what we’ve always done—bringing new talent into the space—and what we felt was lacking, more BIPOC people in luxury travel. We came up with EQTR [which stands for Equity in Travel]. It will help create pathways for young BIPOC kids to be in the industry and, eventually, hopefully, future leaders. 

What has the response been from the industry as you’ve put it together?

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It’s been overwhelmingly positive, but it’s not just from the industry. This initiative is a true crossover between education and career development and, of course, the travel industry. I’ve had to step outside of my travel box and go into other spaces that I wasn’t comfortable in before [like education]. I’ve gotten to meet amazing people in these spaces and it’s been incredible to see how excited everyone has been, especially on [promoting] travel as a viable career path. 

What are some lesser-known areas of the travel industry that young, college-age people can get into?

Most hospitality schools focus on hotel management, which is great and has its space, of course. But a lot of people that I know come into this industry by accident, which is how I did it. I didn’t plan to work in travel. [Pindar started as an intern at Hawkins International, a public relations firm.] I’ve met lawyers and people who work in PR and sales.

It’s not the kind of industry where you necessarily have to study one particular thing. You can probably take any career path and put it into the travel space. Even the travel agency space, which I’m so familiar with, has evolved so much in the past decade. I always laugh when I see on Instagram something that says, “Get paid to travel.” But there is some truth to it. 

As part of your official launch, you’ll be doing a master class. What will you be covering?

We are working with a diversity and inclusion expert named Dr. Derrick Gay. He’s worked for Tom Ford and Sesame Street, so a wide range of clients. I’m going to do a little introduction on EQTR and he will talk about how to bring diversity and inclusion—create a sense of belonging—in the travel space. There’s a serious business case for that, not just the social aspect of it. We feel at SmartFlyer that if we’re going to be in the space, we need to do the work.

Correction from video: the master class will not be available on EQTR.org, but you can watch Dr. Derrick Gay's TEDx talk exploring the challenges of the word "diversity".

You mentioned the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Not all travelers look the same, and to see themselves reflected in the people who work in the business is so important. There is a big business case in investing in the future. 

Yes, that’s representation and a big point of EQTR. If you can see it, you can create a path towards it. It’s so important that young people who might not be thinking of travel as a career path can see that it’s a vibrant industry that’s very much alive and exciting. 

How have mentors helped you as you’ve grown your career? 

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I’m incredibly fortunate to have a mentor who I feel everyone would love to have as a mentor: Michael Holtz, the owner and founder of SmartFlyer. He’s been doing this since his twenties and we’ve spent a lot of time building this company together in the past 11 years. He’s taught me so much along the way and he’s created space for me. He’s given me autonomy, which I try to give to my team, who are young. I think it’s important to create space for young people and let them bring something to the table. That’s what he did so well and I’m grateful for it. I know a lot of our agents look up to him as well—it’s not just me that he supports. 

In your opinion, who else is leading the way to improve and make the travel industry better?

Our marketing manager, Kayla Douglas, has run the Serengeti Girl’s Run in Tanzania twice. It’s a collaboration between the family-run lodge company, Singita, and the Grumeti Fund, a nonprofit organization which focuses on wildlife conservation and community development work. It’s a three-day run across the Serengeti to raise funds to help girls in the local community become leaders. We were introduced to the program by Singita and in terms of conservation, community support, and building leaders—which I feel strongly about—I think it’s amazing. 

On a different note, what are the biggest challenges you’re grappling with right now and what would help? 

I think the biggest challenge is connecting with schools. It’s not a field that we’re familiar with. When you’re working with young people, you of course have to convince the parents, too, that travel is a viable industry and showcasing the depth and breadth of the industry. We’re looking for school connections and we’re trying to get the word out, so if you know students or you are one yourself, please let them know about this.

What can anyone who works in travel do to make the world a better place?

I think it’s back to basics—be open-minded, kind, and have lots of empathy, especially these days. Everyone has a story, and it’s [about] finding that story. 

Why do you love this industry so much—something to pass along to people who might be interested? 

Travel inherently values differences, fosters inclusion, and it’s an industry that builds a global community of like-minded individuals. It’s not often that you can go anywhere in the world and meet a friend. The travel industry encourages the entrepreneurial spirit, which I love. If you can dream it, you can build it within it. 

Follow Erina Pindar on Instagram: @erinapindar 

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