SITE’s Global Conference is a gathering for travel and hospitality professionals, so it was a given that getting out of the hotel and experiencing Vancouver would be part of the 2020 event that took place in January. The aim was to showcase the city in new and different ways, by way of a series of “deepdive immersions,” said Tahira Endean, CMP, DES, CED, and head of events at SITE.
One destination, for example, was the Skwachàys Lodge, a hotel that is run as part of British Columbia’s First Nations housing society, and includes a gallery, artists’ studios, a sweat lodge honoring the tradition of using heated rocks to cleanse the soul, and a smudge room, where sacred plants are burned for spiritual purposes. First Nations artists can apply to live in the building for up to two years, and profits from the hotel go to support people in the community, Endean said. “It’s a hospitality story, but it’s also, again, a really human story.”
Another workshop took place in the Blanche MacDonald Beauty School, a hairstyling, aesthetics, and fashion design institute managed by a transgendered woman. It was a session that was particularly meaningful to Endean, whose first career was as a hairstylist, she said.
The beauty school has a diverse, international enrollment of students, all of whom are being “sent out into the world to help people,” Endean said. As stylists, “your primary job is to make people feel good when they leave you. And you have to feel good about yourself to do that — and that’s what they teach these students.”
For the workshop, Endean sent four people who were attending the conference to the beauty school in advance: a man from Ireland, a Greek man who works in Thailand, a Spanish woman who works in the United States, and a Canadian woman. The participants went over early for a skincare and makeup session, but they spent an hour talking about identity — “How they identify with themselves, how they identify with the world, and how their energy impacts the people around them when they go out into the world,” Endean said. “We always talk about diversity and inclusion, and we talk about it in a very sanitized way most of the time, and from our North American perspective, typically.”
This was different. The four participants became part of a larger panel, “but I’m going to use the word ‘panel’ in the loosest way,” Endean said. “This became very much an interactive discussion, with everybody in the room talking about the experiences that they had in their own cultures, fitting in in their own cultures, and fitting in when they moved from their own culture to a different culture.”
And the first person that came back from that session, the participant from Ireland, Endean said, “made a beeline for me, and just gave me the biggest hug, saying, ‘That was the best thing I’ve ever done.’” Another participant, who traveled to Vancouver from Thailand, told Endean, “If that was the only thing that I had done [at the conference], it would have been worth every penny.”
“Those moments, when we can create something that is so special for people, that you can’t replicate in a virtual environment or watch online,” Endean said. “That’s why we do these things.”
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.