Charleston, SC has the distinction of being known as one of the friendliest cities in the world, known for its world class hospitality. The destination organization Explore Charleston aims to create a sense of community with its authentic storytelling of its raw history and goal to grow its hospitality workforce. In working to close the labor gap that exists in the hospitality industry, the organization has partnered with local academia to develop the leaders of tomorrow through its Intern Cultural Enrichment Program primarily focused on minority students from Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) across the United States. In this program, students develop leadership skills that prepare them for a thriving career in the industry while fostering a community of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Moreover, equity, diversity, and inclusion are woven into the conversation as Charleston remains true to itself, not shying away from the past and looking towards a future of hope and prosperity for residents, visitors, and community stakeholders. By highlighting the people, artwork, and architecture of Charleston, the organization tells the story in an authentic way, while remaining true to the past. With diverse perspectives, the organization can create a new strategy that evaluates current challenges, anticipates future needs, and expands on the goal of being welcoming to all travelers.
Charleston Workforce Development
Charleston tourism leaders are looking to develop the hospitality workforce of tomorrow through several initiatives aimed at increasing retention within the industry. As the industry recovers from the pandemic, at the forefront is the concept of inclusivity and having a workforce that reflects those in the community. To attract and retain talent, Explore Charleston has begun collaboration with local colleges and universities on a robust recruitment strategy aimed at promoting Charleston as a launch place for a hospitality career once students graduate. In collaboration with the colleges, the organization hosts market events aimed at recruitment for local placement within the hospitality field. Throughout this process, Charleston can match students from different colleges in the region with their intended career interests and matching needs where they exist in the field developing new ways for students to engage with the community. Students have an existing lineup of employers to network with including The Charleston Place, Charleston County Aviation Authority, Charlestowne Hotels, Hotel Bennett, and Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
In collaboration with HBCUs, Explore Charleston has worked on a long-term strategy to diversify their workforce through an internship program preparing students from diverse backgrounds for careers in hospitality and tourism. The inaugural class of the Intern Cultural Enrichment Program is a new initiative with the goal of connecting students from underrepresented minority groups with career opportunities in the hospitality and tourism industry. During the ten-week development program, students follow a weekly curriculum that teaches them about the local culture, introduces them to networking opportunities, collaborates with local businesses, and fosters peer relationships, which strengthen the career pathways available in the industry. Approximately fifteen students were chosen for the second year from participating universities such as the Benedict College, Virginia State University, and Atlanta Technical College to come in for a paid internship and learn leadership skills at local hotels and restaurants. There is no cost to the students for participation in the program and Explore Charleston covers housing costs. The full list of participants in the program for the second year can be found here.
As the students prepare to start the program, the organization assists in providing adequate housing needs over the summer. During the ten-week internship, students learn valuable skill sets such as personal finance, resume building, business etiquette, starting a business and networking in the industry. As part of the cultural enrichment program, students are matched with employers of local hotels and restaurants. During the ten-week course employers take students across every layer of the business from front of the house operations to revenue analysis, management duties, and leadership training. Further, students experience management, participating in executive led meetings, and understanding the decision-making process, which strengthens their problem-solving skills. At the conclusion of the internship, students are equipped with new skills that prepare them for a long-term hospitality career in Charleston.
“The way we compete with other markets in the United States is through our greatest asset: the warm hospitality offered by our people." (Laurie Smith, Explore Charleston)
In their efforts to foster equity, diversity, and inclusion Explore Charleston has amplified their messaging on belonging and acceptance. A few years back, Charleston began training hospitality staff in the community from the front desk, housekeeping, concierge, and parking attendants to become the best versions of themselves embodying the concept of destination ambassadors. Leadership in hospitality began educating staff about the term unconscious bias helping to foster a more welcoming community to travelers. Their team began training the area’s hospitality industry about the concept of unconscious bias in 2018 with the implementation of new educational opportunities, meaningful community engagement, and fostering a culture of inclusion and acceptance. Diverse perspectives allow for a more robust conversation allowing visitors to see outside their own experience. Charleston is in the preliminary stages of exploring neurodiversity, the idea that people experience the world differently, and that learning, thinking, and behavior differences are assets. Further, different viewpoints ensure a strategy that is more thoughtful, intentional, and inclusive.
In providing a meaningful experience for visitors, the organization has teamed up with Gullah Tours to share historic sites for visitors to explore in celebration of the destination's rich history and culture. Sites including the McLeod Plantation Historic Site, Mother Emanuel AME Church, and the Aiken-Rhett House tell a compelling tale of triumph in the antebellum south. These authentic experiences allow for greater respect and understanding, creating a sense of place for the visitor. As part of transformational storytelling, the International African American Museum opens June 27 of this year, at the site where enslavement began at the port of Charleston. Visitors to the museum can explore the wide-ranging exhibition that tells the story of how African Americans through their labor, resistance, and ingenuity have shaped every aspect of modern society. Memorial gardens and the deliberate, definitive design of the building help tell the authentic story of trauma and triumph with the goal of revitalizing the future.
In summary, workforce development remains a priority for our industry to revitalize itself into the future. Community engagement through authentic storytelling and leadership programs prepare the students of tomorrow for a thriving career in hospitality. Equity, diversity, and inclusion is woven into the fabric of destination development and collaboration with local businesses ensuring a vibrant and thriving hospitality community in Charleston.