Empowering Diversity: Insights from WhiteWater’s IDEA Scholarship Recipient

According to Harvard University, a notable imbalance exists in the representation of women, Black, and Hispanic/Latino executives across various C-suite positions due to a deficiency in equitable talent development and promotion. In response to this, WhiteWater took proactive measures in 2020 by establishing the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team (DE&I Team) to heighten awareness and implement initiatives aimed at fostering increased diversity and inclusivity.

From the efforts of this team emerged the IDEA (Inclusivity Diversity Equity Accessibility) Scholarship in November 2023, aimed to lift professionals from underrecognized groups on their leadership journey. In this initiative, WhiteWater provided a stipend for an up and coming member of the entertainment industry to attend the IAAPA Institute for Attractions Executives in Orlando, FL, USA. Facilitated by professors in hospitality and tourism management from San Diego State University, the program offers an immersive exploration of how to enhance strategic leadership skills, implementing organizational change, and delving into leadership best practices within the experience economy.

Una de Boer, Chief Marketing Officer, emphasized, “At WhiteWater, we actively advocate for diversity and inclusion, striving to eliminate biases that may hinder opportunities. We believe in investing in the future of the attractions industry and hope this scholarship will serve as a proactive step, offering access to individuals from underrepresented groups, ensuring they receive the training and opportunities they deserve to thrive in leadership roles.”

Supporting Diversity in the Attractions Industry

The selection process for the scholarship involved collaboration between executive members of WhiteWater, IAAPA, and the IAAPA Foundation. Together, they assessed candidates based on their potential to drive organizational change and their passion for the attractions industry. Although the scholarship isn’t yet well known, the team was fortunate to have several great candidates apply, making it a difficult decision.

In the end, the group selected Nompumelelo (Mpume) Mabuza as the recipient of WhiteWater’s first IDEA Scholarship. Her commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion within the attractions sector demonstrated in her role as CEO of Downtown Music Hub, set her apart. Also serving as the President of the African Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions (AAVEA), Mpume’s focus on inclusive growth, diverse narratives, and dedication to Africa’s attractions industry aligned perfectly with the values of the IDEA Scholarship.

Enthusiastically embracing the scholarship, Mpume remarked, “I consistently view challenges as opportunities for meaningful change and innovation. This scholarship has provided invaluable support, allowing me to gain new insights and expand my understanding of cultural diversity through attending the IAAPA Institute. It has empowered me to identify ways to boost the competitiveness of African attractions in the global tourist market, and I am eager to dive into the work of showcasing the incredible stories of our entertainment offerings to further enhance them.”

Key Takeaways from the IAAPA Institute for Attractions Executives

Although the Institute necessitated Mpume to embark on a nearly 20-hour journey from South Africa to Orlando, the valuable learnings justified the distance. The course seamlessly blended classroom education with hands-on experiences, incorporating visits to prominent attractions such as Universal Orlando, LEGOLAND® Florida, and Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. This immersive approach allowed Mpume to glean insights from leaders spanning different sectors of the industry, observing operations in action. Recounting her experience, Mpume emphasized her three most notable takeaways:

1. How to conduct a culture audit within an attraction

Early in the week, our educational focus centered on recognizing emotional value. The IAAPA team took us to Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, where our class engaged in hands-on learning by identifying the emotions of visitors. Given that attractions aim to evoke specific emotions to drive business, we observed how visitors interacted with the zoo’s annual lantern festival. It was enlightening to witness the diverse emotional responses—from joy and love to various interactions among families of different generations. The family experience provided valuable insights into how different demographics engaged with each other, responding to what they saw and capturing moments through photos.

2. The importance of having a culture strategy in place as an attraction

Another noteworthy aspect of the program was understanding how culture contributes to emotional value. The program introduced us to a methodology known as the 7 levels of change, involving a series of questions posed to the team regarding how they envision elevating the experience or business. This approach takes input from the entire team, ensuring that by the final level, a unique and unprecedented list of actionable items is generated. Implementing something that is considered nearly impossible or has never been done before becomes a reality through the development of an interactive and collaborative team culture within your attraction.

3. Everyone in the organization must be held accountable for emotional value as part of their key performance areas

The final standout lesson from the program revolved around the organization’s value proposition, emphasizing the crucial role of internal culture in shaping the guest experience. In our industry, it is essential for companies to establish guidelines for assessing how employees influence the guest experience and conduct audits accordingly. Accountability on this can make the difference between an okay and an exceptional property. Including this aspect in key performance areas and overall organizational values is important to try and drive this buy-in. It is imperative to have a means of measuring everyone’s performance regarding the creation of emotional value, as employees directly impact the guest experience. Recognizing and incentivizing performance in this aspect through rewards and potential promotions becomes crucial.

Putting the learnings into action already, Mpume shared her learnings with the AAVEA executive board upon her return to South Africa. She told the WhiteWater team, “It is my intention to explore how to leverage these best practices to support our industry. As an entrepreneur, I am also identifying opportunities to partner with like-minded people to amplify diverse voices and capture the amazing African stories to help enhance the competitiveness of the continent. We are going to be working with our team to identify benchmarks and provide insights for the African market to be able to increase offerings and improve guest experience.”

Future Opportunities & Resources

The industry remains actively engaged in improving diversity and inclusion, with an increasing array of resources and opportunities. IAAPA, for instance, recently conducted a webinar addressing the significance of pronouns to the LGBTQIA+ community and consistently extends scholarships through the IAAPA Foundation.

WhiteWater recognizes the significance of identifying and breaking down barriers that may hinder access to opportunities. Our ongoing endeavors align with the industry’s broader commitment to fostering an inclusive environment, providing individuals from all backgrounds the chance to thrive and make meaningful contributions. The team looks forward to hosting the IDEA scholarship again next year; you’ll find updates at: www.whitewaterwest.com/en/whitewater-scholarship/. Additionally, the team will stay engaged with Mpume’s journey throughout the year as she transforms her learnings from the Institute into actions, continuing to make a positive impact on the growing African attractions industry. Stay tuned as we continue to showcase her experiences!

Cassidy Newman