Travel Unity Founder Roni Weiss on Increasing Diversity in the World of Travel
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I wanna give a shout out to Skylight Frame, the official Skylight frame. They are sponsors of this episode of Faster Than Normal. Let me tell you about Skylight! So I have a daughter, you all know, her name is Jessa, she’s nine. Jessa, like any nine year old, doesn’t really do what I tell her to do until I say it like 4, 5, 6, 18, 54 times. And the problem with that is that when your ADHD, you’re kind of forgetful to begin with. So Jessa sits there and I tell her, Jessa, change Waffles’ pee pads, my dog right? [@petersdogwaffle on INSTA] Changes defense. Okay, Dad. And she goes right back to Roblox. And then two times later, Jessa change Waffle’s pad? Goes, okay, Dad goes right back to robots. And by the fourth time, I’ve forgotten about it. She’s forgotten about it. Waffle doesn’t get his pee pad changed. No one’s happy. And the house smells. So Skylight Frame eliminates that. It is a essentially a calendar. It’s calendar with pictures. It sits on your wall, it connects to wifi, it connects to your Google calendar, and it adds your chores. So I tell Jessa say, Hey, Jessa before you leave for school, before you get in your iPad to play Roblox, before you go to school, are all your chores done? Are they green on the board? She looks. Now I gotta change Waffles pads. Change the pads, comes back. Click. Not you waffle. I, I know you heard your name, but I’m actually not talking about you. I’m doing, doing a podcast. He click, she clicks on the, click it on the, on the chore, it goes away. When all her chores are done, she gets her iPad, everyone wins. It makes life so much easier. It is unbelievable. It’s a 10″ inch touchscreen display. It’s digital, it’s gorgeous. You put all your photos in from your photo album, you can send ’em all there. And when it’s not in calendar mode, you get a beautiful display of all the pictures. Totally worth it. And as always, thank you Skylight for sponsoring this episode as well as many others of the Faster Than Normal Podcast. https://www.skylightframe.com Discount Code: PeterShankman for 10% off, up to $30 off.
Roni Weiss is the Executive Director of Travel Unity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on increasing diversity in the world of travel through individual and community empowerment. Roni was born in Long Island, New York and grew up in Snohomish County, Washington, north of Seattle. At the age of 10, Roni began attending Edmonds Community College (now Edmonds College), receiving his Associate’s of Arts and Science with Honors at the age of 12. He graduated from Lynnwood High School at the age of 15, then attended the University of Washington, receiving double Bachelor’s of Arts degrees in Drama and English at the age of 18. Through years of world travels, Roni visited 70+ countries, including every country in Europe, six of seven continents, and taught English in Italy, France, Taiwan, and Chile, both to youth and professionals. In 2011, Roni founded RW Social, a marketing and consulting company for the travel industry and nonprofits. From 2011 to 2016, Roni worked with Africa Travel Association (now Africa Tourism Association), assisting with and speaking at ATA’s events in NYC, DC, and multiple African countries. In 2013, RW Social launched the New York Travel Festival, an event focused on innovation and sustainability in the world of travel, which served as the genesis for Travel Unity, where he now serves as Executive Director. Roni lives in Westchester County, NY with his partner, Lauren, and their four children. Today we learn how travel is changing for all people including the Neurodiverse, and about some things we can do to help move forward. Enjoy!
00:40 – Thank you so much for listening and for subscribing!
02:40 – “DEI” is a term used often in this interview; it represents: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion
04:36 – So how do you go to college at age 12, and then high school at age 15?!
06:10 – Ref: Saved By the Bell
07:00 – What made you focus on diversity in Travel, specifically? Ref: Monica Drake
09:00 – Talk about diversity & travel. What you think can be changed, what has been changed, what needs to be changed? Ref: Travel Unity
10:45 – “Local and regional travel is as meaningful and you don’t have to pay as much to do it”
10:52 – On tourism management, workforce, visitor-ship, community impact and representation
12:20 – Talk about Neurodiversity and Travel? What are you working on in that venue?
12:50 – Roni on his ADD diagnosis and in what ways it has played a role in his career!
13:01 – On being physically in pain due to boredom
14:00 – About how all people fit multiple ‘things’!
15:00 – On the ‘well, you don’t look sick’ stereotype
15:51 – On the importance of good listening, universal inclusion, empathy, and respect.
17:10 – How do people find out more about you?
18:00 – We are thrilled that you are here and listening! ADHD and all forms of Neurodiversity are gifts, not curses. And by the way, if you haven’t picked up The Boy with the Faster Brain yet, it is on Amazon and it is a number one bestseller in all categories. Click HERE or via https://amzn.to/3FcAKkI My link tree is here if you’re looking for something specific. https://linktr.ee/petershankman
18:19 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits. Guys, as always thanks so much for subscribing! Faster Than Normal is for YOU! We want to know what you’d like to hear! Do you have a cool friend with a great story? We’d love to learn about, and from them. I’m www.petershankman.com and you can reach out anytime via email at [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterNormal on all of the socials. It really helps when you drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse!
TRANSCRIPT via Descript and then corrected.. mostly somewhat:
[00:00:40] Peter: Hey everyone, Peter Shankman. Welcome to Faster Than Normal. Another episode. Thrilled that you’re here. As always, it’s a Monday morning in New York City; recording Day as always for the podcast. What a lovely day outside. I think we’re finally, finally hitting Spring! Of course now that I said that we’ll probably have eight inches of snow by Thursday but it’s still a beautiful blue sky day. I just came in from outside and it’s, it’s nice. It’s a little chilly, but we’re getting there. Guys… we made it through another winter!
I wanna give a shout out to Skylight Frame, the official Skylight frame. They are sponsors of this episode of Faster Than Normal. Let me tell you about Skylight! So I have a daughter, you all know, her name is Jessa, she’s nine. Jessa, like any nine year old, doesn’t really do what I tell her to do until I say it like 4, 5, 6, 18, 54 times. And the problem with that is that when your ADHD, you’re kind of forgetful to begin with. So Jessa sits there and I tell her, Jessa, change Waffles’ pee pads, my dog right? [@petersdogwaffle on INSTA] Changes defense. Okay, Dad. And she goes right back to Roblox. And then two times later, Jessa change Waffle’s pad? Goes, okay, dad goes right back to robots. And by the fourth time, I’ve forgotten about it. She’s forgotten about it. Waffle doesn’t get his pee pad changed. No one’s happy. And the house smells. So Skylight Frame eliminates that. It is a essentially a calendar. It’s calendar with pictures. It sits on your wall, it connects to wifi, it connects to your Google calendar, and it adds your chores. So I tell Jessa say, Hey, Jessa before you leave for school, before you get in your iPad to play Roblox, before you go to school, are all your chores done? Are they green on the board? She looks. Now I gotta change Waffles pads. Change the pads, comes back. Click. Not you waffle. I, I know you heard your name, but I’m actually not talking about you. I’m doing, doing a podcast. He click, she clicks on the, click it on the, on the chore, it goes away. When all her chores are done, she gets her iPad, everyone wins. It makes life so much easier. It is unbelievable. It’s a 10″ inch touchscreen display. It’s digital, it’s gorgeous. You put all your photos in from your photo album, you can send ’em all there. And when it’s not in calendar mode, you get a beautiful display of all the pictures. Totally worth it. 10% off up to 30 bucks off with code: PeterShankman at www.skylightframe.com .And as always, thank you Skylight for sponsoring this episode as well as many others of the Faster Than Normal Podcast .
Alrighty, we have a fun guest today. Roni Weiss is the Executive Director of Travel Unity, a 501c nonprofit focus on increasing diversity in the world of travel through individual and community empowerment. I love that. I love when diversity is increased in any capacity, but travel is something you really don’t think about. And when I booked you, Roni when I, when I got in touch with you and realized, Hey, I should get you on the podcast on my next flight, I looked around. And I was sitting in business class and was pretty much surrounded by white, middle-aged guys like myself. And that was interesting. That was the first time, I’ll admit, that was the first time in my 20 something years of travel I actually looked and noticed. So you’ve, you’ve, if nothing else you opened my mind, at the age of 10, Ronnie began. At the age of 10, mind you; hear me, 10. Roni began attending Edmunds Community College, received Associates of Arts and Science with honors at the age of 12. Then he graduated from Linwood High School, laid a little backwards there at 15, and then went to the University of Washington, receiving a double Bachelor of Arts degree in job in English at the age of 18. So it’s shame that he’s really such a non-starter, really done nothing. He’s, he’s only visited 70 countries, including every country in Europe, six of the seven continents, and he’s taught English in Italy, France, Taiwan, and Chile; both to youth and professionals. In 2011, he found an RW Social and marketing consulting company for the travel industry. From 2011 to 16, he worked with Africa Travel Association, now Africa Tourism Association. I think we have a very, very close mutual friend in that. And then we as in the assists with and speaks at a t a events in New York to see local African countries. In thousand 13, he launched the New York Travel Festival and event Folks in Innovation, sustainability in the world of travel, which served the genesis for travel unity, where he now serves as executive director and he lives in Westchester. He has a wife and four children, so pretty awesome. Roni, welcome.
[00:04:33] Roni: Thank you. Thanks Peter. It’s good to chat with you.
[00:04:35] Peter: So how the hell do you go to college at 12 and then high school at 15, then college get. 15. What the hell, dude?
[00:04:41] Roni: So I was in the challenge program, the, the gifted program in elementary school. So they, they bussed us to another place and it wasn’t clear where I would go to middle school. So we looked into different options. We, we vi my mom and I visited the principal at the local middle school and my mom is immensely obsessed with education. She still is getting master’s degrees and such in her. Now in her 60’s. So when we went there, the principal said that middle school’s about socialization, not education and she didn’t like hearing that. So meanwhile, I was in sixth grade with, with a guy who said he was taking community college classes and I said, You know, I, I, I, I think I’m smarter than him, so why don’t I just do that? So my parents being the sort of pushy Jews that they are went and talked to the the people who were running the community college were like, what would it take to, to get our kid in? And they’re like, well, he needs to prove he can do it. So take this assessment test and I did, and at first I needed to get the approval of every teacher whose class I was in. And yeah, I started the summer after sixth grade. At the age of 10. I got really involved in the electronic music department there and for my mom, her focus was, Hey, move on to to university after this. But meanwhile, I had grown up on Saved by the Bell and everybody said like, you shouldn’t miss high school. It’s the best experience of your life. So I’m like, okay, why don’t I go and do that? So after three years of community college, including getting associates, I went to high school and it wasn’t the best experience in my life, but what it did serve as was kind of a buffer because university was one of, if not the best experience of my life, being there from 15 to 18 was perfect for me. So, you know, people treated me like their younger brother and, you know, I, I got live in the dorms and that was, that was amazing. So had I gone to university starting at 13, I wouldn’t have had that experience that I got to have.
[00:06:45] Peter: That’s very cool. Now tell us about, so diversity came early for you in life, and what made. I mean, you were working in the travel industry already, and so was it just a natural switch to say, There’s no diversity here. I mean, you, so you think travel and you think travel is a worldwide thing, and I don’t think anything constitutes diversity more than like worldwide.
[00:07:08] Roni: Yeah. I, I, the thing was, as you mentioned, I, I started that event New York travel festival and we were already trying to talk about things that I didn’t see being discussed as much except in certain circles. So sustainability, you know, in theory is something everybody should care about, especially if you look at it at, its kind of root of what does it mean to sustain something. It means to keep it, every business should wanna keep itself going. So sustainability and storytelling and innovative ideas in tech, I wasn’t seeing it necessarily as, as mainstream. So in 2015 we had a session at the festival called Traveling While Black, and it was all black women and it was at the New York Times building and moderated by Monica Drake, who’s a black woman editor at the Times. And it was clear that this wasn’t being discussed. And like you, when you mentioned the business class thing, I started being aware.. And it’s interesting cause people like; how has this changed in recent years? And I think representation, not necessarily in the traveling public, but marketing has changed and that’s kind of a problem. But years ago I would see a financial services ad, and it would be a mixed race couple with a, a banker in a wheelchair, and then the next Ad you’d see would be a destination or a property or whatever, where everybody who was traveling was white and everybody who was serving them was a person of color. And I, I, on that side I just became aware and from the work with Africa Travel Association, from talking to black colleagues who were who felt marginalized in the industry and in their own travels. And then on the other side, I’d been working with young people for many years. So the idea that I had been around all these folks through the event I was running through doing content creation, et cetera, that people get all this value for tra from travel and as we’ve already noted, not everybody has those opportunities. Right.
[00:09:02] Peter: That’s very true. And so tell, talk about, you know, not to dive right in, but talk about diversity and travel. Talk about what you think can be changed, what has been changed, what needs to be changed, so,
[00:09:14] Roni: When it comes to the work we do, we we’re doing two things in Travel Unity. One is getting individuals, especially young people, to see travel is something they can do no matter who they are in a career path. Because I, no offense to you or anybody who else who takes business class, but a lot of folks aren’t gonna be able to afford that.
[00:09:32] Peter: Oh, I can’t afford ’em, my clients afford it. I can’t afford it to save my life, let’s not.. Let’s be honest.
[00:09:36] Roni: So, so, but, but my, my point there is that, that that’s the vision a lot of people have of what travel is; of like, oh, I have to spend, you know, all this money and spend, go to this fancy hotel and, you know, all of that. Or that they have to get a job where They’re a consultant and somebody else is paying for it. Right. However it is, there’s this perception, but the reality is, you know, you, you and I both live in New York state and when I went up to Watkins Glen State falls a few hours upstate, I was personally offended. Cause like I’m like, this is an amazing spot that people would be Instagramming the hell out of it if they were overseas and they’d go out of their way and they’d be on the plane and they’d take their selfies on it, and then they’d go to that one thing and that would be the thing. But because it’s in New York state, people don’t necessarily seek it out as much, and that’s part of the problem. And in the city, obviously in New York City, there’s so much cultural experiences that you can have.
When I was in Flushing Chinatown, after I had visited China, I’m like, I feel like I’m in China again. Yeah, so to be able to have these experiences of culture, nature, et cetera, you can do it without even taking a plane. And that’s one of our big focuses that local and regional travel is as meaningful and you don’t have to pay as much to do it. So that’s on one side. On the other side we have our d e I standards for travel and tourism, which we developed with a lot of people back in 2020. And those are focused on the three different ways that a visitor facing organization. So any company, museum, destination, whatever it is that’s trying to bring visitors in. What are the three different ways they deal with people? So management and workforce, the people who work there visitorship, the visitors, and then community impact. So what we’re trying to do is make sure that voices are being heard, that things are being processed, and that’s one of the biggest.
Things that I’ve discovered over the past few years is that we have, you know, the culture wars and all these discussions around things, but a lot of this real core diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Yes, the identities and the communities are important for a variety of reasons, historical and present. But some of it is literally just if a visitor fills out. A complaint form or a, you know, a, a wonderful compliment. Are you doing anything with it? Right? Are you doing with a, doing anything with the information you’re getting? And are you listening to all the different kinds of people who are giving you feedback and information? Because a lot of time that just gets lost in the mix, and then people don’t feel like they’re being heard. They don’t feel like they belonged. And at the very least, it’s neutral, if not negative. Whereas if you actually had processes in place, it could be positive.
[00:12:14] Peter: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. I gotta ask the question based on this podcast, which it is, talk about neurodiversity. Are you, are you approaching that at all?
[00:12:22] Roni: So I, for you already mentioned the, the ADD stuff. It’s where, one of the things that I usually mention at the the top of this, because the things about identities is they’re not monoliths. Right? Exactly. Exactly. Having ADD, OR ADHD,, you might be able to draw broad strokes about the things that you always talk about, about the chemical side of things, and I’ll tell you in terms of my own sort of trajectory, first. You know, I was diagnosed and I think based off of the education path, anybody who themselves is ADD, ADHD or knows people; could see how, huh, yeah, that probably sounds like who Roni is. At a certain point I felt like I had outgrown it, and what I realized was it was kind of the opposite. I had completely structured my whole life around never being bored, right? That I was always going somewhere new. I was always having constant stimulation. And now that I’m more settled than having, you know, more of a, a regularish kinda role, I’m more aware of how different I am than neurotypical people. And how I just, I literally cannot stand being bored. It physically pains me. And you know, I will be sitting there and there will be a session of some kind, a speaker, and if I can’t take it, I’m gonna go nuts. Whereas other people, they can manage to get their way through. So the idea in and of itself that neurodiversity is a part of of this is when we’re talking about diversity, we’re talking about all the different aspects of identity community that makes some of these concerns, needs, et cetera, different. I think one of the unfortunate things sometimes, and I understand why it’s the case, but is, is that there ends up being a fixation on, on race and ethnicity in this work. And the thing about that is it, it, it loses sight of things. If you were focused on getting more black or Hispanic or Asian or whatever it is, people into space, that’s fine if that’s your focus. But don’t say you’re doing diversity, equity, and inclusion broadly if you’re not looking at the identities broadly because there are disabled black people , there are gay, bisexual, Hispanic people, et cetera. And I think that’s one of the things that ends up being, being lost in all this, is that idea of intersecting identities. That if you’re saying that somebody is just one thing, there are two problems with that. One is they’re not, they’re multiple things. And also it suggests that everybody’s experiences within that identity are all the same. And that’s not true either.
[00:14:50] Peter: Think one of the interesting things also is the fact that that which is not visible is often not talked about. Right. And, and you know, you hear this from people who have diseases that, that start off with a conversation of, well, you don’t look sick. You know, and you have sort of the same thing in d e i in the respect that, you know, I, other than the fact that I probably need to lose 20 pounds, I look like a perfectly normal 50 year old. Right. I, I actually guess the fact that I need to lose 50 pounds makes me even more of a nor perfectly normal 50 year old. But, but you know, the, the fact that my, what you don’t see is that my brain is racing a million miles an hour, and I’ve had to do 15 things this morning to keep it in check, right? And, and that, and because it’s not visible, it’s easy to overlook and it’s easy to ignore. And I think that d e I needs to be, you know, needs to focus on.
[00:15:34] Roni: I think that, you know, this comes down to, to the empathy and the awareness thing. I, I’m a big fan of the concept of neutral ignorance. That there are just things you don’t know because you haven’t experienced them. And as you said, if you’re not seeing them at all, then how are you going to, to be aware of them? Which is why it’s so important for people to be listening to other people’s stories and to, it’s one of the first things that we have in our individual pledge, which is just the recognition that different people have different lives and have different experiences, and that’s one of the biggest problems that I see overall, you know, if I, if I make this a little more political, is that on, on the sort of stereotypical left wing side, you have people who, who get kind of absorbed in their feelings of guilt, which makes it about them. If you go to the kind of stereotypical right wing side, it’s like, well, I, you know, didn’t grow up with money and whatever; it’s like yeah, nobody’s saying you didn’t have problems growing up. The point is that different people have different things and you need to be aware of that, and it needs to come from empathy. It needs to be you seeing what it’s like in other people’s shoes and trying to make the results, the outcomes better for everybody as much as possible. And if you’re fixating on yourself and your own experiences in any way, that’s not about other people, and that’s not what this work is either.
[00:16:52] Peter: Hundred percent. Hundred percent. Tell me how people can find you, because I think that this is,.. First of all, we’re out of time, so I wanna have you back. That goes without saying. But tell me how people can find you. I mean, the, the, the premise of travel unity is something that’s only gonna obviously grow. Right, and I’m, I’d be curious if we talk again or we will talk again to learn how it’s being embraced by the travel world as a whole. But how can be able to find you for now?
[00:17:15] Roni: So, Travel Unity is at www.TravelUnity.org. You can email me, Roni at travel unity.org. You could find me on LinkedIn in, various places, but yeah, always happy to talk to folks. You know, it’s an interesting sort of world that, that we’re in with Travel Unity. As you said, it’s already sort of growing, so the more folks we have who are interested in what we’re doing, always happy to talk to them.
[00:17:37] Peter: I love seeing d e i being included in all different categories. I think it’s wonderful. Roni, thank you so much for taking the time. Really appreciate it. Guys, check out what Roni Weiss is doing at Travel. Unity. I think you really like it. Thank you for listening as always. The new book, The Boy with the Faster Brain, is selling like hotcakes on Amazon. Still it hit number one in this category. It’s still there, I think. I am speaking at schools, I’m speaking at colleges, I’m speaking at businesses. As always, if any of you would like to have me there, I will do it for books! So buy books, get me to speak. That works for college and for universities and schools. That doesn’t necessarily work for businesses but we’ll figure something out. Shoot me an email, peter @shankman.com. Either way thrilled that you guys are listening. Thank you so much for taking the time. We will see you next week. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Bye-bye.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at shankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week!