I was fortunate that my parents raised all six of my brothers and sisters to get an education and find a career that suited our interests. I started my professional career in the international development industry after being inspired by my Dad’s work in the field and living in Sri Lanka when I was 10 years old. I traveled the globe for business and bleisure travel on less than a weeks’ notice without a blink of an eye. It was normal part of my life, and I honestly thought everyone traveled that way. It wasn’t until I stepped away from the industry that I realized traveling solo as a female was a foreign concept to many.
It also wasn’t until this year that I realized that diversity and inclusion in the travel industry is a BIG issue in so many ways. Moreover, I started to ask myself, “Why aren’t my South Asian people represented in travel commercials outside of the continent?” I am a first-generation American of Indian/Bengali decent, and I don’t see any people that look like me represented in travel campaigns or on the websites of Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs).
As I started to do my research, I found some interesting statistics and made some observations pertaining to the kind of information available about travel spend per some demographics that have been in the limelight in recent years. ***
*African American travelers spent $63 billion on travel in 2018. Their average trip spend is between $1,345 - $2,078 depending on the type of travel. (Source: Mandala Research via Travel Pulse)
*U.S. Hispanics represent more than $73 billion in leisure travel annually. Hispanics are more likely to take two or more vacations per year – 72 percent versus 55 percent of non-Hispanics- and they tend to take longer trips.(Source: Skift)
*Muslim or halal travel has emerged as a new global opportunity with a projected $220 billion to be spent by 2020 (Source: Global Muslim Travel Index)
*LGBTQAI travel exceeded $218 billion globally in 2018 and is anticipated to increase with anti-gay laws lifting in several countries. (Source: Out Now)
*Data from 2015 shows that travelers with disabilities represent $17.3 billion annually. More than 26 million adults with disabilities traveled for business/leisure, taking 73 million trips. (Source: Open Doors Organization and Mandala Research)
*It has been quite difficult to find data on how much Asian Americans spend on travel. The only information I could find are two articles in 2015 that state the Asian-American population is slated to grow 31% by 2020, slightly under the estimated Latin population of 34% in America. (Source: Mandala Research, Nielsen, US Census via MSNBC) Furthermore, the Asian American buying power was projected to increase to $1 trillion by 2017. High growth potential was predicted for this demographic because more than 50% of Asian Americans had taken at least one domestic trip in 2013. (Source: Nielsen)
I found a large number of articles about Black travel and Latinx travel and barley a handful of articles about people with different abilities and about Asian American travelers even though all these groups mentioned above represent a large portion of the traveling population. But this also brings me to the larger issue of inclusiveness and my observations of obtaining information for this article. *I would like to be clear that even though there are more articles about Black and Latinx travel, these groups are still highly underrepresented.*
1. How is it possible that information about Asian American travel spend is barely available when a clear opportunity exists?
2. How is it possible for DMOs and the travel industry as a whole to ignore the number of travel dollars that all these diverse groups represent?
3. Why aren’t these groups represented or included in marketing efforts?
The bigger question that many have been asking is: “What is the travel industry doing about diversity and inclusion?”
Perspective 1: DMOs and Travel Brands
An article published by Skift states that many tourism boards and hotels still need to convince executives that portraying diversity in a YouTube series or social media campaign is worth it. Many may have decided that diversity marketing may impinge on their traditional marketing.
The statistics about the amount of money spent by a diverse group of populations should pique the interest of many DMOs and brand influencers in the travel industry to incorporate a diverse range of travelers into their campaigns. Yet the reluctancy to move the needle may be due to fear of change. The unknown can seem like risky territory and taking that first step can be a challenging thing to do. DMOs and travel brands may also be colorblind to the notion of incorporating different cultures; sometimes it can be difficult to operate in a new way if a ‘problem’ does not seem to exist.
Perspective 2: Travelers from Various Demographics
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who spends a lot of money traveling but does not feel represented. Would you be more or less inclined to spend your money with that destination or service?
Think about seeing more people alike or similar to you in travel marketing campaigns. Would you be more willing to travel to a destination on your bucket list or to a destination that you never heard about if they had a campaign that felt inclusive and natural? I would want to travel to that place in a heartbeat.
Zim Ugohukwu, Founder of Travel Noire said the following during her talk at the Skift Global Forum, “We know that people of color are 38% more likely to make a purchase if advertisements reflected them.”
The bottom line is that travelers from different demographics don’t feel like their voices and preferences are being reflected even though they spend quite a lot of money on travel.
Where do we go from here?
A Suggested Solution - What DMOs and brand influencers can do:
As a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional, I have outlined some tips about how to approach the conversation in a mindful and honest way. Please keep in mind that the suggested steps and questions are only pieces of the puzzle to catalyze this movement.
1. Create a solid foundation by assessing your current diversity and inclusivity strategy. What do you want to reflect as a destination? Who do you want to attract as a destination? What does success look like? Does a current strategy exist? Does the strategy need to be updated? Is there someone willing to spearhead the initiative? Do you have buy-in from your internal staff members?
2. Develop a set of questions. These questions should be developed with your overall goals and target audience in mind. In order to better understand their interests and incentives use these questions in focus groups, develop a customer survey, share these questions on social media (with proper context).
3. Engage your target audience. Use the established questions to obtain feedback through focus groups, surveys, social media, partnerships, etc. Be honest about what you are trying to accomplish with your responses, most people appreciate honesty, transparency, and effort.
4. Revisit your strategy and update it with milestones. Update the strategy based on the responses that have been collected. Develop milestones to track your progress. While it is commendable to have big goals, be realistic about what you can accomplish.
5. Execution of strategy. Keep engaging your audience, refer to your milestone metrics, be honest, and remember what success looks like.
This endeavor may be difficult and complex but true shifts of change take time and are well worth the end result. Most importantly, be honest and transparent. At the end of the day, we are all human. The best thing we can do to progress forward is to continue to learn, grow, change, and adapt through thoughtful communication peppered in with a little vulnerability. This work is not easy, but it can surely be improved. (I highly encourage you to read this article by Martinique Lewis who has developed a diversity in travel report card.)
Lastly, I ask you to ponder this question: Isn’t the point of travel to explore and learn about different cultures?
***Please note that I am quite aware that there are more demographics not represented in this article.
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