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Reach for the covers of many travel brochures, and you’ll be left wondering if the same family is taking all the world’s vacations.
Whether they are depicted on a sandy beach, on a ski slope or at a rugged campground, the travelers in the photos tend to look the same: white, heterosexual and able-bodied.
Brochures that showcase families of color, same-sex families or families with mobility-challenged members are so rare that they make you do a double take.
Sally Black, founder of VacationKids.com, refers to it as the “white bikini family on the beach” complex. She notes that this failure to include varying types of potential customers is simply bad business.
“Rule No. 1 in marketing is to speak directly to the clients you want to reach,” she said. “Audiences want to envision themselves on that beach.”
Eva Jordan-Johnson, a group event travel specialist for Florida-based Jordan Travel Enterprise, agrees.
“When you are trying to connect with clients, relationships build when you have something in common,” she said. “When you market your product, clients become more receptive when they can see themselves and believe you care about them.”
It’s one of the reasons you should also consider having a diverse staff, she notes.
“Diversity is essential because the industry is losing out on a sector of the market that is underserved and undervalued,” Jordan-Johnson said.
Recently released findings from Mandala Research support that notion. It surveyed 1,700 respondents who were representative of the African-American population and found that the economic value of African-American travelers has increased to $63 billion in 2018. That’s an increase of $15 billion since 2010, when the company last conducted its survey.
Among African-American travelers, “cultural travelers” spend the most money per trip (an average of $2,078). In fact, 64 percent of the people who identified themselves as cultural travelers say that the availability of African-American cultural and heritage attractions is very important to their choice of destination. Plus, 43 percent of “family reunion travelers” say it is important to them to choose a destination that has African-American cultural and heritage attractions.
This means that African-Americans aren’t just spending money; they’re spending more money when they are offered options that reflect their history and culture.
Some destinations are recognizing the financial potential of paying attention to such a lucrative market, too. In a press release announcing Mandala’s survey results, William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, emphasized the benefits of having a destination’s offerings line up with the interests of diverse consumers.
“Arts, culture and diversity make up the fabric of our community,” he said. “Key findings from this report show obvious alignment with the interests of African-American travelers to the experiences and multicultural points of interest that Miami offers to visitors.”
Kevin Dallas, CEO of Bermuda Tourism Authority — one of the study’s sponsors — notes that the findings have impacted the way the island approaches the community of potential visitors.
“Increasing the number of African-American travelers to Bermuda is a strategic goal of our recently released National Tourism Plan,” he said. “The Mandala research, paired with other qualitative and quantitative data, has convinced us that the African-American travel market presents an exciting business opportunity for Bermuda’s tourism industry.”
Considering that as early as 2001, the African-American market was identified by the U.S. Travel Association as the fastest-growing segment in the travel industry, it seems silly that the arena still remains virtually untapped.
And that’s just one community. Other ethnic travelers and religious groups also offer potential for new clientele.
The industry is already well-aware of the affluence and travel inclinations of LGBTQ travelers, yet they, too, are continually not depicted in brochures aimed at a mainstream audience.
Additionally, those who advocate for more accessibility-inclusive travel options say they see a need for action.
“Besides the moral issue of needing to make sure travel opportunities are accessible to all families, destinations are missing out on an opportunity to market to a large, underserved group of travelers,” said Nicole Thibault, founder of New York-based Magical Storybook Travels.
A recent survey by AutismTravel.com found that only 11 percent of families with a child with autism currently take a vacation, but 93 percent of respondents say they would travel if destinations were more accessible.
It’s not all bad news though: Some destinations are stepping up and promoting themselves as “disability-friendly.” That is a wonderful step in the right direction, but Thibault says there’s certainly more that can be done.
She points out that the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards offers a formal certification program that allows advisors to become Certified Autism Travel Professionals (CATPs).
“I became a CATP in 2017 and take great pride in the fact that I can assist all kinds of families in finding the perfect vacation spot that works for their specific needs,” she said.
Jordan-Johnson of Jordan Travel Enterprise agrees that advisors should play a role in making positive changes for the future. She suggests working with groups such as Travel Professionals of Color, which can provide travel agent training on working with minority communities.
Even something as simple as diversifying the photos on your website makes a difference.
“African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are rarely reflected in publications and brochures,” Jordan-Johnson said. “When I was a new agent many years ago, I asked a cruise executive why the line didn’t include images that reflect a diverse audience. Several years later, there is some improvement, but much more is needed.”
Black of VacationKids.com notes that, in part, addressing the issue may also require reminding suppliers that you’re interested in diverse photos and helping them locate inclusive stock photo services.
While sites such as CreateHerStock.com offer the potential for filling this gap, finding them takes extra effort.
For now, Black chooses to take matters into her own hands.
“Whenever a family is kind enough to share vacation photos, I ask for permission to post them,” she said. “If it’s a family of color, I explain to them how we need their help to be more diverse with our messaging and, often, they are in full support.”