In 2020, the Black Travel Alliance (BTA) published its first #PullUpForTravel campaign report. According to the report, of the 121 travel companies that posted support for #BlackLivesMatter or #BlackOutTuesday, 67 responded with data about their actual efforts. Of these 67 respondents, only six provided data that they ensured Black people were represented on media or press trips in 2019.
The BTA is currently collecting data for 2022. With two years behind us since the first round of disappointing results, surely there’s been improvement … right?
And yet … and yet.
I recently watched a content creation trip unfold in which “12 top influencers” were invited to experience adventure-related activities across a country. This particular campaign included influencers from European countries who were the primary tourism markets for this particular destination. These influencers’ audiences were people known to be solo travelers seeking “authentic experiences.”
Looking at the spectrum of the 12 influencers on Instagram, I was immediately struck by the homogeneity of the group. Based on what I observed in their profiles and through their content, it appeared to me that the group lacked diversity in age, race, ability, and body size.
I made a comment about this perceived lack of diversity on my private Instagram account. The campaign’s organizer reached out to me, unclear about the concerns I had while also asking if I looked at the “amazing content” these influencers were sharing?
Why, yes I did. And, while it was lovely aesthetically, it was quite standard and predictable. (One influencer even commented in an Instagram story about the need to carry around her floppy hat for a prop.) Where was the complexity and nuance? Why wasn’t anyone mentioning any of the concerning political or social issues happening in the country? And where were the interesting and diverse insights that can arise when people from a wide variety of backgrounds are given space to share their stories?
Taking my inquiries a step further, I reached out to the sponsoring organization to express my concerns about the lack of visible diversity in the campaign. I was told that the group was “in fact, more diverse than your email suggests.” And perhaps they were; I hope they were. Yet, perhaps its telling that one person commented to me that the makeup of the campaign made it look as though “everyone belongs at Coachella.” I couldn’t help but wonder, if I wasn’t a white, able-bodied woman, what would it feel like watching this trip unfold?
Certainly there have been some visible improvements in the area of elevating the voices and visibility of content creators of varying races, ages, abilities, genders, religious affiliations, and body sizes. Intrepid Travel, for example, has clearly set and measured progress toward diversifying its content creation. She's Wanderful, which has always been a leader in creating welcoming spaces for everyone, also continues to prioritize inclusivity and equity in sourcing its creator trips.
However, as the BTA’s data showed three years ago, “diversity” has been a buzzword for many organizations but an actual practice and commitment for far fewer. If the tourism industry truly intends to be accessible and welcoming to all, content creation partnerships and press trips should reflect this intention.
A Reflection of Who is Welcome
Influencers are highly visible, and even though each participant is only a single person, the reach of these campaigns is a sweeping reflection of who is welcome in a particular destination. Travelers need to be able to see themselves in these places participating in these activities. Campaigns like this help people imagine themselves in the influencers’ shoes. With a homogenous group of creators, the reach to potential travelers is stunted — even if the quantitative KPIs of a campaign deliver elevated numbers.
Different People Have Different Experiences …
A diverse group of creators also offers a diversity of perspectives and experiences. People observe, experience, and move through the world differently and that matters when it comes to developing content meant to educate potential travelers (who are far from homogenous).
I am fairly knowledgeable about the destination where this particular influencer campaign took place. Knowing some of the political issues that have recently taken place, I imagine the experience would be a lot different for a Black traveler. And, knowing how challenging it can be to physically navigate around the destination as an able-bodied person, I also imagine someone with mobility challenges would have insight none of these influencers would be able to provide. Failure to diversify groups of content creators doesn’t allow for those different experiences and perspectives to surface.
… Surfacing Different Stories
Because people identifying in different ways move through and experience places differently, they’re also likely to ask different questions addressing a wider variety of needs or concerns. As a result, they may also end up surfacing a larger variety of stories, which creates a wider, more interesting spectrum of content.
Diversity Makes Good Business Sense
The tourism industry should intentionally diversify its content creator pools because its the right thing to do. It's more interesting, inclusive, and reflective of travelers at large. But, for companies that need further justification, it is also the right thing to do from a business standpoint.
According to The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities report published by MMGY in early 2021, U.S. domestic and international Black leisure travelers topped US$129.6 billion in 2019. The number of Muslim travelers is increasing, with the GMTI 2022 rankings indicating that Muslim tourism will amount to US$225 billion by 2028. And in 2022, MMGY reported that Americans with mobility disabilities spend US$58.2 billion a year on travel.
The world’s population is not homogenous, so why do so many content creation campaigns continue to be? Disregarding the majority of the world’s travelers by focusing narrowly on those who fit neatly in the status quo box leaves a lot of money — and opportunity — on the table.
Content creation campaigns like the one I watched unfold are lazy. They also signal a desire to stick with and reinforce the status quo, which we know hasn’t served the tourism industry well in the past. If the industry is serious about changing, then the relationships service providers have with content creators and the hosted trips they hold for them must change too.