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The Business Case for More Diversity in Tourism Advertising

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Skift Take

Tourism boards in Miami and Baltimore are effectively tapping into African American travel market. Numerous travel companies, though, may be afraid of alienating white travelers who have been their bread and butter for decades. Including diversity in travel ads may not always be an easy call to make from a business perspective. Diversity advertising must be calculated and thoughtful rather than rushed and non-representative.

— Dan Peltier

When it comes to diversity marketing, Visit Baltimore and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau are the exceptions to the rule because they actively target a broad set of visitor demographics.

Visit Baltimore and the Greater Miami CVB stand out for their longtime efforts in highlighting each city’s diversity. Both organizations’ websites feature men and women of color enjoying their cities’ sites and attractions and paint pictures of diversity that is deep-rooted in neighborhoods.

Visit Baltimore: Diverse by Definition

About 63% of Baltimore’s population is African American. Visit Baltimore makes family reunions central to its offerings and storytelling as it’s one of the top reasons why African Americans travel.

Several large events held in the city each year directly cater to the African American family reunion market or the general population of African American leisure travelers. Visit Baltimore’s Family Reunion Expo attracted more than 2,000 people in 2014 and events such as Artscape and the African American Festival bring thousands more.

Some 25% of the organization’s budget is dedicated to marketing Baltimore and specifically marketing to diverse groups is “weaved throughout all of that,” said Dionne Joyner-Weems, Visit Baltimore’s vice president of marketing.

It’s not all about getting muddled down in race or religion as that would be promoting stereotypes and would be off the mark.

“I’m an African American female. I like to eat too and experience things off the beaten path,” said Joyner-Weems.

“A joke we have internally is that we don’t sit there and say, ‘Well this ad with this African American female doesn’t only need to be placed in this African American publication,'” said Joyner-Weems. “Diversity isn’t actually just a person of a different race sitting in a chair. It’s someone with a different background and experience. We’re talking to you as a person and not putting a person in that box.”

Greater Miami’s CVB: Bridging Local and Diversity

Greater Miami CVB’s new multicultural department places it ahead of most other tourism bureaus. Few others have established distinct departments within their organizations dedicated to promoting multicultural offerings within their cities.

The multicultural department, which was founded in October 2014, has signed on 30 neighborhood business partners. The department wants these partners’ help with presenting an international city where diversity has always been embedded in its story rather than one hopping onto a new phenomenon. The CVB encapsulates this mission in its ongoing “It’s So Miami” YouTube series that introduces people from neighborhoods like Overtown, Little Haiti and Little Havana.

In Miami, half of the population is foreign born and 50% of annual visitors live outside the U.S. The street art, fresh fruit carts and multiple languages thriving in these neighborhoods epitomize the local trend consuming many travelers’ itineraries.

“We’re establishing visitor centers in some areas of Miami that a lot of folks don’t know, not just tourists but locals too,” said Rolando Aedo, the CVB’s chief marketing officer. “We also have sightseeing buses that not too long ago weren’t operating in these neighborhoods [and are] now providing hop on/hop off tours to make it easy for people to get into these neighborhoods.”

And like Visit Baltimore, the Greater Miami CVB promotes events such as the American Black Film Festival and Art Basel, which cater to diverse audience to varying degrees, to travelers of all backgrounds.

“Areas like multicultural can be hard to measure ROI (return on investment),” said Connie Kinnard, vice president of multicultural development and head of the new department for Miami’s CVB. An African American woman, Kinnard previously ran the multicultural department for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

“Certain things you can see immediately such as our partnerships, other things such as room nights take longer,” Kinnard said. “Sometimes each department can do it on their own, but it’s a big deal when a bureau decides to establish a standalone department for it. If you get a few meetings or events that never booked Miami before and they’re willing to be ambassadors for Miami, that’s success. They could be that meeting that’s a key meeting in that particular ethnic background.”

The Bigger Picture

“We know that people of color are 38% more likely to make a purchase if advertisements reflected them,” said Zim Ugochukwu, founder of Travel Noire, a tour company promoting and leading trips for black millennial travelers, during her talk at the Skift Global Forum in October. “We know that America is culture-less, or in other words, a melting pot of different cultures and their customs.”

“Every day I wade through advertisements that [portray white female travelers] desperately wanting to be spoken to. [I’m] desperately trying to find someone who looks like me in some of these advertisements. It’s as if it’s a blatant barrier.”

Only 2.6% of all advertising focuses on African Americans, according to Nielsen, yet 17% of African Americans take one or more international trips and travel more than six times per year, according to Mandala  Research, a hotel and tourism market research firm specializing in African American and Hispanic travel.

At many tourism boards and hotels it’s still a matter of convincing executives that portraying diversity in a YouTube series or social media campaign is worth it. Many have likely decided that diversity marketing might impinge on their traditional marketing.

This despite the fact that African American and Hispanic travelers spend $48 billion and $56 billion, respectively, per year globally, Mandala Research found, and the company found that African American travelers were among the fastest growing traveler groups in the U.S. in 2015.

“Historically there have been these broad-based ads in travel to appeal to the widest audience,” said Laura Mandala, managing director of Mandala Research. “While travel companies have started to do research and marketing towards the African American and other diverse markets they really haven’t spent a lot of money on this at least that I’m aware of. Brands now seem to understand the LGBT market more than they do other diverse markets.”

“But it’s also the issue of not just having the token [African American man] in a video. If you’re going to portray diversity, you want to do it in a really thoughtful way that people will connect with and you want to make sure you get it right.”

Challenges With Portraying Diversity in Travel

The Recession helped advance the case for more diversity in travel, Mandala said, as brands were desperate to cast the widest net possible hoping that would lead to visits and heads in beds.

A major global hotel brand’s head of diversity recently contacted Mandala about exploring research possibilities to help justify that certain diverse groups were valuable enough to go after. These included African American, Hispanic, Muslim and female travelers.

“I told him he was looking at a $250,000 study and he said he only had $25,000,” said Mandala. “That’s just one example of what major hotel brands are looking to put up to study diversity and in this case $25,000 is way below what they’d need. Brands don’t want to alienate the general market. I’ve worked with some of the largest travel brands and they don’t have a budget for targeting [diverse audiences].”

Mandala doesn’t think it’s surprising  that U.S. brands are easing up on diversity marketing at this time.

“We’re coming out of the Recession in the U.S. and brands are now spending a lot on marketing and communications efforts, so to say that they’re not spending on [diversity marketing] at this particular time isn’t that surprising,” Mandala said. “It’s also a result of not having enough African Americans, for example, in senior leadership roles in these organizations and you don’t have that push and perspective coming from there. When the economy was good [brands] didn’t have to worry about these niche markets. That’s totally different now.”

“Where there seems to be the most inclusion of diversity on DMOs’ websites is under their travel suggestions sections that ask you to consider what kind of experience you want to have,” said Ginny Binder, Mandala’s director of research. “Visit Baltimore does a decent job with this and with portraying black people specifically, for example, and they’ve created these itineraries and concepts for travelers that are specific to that population.”

“Initially it’s the pride of the local populations that destinations and travel companies are playing on who say ‘come here and we’ll treat you well.'”

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