U.S. attractions could do a much better job of serving travelers of color. It's not just a matter of marketing and content curation but hiring practices as well.
Attractions in the U.S. have significant room for improvement when it comes to serving and satisfying people of color, according to a new study by PGAV Destinations, a design firm that works with museums, zoos, resorts, landmarks, and other entertainment.
The U.S. is projected to become majority-minority by 2045, according to the census, but minority visitors were less satisfied with attractions than their white counterparts last year, according to PGAV’s 2019 Voice of the Visitor report, conducted with H2R Market Research.
Minority visitors were less satisfied with their last attraction experience than their white counterparts, 76 percent versus 89 percent, and were less likely to recommend the attraction to friends and family, 39 percent versus 50 percent. The report noted that baby boomers were more likely to give high satisfaction scores, while younger, tech-savvy millennials were more critical.
Acceptance may lie at the core of capturing travelers of color. “One of the things that came up pretty consistently, especially for African-American and also Hispanic travelers, was a really high value on going to places that make me feel welcome,” said Mike Konzen, CEO of PGAV Destinations. A study by DigitasLBi also echoed the importance of safety and acceptance among black millennial travelers, as well as a willingness to pay more for brands that understand their identity.
National Parks remain some of the most high-profile attractions in the country, and yet they still struggle with diversifying an overwhelmingly white audience and internal workforce.
When attractions try to welcome travelers of color, it’s not just a matter of messaging, but making the attraction itself more inclusive through informed, high-quality storytelling. “The stories and experiences themselves are areas of greatest need going forward to help improve this situation,” said Konzen.
Konzen cited a current project in Asheville, North Carolina, as an example of thoughtful storytelling: an African-American heritage trail that exists both in physical landmarks and online. The trail not only has great historical relevance for the local black community but is designed to resonate with visitors from farther away. For Konzen creating something valuable for the community came first, then the tourism benefits. The trail is in progress and being rolled out in phases over the next three years.
“It’s marketing and messaging certainly, and that’s the area where many attractions have been working, but it’s also operational,” said Konzen, emphasizing that these travel companies should diversify from the inside. “What are their hiring practices, and also their practices for advancing within their organizations to represent these different groups?”
The report suggests 2019 could be the year that more travel companies conduct brand audits with people of color in mind. Part of this exercise involves reevaluating a brand’s offerings and marketing for retail, food and beverage, and so on, but also diversifying the company’s volunteers, frontline staff, and leadership to better reflect the diversity of people who travel.
In addition minority visitors are more likely to have season passes and memberships to attractions than their white counterparts, 56 percent versus 46 percent, and want to take advantage of them. Minority groups also visited theme and water parks at higher rates than white visitors. However minorities are still less likely to travel for leisure than white visitors, 76 percent versus 84 percent. Konzen could not confirm a causal link between the aforementioned lack of satisfaction in attractions and a lower likelihood of travel.
Anticipating this shift to a majority-minority country is also reflected in Kampgrounds of America’s 2019 North American Camping Report. It cites that for the first time in the report’s five-year history, in 2018 the percentage of new multicultural campers outpaced the percentage of new white campers, 51 percent versus 49 percent. Various factors have allowed people of color to camp more now than in years past, including the sharing economy, which lowers the cost of entry for equipment like tents and RVs, as well as inspiration and knowledge-sharing on social media from groups like Brown People Camping and Outdoor Afro.
About the demographic shift in the U.S. to majority-minority, Konzen said, “It’s already affecting this industry in very important ways.”
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Photo credit: Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Travelers of color report being less satisfied with their last attraction experience than their white counterparts. PGAV Destinations