Black History Month has taken on a new significance in destinations across the United States, particularly since the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Celebrating Black history and culture is no longer confined to February – it’s increasingly a commitment that more destination brands are making year-round as they realize adopting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategies are long overdue.
Many travelers are also demanding more representation in marketing, and want to see inclusive efforts from businesses they choose to support.
According to a 2020 Edelman report, more than 60% of US consumers agree that brands that issue statements in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion must follow up with action. If not, they risk being perceived as exploitative or opportunistic.
Representation matters now more than ever, and many travelers’ understanding of racial tensions and discrimination that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities face has grown. Unless destination organizations themselves embrace DE&I internally, the reality is that their external marketing efforts won’t come from an authentic place.
The Black Lives Matter movement has forced many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to either adopt or rethink their DE&I strategies. We have some tips for how to celebrate Black stories in your communities and show travelers that your strategies are having a meaningful impact year-round.
Bring in diverse perspectives to your organization
Many DMOs have heard the calls to hire more Black talent, and while progress has been made, now is the time to check-in on how those efforts are going if you’ve already started this work.
Consider, for example, if you’re providing advancement opportunities and mentorship to help Black talent grow within your organization. Is your organization helping create a fulfilling career path for Black talent within the travel industry?
Remember that DE&I isn’t easy and is a framework that requires constant attention from team members at all levels to be successful. Here’s a helpful way to remember the importance of each letter of the acronym, according to the Society for Human Resource Management:
Diversity creates the potential for greater innovation and productivity (it offers a seat at the table for new ideas and perspectives).
Inclusion is what enables organizations to realize the business benefits of this potential.
Equity refers to fair treatment in access, opportunity, and advancement for individuals. Work in this area includes identifying and working to eliminate barriers to fair treatment for disadvantaged groups.
Put another way, “diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice be heard,” says Amanda Bonilla, co-founder and lead education developer at Inclusion Consultant Network. When employees feel like they belong, they bring their full selves to work and feel more committed and connected to the work they do.
In turn, visitors will also benefit from this sense of belonging because the destination brand and experiences available to them will reflect their own values and help them feel like their visit matters.
Becoming a DE&I advocate
In the Destination International and MMGY NextFactor’s DestinationNEXT 2021 Futures Study, more than 700 industry and community leaders in 50 countries were asked to rank their most important organizational roles both for today and ideally in three years. The survey resulted in “equity, diversity, and inclusion advocate” ranking 10 out of 18 roles, and ranking 12 out of 18 for ideal in three years.
There’s clearly still work to do both inside DMOs and with how they promote diversity to visitors, but leisure travelers aren’t the only audience this matters to.
The study also included feedback from various focus group panels which indicated that,
“Equity, diversity, and inclusion have become among the biggest priorities for how association event professionals choose site locations. Planners now need to be much more transparent with their stakeholders about how host cities are working with a diverse value chain of partners.”
Destination DC is one example of a DMO that’s created an array of DE&I resources on its website to help meeting planners understand the destination’s DE&I strategy. They also show how local businesses can take advantage of DE&I resources and how visitors can support minority-owned businesses.
Don’t just share Black stories, amplify them
If you’re starting from scratch, it may make sense for your DMO to hire a consultant who can help connect you to Black content creators both from your destination and those based elsewhere who you’d like to work with.
But once you’ve found those stories, don’t simply take what a creator has done and share it across your social channels. Use this as an opportunity to amplify and lift them up, said Rondel Holder, vice president and creative director of Multi-Cultural Content at NYC & Company, during a Black Travel Alliance panel on how to prepare for Black History Month.
“Because chances are, a lot of us who created these resources and communities created them because they didn’t exist,” said Holder, who is the founder and chief creative of @kingronthedon and CEO and creator of @soulsociety. “The big organizations that were supposed to be representing us weren’t telling these stories to begin with. Instead of wondering why you haven’t done this yet, take steps to do it.”
Holder added that this could also include amplifying professional groups in your area like a Black group for pilots or a Black group for hospitality professionals. Actions such as these demonstrate your commitment to sharing stories of people who live and work in your destination that have a direct impact on the visitor experience.
Partner with Black and POC-owned businesses
DeAnna Taylor, senior editor at Travel Noire, also spoke during the Black Travel Alliance panel and said that when reaching out to Black and POC-owned businesses to collaborate on content, such as a tour operator or restaurant, be prepared to be met with skepticism at first.
“People have the right to say no,” said Taylor. “Even though we may find their story very appealing and amazing for our audience, some people don’t feel comfortable. I never try to be pushy because if I’m not approaching you in the right way, you won’t feel comfortable sharing your story with me. Some people may also be wondering ‘what is the real motive.’ Be mindful of your approach and of the fact that these people also want to protect their brand.”
Building trust with these businesses is key and will help travelers discover them, particularly Black travelers who want to see themselves represented. According to a 2021 report from MMGY Global, some 54% of U.S. Black leisure travelers said that they’re likely to visit a destination if they see Black representation in travel advertising, with 42% and 40% of UK/Ireland and Canada respondents, respectively, also indicating this influences travel decisions.
Commit to share more diverse imagery
If your DMO is serious about being always-on in its commitment to sharing BIPOC community stories (and it should be!), why not pledge to commit a certain percentage of your social posts and other content to this mission?
The retail industry was under pressure in late 2020 to adopt the 15 percent pledge, and Sephora is one example of a major retailer that took the pledge to dedicate 15% of its shelf space to Black-owned companies.
Why can’t the travel industry take a similar pledge with marketing? Once you’ve done the work of transforming your organization internally to authentically promote BIPOC stories, you’ll be ready to identify these stories and build lasting relationships where both your brand and those of BIPOC creators and businesses are elevated in travelers’ minds as a year-round inclusive destination.
Feeling inspired? Check out our article from SEE 2021 about other ways to be a more inclusive destination, and pick up other tips on how to market to underrepresented groups in this article on diversity in tourism marketing.