top of page
  • Writer's picturemarty_sandiego


Updated: Mar 6, 2020

Change is instant, and in the blink of an eye, your outlook on an issue can transform. Once you are informed and inspired to be an industry leader, there is the opening to create your own lane. In 2019 I worked tirelessly to assure the travel industry not only saw, but heard me. I decided I would stop at no cost to spread the message that every traveler matters and until this industry acknowledged it, I’d keep showing up, presenting financial statistics, and challenging the industry to connect with inclusive communities in every way. It was imperative for me to show that diversity and inclusion is the driving force for travel brands to grow.

What a difference a year makes. Ten travel conference speaking opportunities, countless consulting phone calls, features in Forbes and Conde Nast, and a handful of influencer trips later, I am proud to say I see the shift. I am proud to say that my mission ‘’to change the face of tourism forever’’ is accepted. My voice is heard and valued, and diversity and inclusion in the travel industry is starting to be top of mind and not an afterthought to travel industry professionals. This is very gratifying. While I would like to say the sole reason change occurred was due to me being vocal, this is not the only reason. It happened because the major players and decision-makers were willing to have the conversation, hire those who are knowledgeable and create solutions to this problem.

When I look at the tone of last year’s report card, it is clear I was angry and frustrated. Although it provided insight on all things horrific and exhausting, it was the real issues inclusive travel groups were experiencing. My presentation was harsh, and through growth, I realized that is not how to create change. My shero Lola Akinamade Åkerström taught me that it’s not about calling out but calling in. Brands make mistakes, but when you know better you do better. As a diversity in travel consultant, I accept the challenge to teach and provide solutions for this industry through research and case studies like those included below. In order to see a change, we must continue these conversations, build authentic relationships, provide training and consulting services and move forward so that every traveler feels welcome no matter the destination.

Methodology of Measurement

With help from one of the top brands globally, I was able to have an in-depth look at 55 of the world's most prominent travel brands. These brands profit the most from travelers and are seen the most annually. Additionally, these grades are a full representation of 183 travel brands, organizations and tourism boards across 100 + countries and 6 continents. These grades are based on my personal opinion as a diversity in travel consultant whose sole purpose is to correct the lack of representation in the industry. Next year through funded research I will be releasing a Diversity in Travel report that will include numerical data and percentages for industry knowledge.

Without further ado, I present the 2019 Diversity in Travel Report/Scorecard. Using the standard American grading system where the highest grade is an A and lowest F please accept the information provided and share this with your peers.

Diversity in travel ads and promotions-D+

Although this mark has improved from last year, there is still room for improvement. The lack of representation in travel ads and promotion is stifling. Let’s be honest we always see the slim, blonde-haired traveler, when in reality that’s not an accurate depiction of the travelers spending their money in your destination. Multicultural travelers are 70% more likely to go where they see themselves or another person of color reflected.

One way to combat this as a brand is to think about how you can smash negative stereotypes through imagery that connects and attracts new travelers to your destination. Let’s take Tempe Tourism in Arizona. In their brochure, they show a black family having an amazing time swimming. This image speaks volumes not only to black travelers but to families of all backgrounds, that travel.

How many times do you see a full family pictured in travel ads? As family travel continues to evolve so do the trends and statistics. In America alone, 40% of families travel together annually. In addition to that this particular photo shows two parents present, a mother and father which is important to the black family narrative. There’s also this idea that black people can’t swim and won’t touch the water. This photo silences those untrue myths and invites people to enjoy their time at the pool.

Diversity on Social Media- D+

Social media is a place you can be anyone and anything you choose. It also means you have an opinion you might not otherwise express elsewhere. As travelers, we are most vocal on social about things that evoke emotion and compel us to speak up and speak out. After 2018, brands began to realize that we wanted to see more inclusivity on their pages. Although much has changed, the authenticity and intentions of brands leave us questioning do you really care, or are you doing this so we don’t call you out?

You’re probably thinking, “well what can we do If you don’t believe we really care?” Build authentic relationships with industry professionals and do multiple campaigns with them so we see it’s authentic. Make their travel niche a priority by constantly speaking to them. Have them do takeovers, run contest, and do give-a-ways, these are a few ways to gain new customers and the respect of all those in the industry.

One company I love to see is REI. They celebrate everyone in the outdoors, and you can tell it’s authentic because they are constantly showing different kinds of adventure travelers There ads feature people of all ages, races, shapes, sizes, sexual orientation and more. They support multiple outdoor initiatives and produce content with those groups to use on social media. But not only that, they are always accessible, open for collaboration and welcome all ideas. They have their eyes on their community to assure they are reflective of everyone who uses their products.

Diversity in Traditional Media- D

2019 was a great year for individuals and groups in the industry to be introduced to the world. Brands and journalists really stepped up when it came to reporting on the issues, solutions, and success amongst inclusive groups in the travel industry. This grade, however, did not change because I only saw this reflected mostly in new media. I think new media is wonderful and I understand that we have become a digital society, however, I want to see our stories make it into traditional newspapers, be spoken about on NPR, be featured on CNN’s newsroom segments and I WANT TO SEE DIVERSITY IN MAGAZINES! Print is still important. I always search for faces that look like mine in every travel magazine and rarely do I find one.

Although this happened in January of this year, I can’t begin to express the joy that stirred inside me when I opened my mailbox and saw Kellee Edwards of Kellee Set Go on the cover of Travel and Leisure! The sense of pride I felt in that moment is unmatched. And not only because Kelle is an African American pilot and licensed diver with a show on the travel channel, but because she deserved to be there! She is the true definition of a jet setter; she has paid her dues and to finally see her hard work be celebrated on one of the most well-known magazines in travel with a circulation of 1 million!!!! It was a ‘’they finally get it moment’’.

Moving forward I want to challenge traditional media to show and report on the following travel communities: body positivity, mobility, Asians, Ageism, African Americans, autistic travelers, blind Travelers, Halal Travel and any that you’ve never reported on previously.

Halal Travel

For example, Halal travel is constantly growing and by this year Muslim travelers will have injected $220 billion into this industry (more than any other community). They spend so much on travel and brands constantly turn their back on this demographic. I’m waiting to see a beautiful Muslim woman in a Burkini either deep-sea diving or sitting by a pool on the cover of a magazine. Dear brands and tourism boards, BE DIFFERENT, BE A LEADER, disrupt the industry with your ideas and set the tone. You have the ability to create change with everything you put out.

Nike did it, as well as Sports Illustrated, and we all fell in love with their campaigns. It didn’t have to be someone who looked just like us to appreciate its brilliance, it was the fact that a community that is underrepresented was at the top of mind for those brands and they weren’t afraid to be different. This is what wins the loyalty of travelers. This is what we’re resharing, reposting, sending and praising. This is what makes us choose you over your competitor, the fact that you chose us. I’m eager to see what 2020 holds.

Diversity in Travel Programs and Events – D-

Over the past year, I have seen some changes in this area, although not large there are certain groups that have made unbelievable efforts to create programming and events that target inclusive communities, and I will use this opportunity to share how.

Alessandra Alonso, who resides in England, is the amazing creator of the Women in Travel (CIC) an organization created to empower women through employability and entrepreneurship in travel, tourism, and hospitality. Under the overall organization is a BAME (Black, Asian, Multicultural and Ethnic) division which was headed by the dynamic and passionate Eulanda Shead Osiagede . In this position, Shead Osiagede was able to create multiple events throughout the year that were tailored to this group of professionals to help them advance in their careers. Because of her attention, commitment and authenticity to connect with this community, Women in Travel (cic) has gained a loyal following. The relationships fostered and careers developed from the hard work of Alessandra and Eulanda are the perfect example of how to connect with inclusive communities.

Readers, please understand that the BAME initiative is important to the travel narrative. This initiative grows opportunities available to women from BAME communities within a sector that is still lacking diversity. BAME Women in Travel plans play a key role in providing resources, networking opportunities, training, and events focused on making advancement within the travel and tourism industry more accessible. Well done to Women in Travel CIC for this initiative and all the success surrounding it. I think each travel organization should not only have a BAME department, but members from BAME should be senior leaders.

Another group that I often mention is Wanderful created by Beth Santos. It is through WITS (Women in Travel Summit) that my eyes were opened to the fact that each traveler matters. Never have I questioned their motives, been upset at the lack of diversity at their conferences or been frustrated with their content because THEY GET IT! Diversity has always been top of mind for the Wanderful and WITS team and I am a proud supporter.

Recently they had a webinar entitled ‘’Traveling to the USA for Muslim women: Top Tips’’. When have you ever seen this? When has any community ever tapped into this market? I was so excited about this topic and even more elated to see beautiful women in Hijabs on the deliverables. Wanderful is constantly cutting edge, they are constantly listening to their community and making the necessary adjustments to include everyone. They have and will always be a breath of fresh air.

Diversity in Travel Conferences and Tradeshows- D

As an international speaker, this subject is probably the closest to my heart. As an industry professional, I travel to numerous events annually. I have presented and attended conferences that highlight aviation, hospitality, travel technology, travel writing and more. Anyone who I called out last year either publicly or privately has made a significant change and I want to publicly say thank you.

Facebook Travel Summit

I realized that this subject was important to the industry when I found myself on stage at the remarkable TWA Hotel last October. My palms sweaty, my heart racing and eyes blinded by bright lights as I proceeded to speak to the top travel brands in the industry on connecting with inclusive communities online at the Facebook Travel Summit. Facebook, one of the largest brands globally agreed that my narrative was important and needed to be shared with their major clients. Not only was it an enormous success, but my session was also the top-rated of the summit, and now the Facebook travel team and I have built an authentic relationship to continue the conversation and create solutions to this ongoing issue.

to hire a consultant

Facebook is an industry and global leader, and I’d like all travel events to have diversity and inclusion top of mind, every time. Ask yourself is our staff reflective of all travelers? Is our speaker lineup reflective of all travelers? Is our media and advertising for the event reflective of all travelers? These simple questions will help you achieve the highest success of your event annually.

Session attendance

Dear Brands and Tourism Boards, please recognize that these sessions are put into place for you to understand how to better connect with travelers who feel like they’ve been overlooked. Please attend these sessions, send your marketing teams and make it a requirement. Speakers are not speaking just to speak; they have created compelling presentations so that you can understand their communities' travel habits and how/why they will spend money with you.

I was granted two sessions at WTM last year by Traverse Events to speak on this issue and although both sessions were heavily attended, as I looked around the room the number of decision-makers vs. influencers and journalists was very low. My peers will always support me, and I am truly grateful, but they aren’t the ones who needed to hear that message. They are the ones advocating beside me to be seen and heard and given equal opportunity. I am a consultant, brands often hire me to assist them in making a change. Attending a session costs nothing and it’s the same information. I’d like to challenge conferences to use these sessions in your press releases, highlight these sessions on your podcasts and include them in your emails leading up to your events.

Diversity in Influencer Trips- F

This still remains the most exhausting. This subject still makes me the most upset, and it’s mainly because this is when we as content creators see your true heart. Your bark should match your bite, but when it comes to influencer trips, it never does. All year long brands and tourism boards will support inclusive creators, they will give us the opportunity to speak, they will include us in imagery, but when it’s time for an influencer trip as always the trips are white, thin and abled body creators.

It is so discouraging and disgusting to many and literally takes us back to step one. I hate receiving calls and texts from my peers who feel like they are less than because brands didn’t see the value in them or their communities when it came time for an influencer trip. The excuse is always the same. ‘’They want someone with certain numbers’’ but when provided with a list of influencers who have those numbers but look different you still choose the same people.

When will this end? Additionally, brands and tourism boards need to realize it’s the micro-influencers who have the most engagement and reach. They have cult communities who follow them because they identify with their mission. Numbers are no longer king, authenticity and engagement is. Until your influencer trips are more diverse you will continue to miss opportunities to reach new audiences. The moment you realize diversity and inclusion are a driving force to business growth is the moment your numbers will increase vastly.

One of the brands I am most grateful for in this category is Norwegian Air. They work endlessly to ensure their brand is reflective of communities whose spending power positively affects their numbers. Anders Lindström and Min Kim from the North America communications team are Hall of Famers in my eyes and have gone above and beyond expectations to include BAME travelers. Their work and dedication to the black and brown travel communities have landed them the ‘’Inclusion Award’’ from Audacity Fest: the only travel festival for travelers of color.

We presented them with this award partially because of the all-black influencer trip they had last June in Stockholm. All black press trips rarely happen, but they realized African American travelers spend more than $63 billion annually and are constantly looking for recommendations where and how to travel. As a member of this trip, I was beyond impressed with the itinerary as Visit Stockholm incorporated people of color into our trip as well as the communities throughout the city where we could identify with those who looked like us.

One thing tourism boards fail to realize is we have the money to travel to your destination, but we want to know that it’s safe, we want to connect with black communities in your destination and we want to learn the black history if any.

We started off as 7 strangers, but by the time we left we connected in such a special way because both Birgitta Palmer of Visit Stockholm and Anders Lindström of Norwegian Airlines let us know our narrative was important, welcomed us into their country, asked us the tough questions that lead to insights and expectations of the black community and treated us as equals. We laughed together, broke bread and of course sang dancing queens in the streets of Stockholm from Abba. Authenticity goes extremely far, and Stockholm is always top of my list when other black travelers ask where they should go.

I always tell brands to watch Norweigian, because they constantly show they're in tune. I'm so excited to see their Asian influencer trip and other inclusive campaigns for 2020!

Another tourism board I’m excited to mention is Maine’s Mid Coast and Islands, along with Jenna Howard their Deputy Campaign Manager. Jenna Howard made a conscious effort last May to bring women from multiple ethnic backgrounds to Maine for an influencer trip. An incredible learning experience for all parties involved, her hard work has landed her two nominations for WITS Bessie awards for ‘’Collaboration of the Year’’ and ‘’Inclusion Award’’ and she deserves to win.

Because Jenna is an experienced traveler, she sees no color. She recognizes that travel has no face and wanted to welcome everyone into her great state. She understood that Maine had an opportunity to change their past narrative and she executed flawlessly. Not only did she create an amazing trip, she continued the relationships with each creator post trip. I was honored for her to join me on a panel at TBEX Montana speaking to other tourism boards on how to successfully connect with inclusive communities and achieve success through influencer marketing.

Diversity and Inclusion at Travel Companies-F

As a community, we have to do better. How can you change the narrative when internally your brand is not reflective of the travelers you serve? Until companies look more inclusive, they will continue to make the same mistakes because there’s no accountability.

Often times when dealing with other tourism boards I have to say to leadership, “have you noticed the population of your destination?” If it looks like this, why does your marketing reflect otherwise? If there’s no dominating race, ethnicity or gender, why is the breakdown of your team not diverse? If you can’t afford another position, you can afford consulting. The investment you make in your brand being more inclusive is one that you’ll see results from indefinitely. Make the effort

I always give credit to Visit Oakland for their team. Oakland, California, my home town, is one of the most diverse cities in America. The fact that their tourism board is reflective of that speaks volumes to the attitude of their leadership and how they view their natives and visitors.

Overall sensitivity to Diversity in Travel-C-

Although hesitant to give this a better marking, I will say once this issue was brought to the industries' attention multiple changes started to occur. The part that upset a lot of us was that it wasn’t authentic but temporary and only happened to save face. We are constantly watching what your brands do. We view every category mentioned above and notice when you’ve made the shift forever or for a moment.

A word I’ve used multiple times is authenticity. It costs nothing to be authentic. It costs nothing to make a conscious effort to reach out to those whose expertise and opinions you need for your company to be successful.

It’s clear to me that some brands still don’t understand, but for the ones that do, thank you. Some brands simply don’t see the value, but for the ones that do, thank you. To the brands that have diversity and inclusion at the top of their minds always, thank you. Diversity and inclusion are not buzzwords, they are calls to actions. How will you take action?

Diversity in Travel Consultants

I am including this list of dynamic and knowledgeable consultants who can provide insights and solutions to your brands. Normally you have to research these individuals but I have provided it to you here so you can take immediate action in assuring your brand initiatives are inclusive of everybody. Although not a complete list of every travel niche these individuals are experts in their fields.

Diversity in Travel

Lolá Akinmade Åkerström @lolaakinmade

Martinique Lewis @marty_sandiego

Black Travel

Eulanda Shead Osiagiede @dipyourtoesin

Rondel Holder @kingronthedon

Muslim Travel

Kareemah Ashiru @hijabiglobetrotter

Glori Ali @muslimtravelrocks

Plus Size Travel

Jeff Jenkins @chubbydiaries__

Kirsty Leanne @kirstyleanneuk

Annette Richmond @fatgirlstraveling

Asian Travel

Dr.Kiona @hownottotravellikeabasicbitch

Latino Travel

Alexandra Tracy @ttravel_latina

Autistic Travel

Marquita Straus @tribeonaquest

Traveling with a chronic Ilnesss

Olivia Christine @ochristine

Blind Travel

Sassy Wyatt @SassyWyattOfficial

Mobility Travel

Cory Lee @curbfreecorylee

Vasu Sojitra @vasu_sojitra

Black LGBTQ+ Travel

Miller @remixyourstyle


Dan and Karl @Coupleofmen

Ageism in Travel

Char Simpson @travelingblackwidow

Gen Z Travel

Gabby Beckford @packslight

Sustainability in Travel

Ashley Renne @heyashleyrenne

Adventure Travel

Justin Forrest @forrest_in_the_forrest

3,837 views0 comments


bottom of page