• marty_sandiego

THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY STILL DOESN'T GET IT: Diversity in travel report card .

This was originally written Jan.20, 2019


On Jan.3, 2019 I released a diversity in travel report card that graded travel brands, tourism boards, travel conferences and the overall marketing in the industry. For those of you that don’t know this topic is EXHAUSTING and as an African American woman I constantly feel disrespected and ignored due to lack of representation.


For the last year I’ve been speaking out on this issue on podcasts, at conferences and private travel events. I’ve expressed my concerns to the “guilty” parties directly on social media, I’ve emailed them, I’ve called their offices. I have reached out to them every way I know how and I know they have heard me, yet no change has occurred. They are continuing to show me that, MY TRAVEL DOLLARS do not matter!


In my opinion, this makes no financial sense considering African American’s spend 63 billion annually in travel dollars. To take it a step further Mexican Americans spend $73 billion annually and by the year 2020 Muslims spend $170 billion annually in the travel industry! Even with all this cash spent we are still not represented in any marketing.


If you think it stops there IT DOESN’T! There are so many niche travelers who are left out of the discussion it is ridiculous. If one were to simply search online travel communities that advocate for LGBTQ, Native American, veterans or disabled travelers you’d find tons! Yet none of these people show are visible in these advertisements.


I believe part of this problem is due to a lack of diversity within travel brands. When there is not diversity internally we can’t expect to see it externally. If the company is not multicultural how can their marketing be?


This leads me to the report card.



Using letter grades native to american grading systems the following grades were given based off incidents that happened in 2018. I will recreate this every year until I see all A’s .


Diversity in ads & promotions

I gave a letter grade of a D because not much has changed. I recall an incident where black and brown travel industry professionals were outraged at Visit Maine’s promo video. We viewed it at an amazing travel conference where we spent all weekend speaking to issues in the industry regarding diversity and after all that the video was played and it showed nothing but white travelers.


I felt bad for the Visit Maine representative because they bombarded her with complaints. She probably had nothing to do with that video but since she was there representing them she took all the hits. Fortunately, she took our feedback back to Maine and implemented changes. A few months later Maine held a press trip and had multicultural representatives. Should I be happy about this? Its hard to say, because I’m not impressed, but I do appreciate them realizing this was an issue, and they took action to address it. At the end of the day I do not understand why we had to point this out to the in the first place. If we would have never voiced our concerns they wouldn’t have even noticed.


Diversity on social media

This also get’s a D. Again although 8% of accounts are starting to listen to complaints of multicultural travelers the majority of travel accounts only show white travelers. This is the reason why groups surrounding the Black Travel Movement were started.


There are now a variety of travel movements online that cater to diverse travel niches. In my current capacity I serve as the creative lead at NOMADNESS Travel tribe. It was created in 2011 to have a place/ resource for black and brown travelers to see themselves reflected so they could be inspired and encouraged to travel. Since then other accounts like Travel Noire, Black and Abroad, Soul Society , My Travel Crush and countless others have entered into the industry and are supporting black wanderlusters throughout the globe. There are also other accounts dedicated to minority groups like Travel Latina Somali Travel Feed, Same Sex Quad Travel, Asian Travel Squad to name a few..


With all these social communities there is no reason large travel accounts cannot display travelers of all ethnicities, religions, sexual preference or disabilities. Brands like Matador network who have some diversity on their team was the first account where I noticed change. Last January their social manager Sam O’Brochta released a message looking for multicultural content creators to do Instagram story takeovers. It was such a breath of fresh air because FINALLY all people were going to be reflected on a major social account. I had the chance to do two takeovers in 2018 and I will also do one the first week in February. Matador taking action on this issue opened the door for Phillip Calvert a.k.a Philwaukee to have his own travel show with them ‘’Phil good travel’’ which premieres Janaury 21.

Do you understand how monumental that is for black travelers everywhere to see someone who looks like them? I wish other accounts would get a clue. Thank you to everyone who has made a step towards diversity and inclusion.


Diversity in traditional media

This receives a D for the same reason! Dear media outlets, not only white people travel. When releasing stories show families of color traveling and interview them. When doing segments on solo travel stop talking to the same white woman we’ve seen a million times. When speaking about TSA interview the Muslim traveler that has anxiety every time they have to go through TSA because people are rude and racist. Are your viewers only white? I don’t think so. Do better.


Diversity in travel programs and events

The first F! The industry received an F because in many cases it’s not until a brand is called out about the lack of representation before it changes. A lot of brands apologize and say we were unaware of this issue. It’s mind boggling to me that you can’t see that everything you do looks one way. When you walk down the street do you not see people of color? You’re telling me the whole worlds white? I won’t accept that.

Last November during WTM London travel brand Lonely Planet hosted an event ‘’Diversity in travel writing’’. Now what brands don’t know is that there are tons of groups dedicated to diversity in travel and once the news spreads about an issue, conference or event we will come together and support, whether that means attending or boycotting! We brought everyone we could to Lonely Planet that night, so they could know that we are writers, we are travelers, we are influencers. After that event, it changed the way Lonely Planet did things. They opened all of their resources up for us to take part in. I will NEVER forget that! Now I fully support Lonely Planet because it’s a step in the right direction.


Diversity in travel conferences and trade-shows

This is the second most exhausting issue to me. It received an F because not enough representation is at these conferences. It’s not enough to say well that’s because there aren’t any people of color who fit into these categories because there are, and they visit these conferences!


In December I received a text from another travel professional that was highly upset at yet another travel conference announcement that only showed a white line up. The travel and adventure show a show that has been going on for years, 15 to be exact, and it has always only showed a majority of white people in the industry. I saw it and I said I’ve got to do something. I called their offices. I spoke with a young lady who answered the phone. Poor lady. She had to hear my frustrations and she encouraged me to send my feelings via email. I asked her to transfer me to the marketing director, I left him a voicemail and sent an email and NEVER received a response.


I was hoping for some sort of acknowledgement and dialogue about the lack of diversity in their shows and a response on how they plan to fix this issue. You can say ‘’well maybe they never got it’’ but they did. Linkedin proved that when I saw their director of marketing had viewed my profile. I sent him a request ,he accepted it but did ignored the direct message I sent and did not initiate any conversation.

Thank you to conferences like The Women in travel summit and Travel Con who celebrate diversity in every way. We will always support you.


Diversity in influencer trips


This has been the most frustrating one for me because this is my area of expertise. I had to start creating trips specifically for minority influencers because we were not offered a seat at the table.


Aruba tourism did an ‘’international’’ influencer trip with people who looked one way. They claim to have selected influencers from South America but none of them were in the afro-latino demographic. It was disrespectful and quite frankly I’m confused on why Caribbean tourism boards choose white faces for their representatives. The only time we see people of color is when they are showing the locals as if people of color don’t visit those places.

Being that I am the voice of the people I commented on Aruba Tourisms post . I named a dozen different international influencers that represented a dozen different travel niches, and because of that everyone chimed in. The original post was had about 3k views and it jumped to 9k after we brought attention to it. About 60 travel professionals commented on this post and the Aruba Tourism Board did not reply. Instead they laid low for about 4 days deciding that silence was the best response and probably hoping that it would all boil over. It has not. We all have taken notice and WILL NOT BE SUPPORTING ARUBA until they change. The best way to affect change is with our dollars and platforms to speak out against this. Turning a blind eye is not a good way to go about things. I’m disappointed in Aruba Tourism and will continue to speak out against this exact example during the different speaking opportunities I

have this year.


I shared this issue on my social media and an influencer who was on the trip reached out to me and thanked me raising awareness about this particular instance. This influencer admitted that the group of influencers lacked diversity and they brought up the issue while on the trip. The influencer stated that the guides on the ground understood completely but it’s the PR companies who create these trips who are out of touch. I appreciated his message so much because it gave insight to where the issue starts. I felt Visit Aruba should have issued a statement and they did not which is a public display of cowardice in my opinion.


Thank you to brands like Sidewalker Daily and Jettsetter who both have listened to multicultural influencers and have acknowledged that the lack of diversity in influencer trips is an issue. You are appreciated. Thank you to brands like Norwegian Air and Four Seasons who have constantly made strides in this area.


Diversity and inclusion at travel companies


This received and F for obvious reasons. As long as there’s no representation within companies, there will be none in anything they do. Start hiring diverse candidates because representation does matter. Everyone is on Linkedin so you have the ability to recruit. Hire a headhunter, do something! An alternative is to contract diverse freelancers to sit on this team that you confide in for marketing purposes. I know a ton of industry professionals that would gladly do this, there are no excuses.


Thank you to the companies that display this like Hilton , Pandora for brands and iFLY Luggage.


Overall sensitivity to diversity in travel


Although I gave this a D, I look forward to this changing over the course of 2019 because I really believe this industry can and will do better. The lack of acknowledgement of this issue is very sad but multicultural travel professionals are starting to get opportunities that allow us to spread this message. Brands are starting to not be afraid to ‘’rock the boat’’ in the words of Evie Robinson founder of NOMADNESS, and are making a commitment to being leaders in this industry by showing diversity in everything they do.


It’s not enough to say we care anymore, we need to see it. Show us in your marketing, show us at your conferences, show us with the people you hire to represent your brand. When you know better, you should do better, I look forward to a change.

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© 2018 by Marty Lewis.