Beyond the Black Square: Transforming Intent into Action in the Travel Industry
August 13, 2020
The recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, has shone a light on the racial inequality in the U.S. as well as other places in the world. As people took to the streets to speak out against racial injustice, this time around, it hit differently.
The diversity of races on the frontlines sent the message that this was not an issue just within the Black community. As a result, many brands joined in to show their solidarity with the movement. But as the excitement wanes and the black square and allegiance messages have receded, many in the Black community are left wondering: what now?
The answer is we must continue showing up and practicing what we preach! Now, the real work begins — work that is uncomfortable, and will not necessarily be rewarded with likes and media headlines. This work must permeate all types of businesses and industries, including travel.
From a travel perspective, we must realize that 70 percent of multicultural travelers support brands where they see themselves reflected, according to travel writer and diversity in travel consultant Martinique Lewis. Lewis notes these travelers go where companies make the effort to show diversity and inclusion.
A 2018 Mandala Research study indicated Black travelers contributed $63 billion to the U.S. travel and tourism economy — up from $48 billion in 2010 when the study was last conducted.
Between travelers’ desires to support brands where they see themselves and the data that reveals their spending power, it would make sense that there should be more representation in travel marketing efforts — but that’s simply not the case. Most television ads, Instagram feeds and brand websites clearly lack representation. If we are featured, we’re the bartender, the bellhop or the housekeeping staff. We’re never the ones enjoying the vacation; we’re the ones serving the drinks.
PR People Have Work to Do
As PR practitioners, we tout authentic experiences when it comes to the destinations we promote and the local feel of the hotels we represent. The goal of traveling is to discover the world, learn about new cultures, experience different cuisines, and — most importantly — meet people from different cultures and backgrounds.
That authenticity, however, must go farther. We must push our teams to hire creatives from within BIPOC communities to tell their authentic stories. Our connections to the stories being told will ignite a passion to tell them truthfully and, as a result, they will undoubtedly resonate viscerally with intended audiences.
When it comes to promoting Africa, why wouldn’t we secure Black writers and influencers? If your client is an Asian restaurant, why not invite an Asian critic to try it out? For a hotel in South America, why not ensure that your marketing materials are shared with the Latinx community? As you read this, it seems like a given — but you might not consider the obvious if your staff lacks diversity. You would be surprised how something so simple is so often overlooked.
At FINN, we are proud to be one of the most diverse agencies in the industry, and have won awards for our Diversity & Inclusion efforts. It’s likewise a source of pride for staffers in the Travel & Lifestyle division that we have people of color at all levels.
Our view of the world is multicolored, but the work goes beyond staff statistics. We have and will continue to work with a roster of diverse talent to bring to life our clients’ campaigns. When your workforce is diverse, you can see the blind spots many don’t, and in some instances, avert crisis. A multitude of experiences at the table means there will be a higher level of scrutiny before anything goes public. It also means the stories being told will look and feel differently — and that’s a good thing.
The Work Continues
The current climate has challenged us to think and listen more intently, look more closely at our practices and ultimately consider what we need to do to change for the better. You would have thought that in the travel industry, the same voices that tell stories daily would be representative of that ideal. The harsh truth, however, is there is much work to be done. We must all push our clients to expand the roster of media they work with, to seek out and pay the creative talent of BIPOC community members, and, most definitely, to demand our workplaces are diverse.
At the end of the day, we must all do our part to ensure diversity in all walks of life. After all, only if we lift each other up will we be able to see eye-to-eye.