Culture has always been at the heart of travel and conversations around the intersection of culture and the tourism industry seem to be more prevalent and diverse than ever. In fact, ⅖ global travelers now identity as ‘cultural tourists’, a number that has risen significantly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Some operators are finding their clients have increased interest in experiencing local cultures when they travel. Many have recently taken notice of the immense buying power of domestic US Black and Hispanic populations and want to enhance their travel products to attract or better serve these customers. Others are simply working toward establishing more holistic and inclusive business practices. Regardless of your specific circumstances you may be finding it hard to know where to begin, so here are a few tips to get started.
You must make a commitment to the most crucial element of this process - listening. None of your efforts can be fruitful if you’re not truly taking in the feedback from your stakeholders and incorporating it along the way. Your customers, industry partners and staff all have important insights to share with you and you would be wise to to hear them out. It is particularly important that your working group includes representation of the communities you are interested in serving. Having a diverse team is a great asset here but you can also consider conducting surveys with a representative sample, expanding your pool of freelancers/consultants and reaching out directly to local professionals in the destinations you will be visiting.
Value Your Efforts
Anything worth doing, is worth doing right… right? I can not stress this enough, you MUST prioritize these efforts by allocating the necessary resources for success. Make sure this project is adequately staffed, backed by an appropriate and sustainable budget, and that all goals are intentionally designed and mapped out at the beginning of the project. Building products that will successfully appeal to your audience requires significant and nuanced investments from your company. Your customers will be able to tell if that responsibility was taken lightly.
Before rushing in to add a new product or launch a huge ad campaign, you’ll want to know whether there is a demand for cultural products in your business. Survey your existing customers to capture demographics and find out what destinations and experiences they may already be interested in. If your goal is to cultivate a new audience, use existing industry research and qualified consultants to gather important behavioral insights and trends. Your efforts are more likely to succeed if they are backed by sound consumer data.
Consult the Travel Experts
This process may seem intimidating but you aren’t alone. There are numerous resources to assist you in developing your products and services. Choose partners who employ practices that are responsible, sustainable and respectful to the cultures of a destination as well as the cultures of your inbound travelers.
One of your best friends will be the tourism bureaus of destinations around the world, usually known as Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) or Conventions and Visitors Bureaus (CVB). These local experts will provide a wealth of information on all of the cultural tours, attractions, accommodations, experiences, etc. that are available within a particular location. They can make direct connections and provide a multitude of marketing resources and educational tools. I suggest contacting these businesses very early in your process.
Put simply, receptive tour operators are the boots-on-the-ground experts that can not only connect you with products in their area but will also do the heavy lifting to provide you and your clients with the best possible experience. Receptive tour operators are excellent partners for ad hoc bookings or as a consistent intermediary to support your existing operations.
The travel industry is full of outstanding partners willing to collaborate or provide resources to help you tap into new markets.You should expect to compensate these professionals as their expertise is well worth the investment. I highly recommend working with partners such as Tourism Cares; the Association for Black Travel Professionals; The Culturist Group; Travel Professionals of Color; Crescent Rating; the National Coalition for Black Meeting Planners; the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association; the National Association for Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers; and the Black Travel Alliance.
You’ve done the planning and now it’s time to talk to your audience. Make sure that the communication of your new travel opportunities respects and accurately reflects the diverse and inclusive product you are developing. When engaging your customers, feature language and images appealing to the particular community you are trying to reach. Hire people that represent your customer bases to assist in developing and integrating this new messaging. Communicate with your audiences using the best channels of communication based on the demographics of that audience. Websites, publications, and media outlets that target the same audiences you are looking to work with can be great partners for your campaigns.
As our industry continues to evolve, your business will need to follow suit and there is no doubt that culture will play a role. With humility, thoughtful planning and a commitment to sustainable processes, you can both expand your cultural product and expand your audiences to different communities.