News & Views

America’s Changing Demographics and What They Mean For Destination Marketing


As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, destination marketing is approaching a crossroads. The U.S. Census estimates the entire country will be what it calls “majority-minority” by 2044. This means the combined minority population (including but not limited to Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans) will supersede the total Caucasian population. While this eventuality lies more than 25 years in the future, the evolution is happening now. In fact, California, Texas, Hawaii, New Mexico and the District of Columbia are already majority-minority.

Population statistics don’t lie. Neither do buying-power numbers. The combined purchasing power of the African American, Hispanic and Asian American markets is growing and estimated to reach $4.3 trillion by the year 2020.  That means groups of diverse consumers should be primary targets when planning marketing outreach.

That said, one size does not fit all. It’s important to note that each minority audience is distinct, and that within each subset, there are vast differences in psychographics, education and income.

Destination Marketing to Diverse Audiences

In the attempt to market more effectively to diverse audiences, it is vital that destinations understand each market.

The spending power of African Americans specifically has reached more than one trillion dollars! Within the last year, the African American community has made travel one of their top priorities, as rising social groups such as Travel Noire, Soul Society and various digital influencers showcase the appeal of travel and its accessibility.

“Cities and states committed to understanding the nuances of destination marketing within diverse audiences will find success,” according to DCI account executive Sierra Brown. The Columbia University journalism graduate notes that “their efforts will pay off in loyalty from diverse communities searching for locales in which they feel welcomed. As an African-American and an avid traveler myself, I can tell you that while the industry has improved in its efforts to target African American travelers, it still has a long way to go.”

But ensuring success in diverse markets means more than just interpreting numbers and research data. How can destination marketing organizations more successfully market to America’s changing demographic?

Increase Diversity at the Marketing Table

 It starts with having diverse points of view at the table. This is crucial for making informed, strategic decisions on how to attract diverse consumers to travel destinations. “When it comes to promoting destinations, it’s vital to realize that the public isn’t a homogeneous entity,” notes DCI business events specialist Raúl Cavazos-Binder. The fourth-generation Chicano (with a Mexican mother and a French father) advises, “One marketing approach may work for one target audience, but not another. Having a diverse group of employees working on a campaign ensures destinations can have informed conversations about what works and what doesn’t with each community.”

In other words, it helps to have employees or consultants with direct connections to target communities. They are more likely to have an innate understanding of what works and doesn’t in terms of effective positioning and media placement.

There are other advantages as well. “A diverse staff leads to more innovative thinking, especially in the digital space where the consumption habits of consumers do have distinct characteristics based on minority group,” notes DCI digital executive Athina Yujuico (a Canadian born in the Philippines).  “For example, given my own background, I’m able to bring cultural context and an authentic voice to digital marketing efforts that a destination may not have considered.”

Leverage Diverse Voices To Impact International Visitation

 Diverse points of view can also provide insight for U.S. and Canadian destinations travel products looking to engage with international visitors.

Among the clients for Amalia Meliti, DCI Account Director, is CityPASS. “CityPASS values the international consumer. Being able to help them customize their collateral material – not just by language, but contextually – helps CityPASS be more effective in key markets like Mexico and Canada”, notes Meliti, whose multicultural roots – Ecuadorian and Greek – and fluency in Spanish and Greek, have proven invaluable in her tourism marketing career.

Canada has its own set of challenges when it comes to diversity and marketing. “It’s interesting because most U.S. destinations think that if you just translate marketing materials into French, you can market to Canadians the same way you can market to American travelers, says DCI account manager Alison Theodor. The Canadian with Saint Lucian roots adds, “U.S. marketers often don’t understand that there are actually distinct differences in how Canadian consumers think about holidays and make purchasing decisions. Within Canada, the purchasing patterns of French-speaking Canadians living in Quebec vary distinctly from English speakers in Ontario. It’s key to have an insider understanding of these nuances in order to be effective in this country.”

Recruit To Retain Diverse Points of View

 As the core demographics of countries evolve, it is becoming increasingly important for destination marketers to recruit and retain talent reflecting the diversity of the population. But how does a DMO track down qualified candidates?

Cavazos-Binder notes that the current status quo of recommendation recruiting can lead to “the demographic makeup of DMOs remaining the same over time.” If this is the case, DMOs need to shake up recruiting practices.

According to Karyl Leigh Barnes, Managing Partner of DCI’s Tourism Practice, “We’ve made a concerted effort in the past three years to expand our recruitment to target universities with diverse student populations. Additionally, DCI takes advantage of a diversified staff to spot and recruit top talent at all stages of their careers.”

Destination marketing organizations would be wise to follow DCI’s strategies.

Creating Pipeline of Future Talent

 Today, the under-18 entire population in the United States is already nearly majority-minority. So, it’s logical to think that approaching those graduating college in the coming years is one route to developing a more diverse employee base. But the travel industry as a whole must do a better job introducing candidates to the opportunities that lie in destination marketing as early as high school. Otherwise, students will not seek out colleges with tourism marketing programs in the first place.

As a high school student, DCI account executive Laura Cyrille, of Haitian descent, was a member of the Academy of Finance and indifferent to the tourism industry.

After pursuing a bachelor’s degree in finance she eventually opted for a career in public relations. It was her passion for travel, culture and people that led her to the tourism industry. “Fortune 500 companies make it a point to attend high school career days – the tourism sector should be as proactive in providing students with early exposure to the industry. We need to show young people that this industry offers a broad range of career paths, from management to marketing.”

Cavazos-Binder agrees with his colleague. “When I was in college I had never heard of tourism marketing as something to do as a career,” he says. “Yes, I knew about working in hotel management – but I didn’t have any idea about destination marketing as an industry.” So, he majored in communications and history instead of marketing.

But even for those majoring in marketing or communications, destination marketing simply isn’t an area that is reflected as a true career opportunity for diverse students. “If there is more visibility of the field at the university level, I believe you would see a rise in candidates from diverse backgrounds,” notes Cavazos-Binder.

Partner With Leaders In Talent Education

There are several universities in the United States that have hopped on board the destination marketing train. More programs are being developed at schools that attract diverse student populations, including Arizona State, Florida International University, Temple University and UMass Amherst.

At the graduate level, Boston University offers a Master of Science in Administrative Studies with a concentration in Economic Development & Tourism Management. George Washington University has a Masters of Tourism Administration program.  New York University’s Masters In Tourism Management is another pipeline for diverse destination marketing talent.

DMAI – soon to be renamed Destinations International – is doing its part as well.

DMAI’s Future Workforce initiative focuses on identifying and recruiting diverse students at the university level to get involved in the destination marketing industry.

Clearly, diversity at the destination marketing table is essential for the health of the industry, and thus should be a priority business strategy for DMOs. Having diverse staff helps ensure that all marketing is effective and that reality, not stereotypes, is presented to the majority-minority populations of today and tomorrow.

Lisa Skriloff is the editor of Multicultural Travel News. She crafted this article based on interviews with DCI’s own destination marketing staff.

Written By

Amalia Meliti

Amalia has fifteen years of destination marketing experience, having worked in both the travel trade and earned media space for destinations throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. She currently directs DCI’s travel trade marketing efforts in both the U.S. and Canada.

More Articles by Amalia Meliti

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