News & Views

Inclusive Marketing: A Culturally Sensitive Approach in Travel

Why Inclusive Marketing?

While we start rethinking about traveling again, and marketing our efforts, sensitivity has never been a higher priority for DMOs and destinations looking to attract attention. The protests for Black justice worldwide have made this all abundantly clear, so there is definitely some work to do here. It’s up to us all to educate ourselves. We can’t wait for someone to tell us we’re doing it incorrectly. It’s about time we look at our practices more holistically to make sure that, going forward, we are prioritizing sensitive and inclusive language in destination marketing efforts.

Words describing minority groups to achieve inclusive marketing are always a tricky topic. Language, like the very culture it serves, constantly evolves. It’s important to make sure your marketing materials and campaigns are staying on top of these evolutions, to avoid making gaffes or sounding outdated. Being politically correct may sometimes seem a bit extreme, but there’s really no harm – or effort needed – to keep your language inclusive and offense-free.

Let’s take a look at a few words that get thrown around a bit haphazardly to understand better how to use them, and what alternatives might exist. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but solid suggestions that you can’t go wrong following.

What good is there in not being inclusive?


Whether its food or cuisine, the word ethnic gets thrown around with abundant disregard. It’s one of those words that says everything and nothing all at the same time. If someone is cooking ethnic food, we assume it means some sort of international cuisine. Consider that there are 195 countries in the world, however, and you see the problem. Any food can be ethnic depending on who is looking at it, so by calling Chinese food ethnic, you’re assuming a non-Chinese or Occidental reader when that’s not always the case.

Maybe it’s not quite offensive, but it sure is lazy.

Instead, let’s say what we mean. If there is a market offering a variety of cuisine, why not describe the offer to achieve more inclusive marketing goals? Instead of calling it a mix of ethnic foods, say it’s a mix of Korean, Mexican, and French. Specifics are much more powerful than vague labels, and visitors will actually know what to expect. Here are some of the biggest offenders that we’d like to see revisited.


Pride parades and gay-friendly districts are fantastic selling points for a destination, but think twice before you label everything as gay. The LGBTQ community – often described a LGBTQ+ – encompasses basically anyone who does not identify as a heterosexual man or woman. That’s a big spectrum! The word “gay” is used mostly to refer to homosexual cisgender men, or those who identify as men. A gay-friendly bar, therefore, may accidentally marginalize others who are actually invited into these spaces.

Instead of just using “gay,” educate yourself on all of the terms that are out there and be prepared to make mistakes. You’re not likely to offend anyone seriously, but with a bit of effort your nods to inclusive marketing could make your destination seem more welcoming. Consider using “LGBTQ+” or “queer” instead of gay to show that you aren’t stuck in some bygone decade. And if you need a lesson on how not to approach transgender people, just look to British author J.K. Rowling for a bad example.

African American

You can’t dance around race, and the past few weeks of protests worldwide have made that entirely clear. Meeting different people from different cultures is part of a travel experience. Unfortunately, especially in the U.S., the term African American is often used to describe a certain culture based on skin color. While not exactly offensive, it’s not entirely working towards inclusive marketing goals. Think about it – do all people of a certain skin tone identify as African? The National Association of Black Journalists, in short, affirms that no, they do not.

Instead, be clear with your words, especially in an international context. If you’re describing a group of people, it’s generally best to use “Black” instead of “African Americans” if race is crucial to discuss. And listen to the AP style guide which, recently, has affirmed that a capital “B” is necessary! In Louisville, a new Black-owned bourbon distillery has recently opened, not an African-American-owned distillery. Maybe the owners do self-identify as African Americans, but unless you ask them directly, it’s best to use the all-inclusive term. Maybe they have Jamaican or Bajan roots – the nomenclature could then change accordingly. You have plenty of examples in the news if you need to read up on how to use the term Black. Just open any newspaper.

Local culture in inclusive marketing

Another one that slips into an easy trope is “local” culture. The word local, as we discussed with words like authentic, is lazy and nondescript. While far from offensive to most individuals, it disrupts our travel writing sensibilities. Your version of local is not the same as someone else’s, and it typically refers to whatever dominant culture is represented. A quaint hipster coffee shop or organic market may seem very “local” to California. But in San Francisco, isn’t a Chinese restaurant part of local culture? In Long Beach, isn’t a Cambodian donut shop local? If you mean “indigenous culture,” then say it. Even that, however, can be problematic.

Yes, that might sound clunky, but especially in today’s globalized world, local is in the eye of the beholder. Make sure your reader knows where you are coming from and what you mean when you describe someone or something as “local” if inclusive marketing is a goal.

Women’s/men’s interest

We don’t want to sound too politically correct, but it might be time to start retiring the notion that there are women’s and men’s interests. Gender and sexuality, as discussed above, are already so fluid, that having these sorts of divides seems antiquated at best, and offensive at worst. Women and men both like to shop when they travel. Women and men are both interested in athletic activities. Women and men are both interested in dining options. Furthermore, to assume all men want the same sorts of things or that all women travel the same way is just as old-fashioned.

Modernize. It’s 2020.

Instead of grouping things into arbitrarily gendered categories, present your destination’s offerings in a specific way so that any visitors – no matter where they fall on the gender spectrum – can see themselves participating. What’s the point of turning off half the population, unless we’re talking about something so gender-specific like traveling while pregnant or best places for mustache grooming?

These are just a few of the ways we can start to rethink your writing to achieve more inclusive marketing. If you’re curious to learn more about how to market your destination without sounding like an old-fashioned curmudgeon, get in touch with Kayla Leska at [email protected] to learn how DCI can help you rethink your approach and keep your content fresh and modern. We’ve been marketing destinations for 60 years and can bring you up to date.

Written By

Janelle McKinsey

Janelle is the Account Director in the DCI Los Angeles office. With a background in media relations, she enjoys story telling and is fortunate enough to do so within the exciting world of travel.

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