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Authentic Inclusivity in Marketing and Placemaking

Disclaimer: This is a work in progress. As we all move on from our black square on social media, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do the work to embrace inclusivity. We’re not shying away from it. Doing it authentically, however, is another question. Destinations need to be careful not to publish a brochure with a Black traveler on it and then call it a day.

Marketers throw around words like inclusivity and racial equality, but translating that into action within our marketing efforts requires careful reflection.

Recently DCI participated in PRSA’s webinar, “Bridging the Gap: Steps to Include Black Travel Professionals,” to discuss with Black writers and influencers and learn about their experiences. Our goal is to start putting into action the lessons we’ve been learning recently, to correct the oversights that have been in plain sight in the tourism industry for years.

In an interview with DCI, DeAnna Taylor, a writer at Travel Noire, summed up the struggles with representation in the tourism industry succinctly. She said, “The travel industry is one of those industries that lack diversity and I really want to see changes in that first and foremost and it won’t happen overnight. But it starts with little steps featuring more people of color in social feeds, inviting more content creators of color on your press and influencer trips, actually reaching out to these content creators and writers to share their personal stories and feelings so people will know what’s it like in these destinations for people.”

We’ve begun hearing the same ideas over and over, leading us to a few takeaways that will inspire your marketing efforts to change for the better, and more permanently.

Show POC authentically

It seems easy to switch out photos of white travelers for people of color (POC). Being easy, however, is a sign that it probably isn’t the best strategy. In order to represent Black travelers more completely and more honestly, it’s imperative to use the whole spectrum to smash stereotypes, as Martinique Lewis, President of the Black Travel Alliance, said during the webinar. Images of Black families and luxury travelers, for example, are not often depicted in mainstream marketing efforts. It’s time to change that.

Jenel Walton, Vice President, Communications & Strategic Development at Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau, shared her thoughts during the webinar, saying, “Destinations will use the same image of the same smiling Black woman or the same family looking at out the ocean. There are so many different looks to us…Sometimes you find a good image and that’s all you use. Use it all. There are plenty out there.”

Accept the losses

Part of being inclusive, truly inclusive, means accepting that some people won’t be. It wouldn’t be a struggle if everyone was on the same page. Unfortunately, some people will simply resist efforts to include everyone. Make peace with this fact now, but rest assured that by promoting a more inclusive future for your destination, you’ll also be appealing to a larger audience than before.

Avoid tokenism

This topic is one of the more complex issues, but the short of it is that simply hiring one Black employee or sending out a Black-themed story to a Black writer is not the ultimate fix. Baby steps, sure, but it’s a brush stroke on a much bigger picture that we’re painting here. Part of this means, as well, not waiting until February to pitch stories about Black-owned businesses in travel just because it’s Black History Month. Sure, that’s a good time, but remember, Black people exist 365 days a year.

Hire diversity

To that end, diversify your team. It’s impossible to understand, truly, the challenges faced by Black travelers if you have none working alongside you. The more diverse your workforce, the more likely it is your marketing efforts will appeal to larger audiences. If you’re only able to ask yourself if a media pitch is tone deaf because there’s no one qualified on your team to ask, there’s a problem to resolve.

Include Black partners consistently

A destination may have a great story about a Black-owned business or some similar experience. The instinct is often to find a Black writer to cover it, but it’s time to break that habit. Black writers should be included in all pitches, and if pitching to a Black writer about something related to race, it has to be extremely pertinent. Publicists who pitch stories to someone simply based on their race are playing into that tokenism discussed above.

As Taylor said, “You have to be inclusive all around the board, and that doesn’t just mean reaching out to primarily white publications and then just including a Black writer but also including designated Black media in your press opportunities because we travel too – we like everything.”

Educate yourself

Stop leaving inclusivity up to other people. As a marketer or DMO, do your research to find out how you can connect your destination with Black writers, influencers, and other partners in the media landscape. It would be irresponsible to rely on someone to point you in the right direction when you are more than capable of using a search engine. The speakers during the webinar were particularly clear about this point. Follow hashtags like #blacktravelalliance, #blacktravelgram, #blacktraveller, #blacktravelblogger and #blacktravelfamily to get a sense of who is out there and build your own network. Again, it will take effort.

These changes towards inclusivity aren’t temporal and they won’t disappear like the leaves in the autumn. They’re here. To stay. For good. No DMO anywhere in the world has any reason to shy away from taking action steps to combat inequality, and you need to start somewhere. Go on to Twitter and type that #blacktravelgram hashtag and then we can take it from there, OK?

DCI, like everyone around the country, nay, world, has been dealing with the fallout of the protests that shook us all. We’re committed to change and inclusivity. More than ever. Get in touch with Daniella Middleton at [email protected] to learn how our placemaking agency can help your destination make itself more authentically inclusive.

Written By

Daniella Middleton

Daniella Middleton is a Senior Vice President in the Tourism Practice, leading strategy and directing digital marketing strategies, influencer marketing partnerships, and MICE / business events marketing and sales.

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