Set Up To Fail: Why Diversity Lags in Travel Marketing Jobs

September 23, 2021

When hiring new employees, tourism marketing agencies and the destination brands we represent see diversity hiring practices as important. Excellent. We support, nay, celebrate this.

While true diversity hiring is still something of a challenge when it comes to finding senior-level candidates, few hiring managers at the destination-level or in the agency space are talking about our industry’s lack of diversity in travel marketing jobs at the entry level and why it continues to exist. But if we truly want to disrupt our entrenched practices, we have to start at the beginning.

First, let’s be clear. Diverse voices in tourism and destination marketing matter. Our staff are creating campaigns that speak to potential visitors who come from everywhere. All sexes, races, genders, sexualities, abilities, geographies, cultures, languages, etc. Of course, we target our audiences, but travel does not discriminate on who can or cannot be a visitor to a destination, even if the destination’s culture and laws are not as inclusive as they could be.

Now, think about our industry’s typical travel marketing job descriptions. Anyone who has hired within the travel marketing industry knows that, whether it’s articulated or not, we’re looking for talent who has traveled extensively. That requirement alone culls otherwise qualified entry-level candidates who want to work in destination marketing.

Economic Diversity

One of the problems with looking for entry-level talent with extensive travel experiences before landing a job in destination marketing is that many young people in America don’t have the resources to jet-off to London and Sydney for study abroad programs. Maybe their travel experiences are more local or contained, and their Instagram feeds don’t seem as impressive as the candidate who has been to every continent. Be honest. They get overlooked.

That’s a red flag for diversity hiring.

If someone sends in a resumé and their travel marketing job experience seems “less than,” it doesn’t mean they’ll be a bad hire. Like the A380 and the 747 – this thinking should be retired. They might need a little guidance, but the skills that help a PR account executive maneuver partner or client relations and garner press coverage are not born on a plane.

A slight shift in the way we think about travel will help us bring in the true diversity in perspective that we are seeking. We need to make it clear when hiring that extensive international travel is not a prerequisite for joining a destination marketing team if the candidate ticks all the other boxes on the job description. Someone with a bit of modesty and appreciation for the travel they do as their economic situation changes could be a very valuable player on a destination marketing team down the line.

Location Diversity

Now I want to talk to my agency colleagues. In our coastal elite agency bubbles, are we truly prepared to speak to the candidates mentioned above? If we’re just hiring from a pool of candidates in New York or L.A., Toronto or Vancouver, people who have the resources and backgrounds to brave these cities in the first place, what about the people who don’t? Where are their voices?

Agencies in the destination marketing space need to do better at looking beyond the major metropolises for talent. Not everyone can afford to live in large metropolitan markets – especially on the entry-level salaries that are ubiquitous within destination marketing.

Given what our entry-level travel marketing jobs pay in destination marketing, limiting our hiring practices to exclude more rural voices is problematic. We need to reframe our HR practices to maximize our chance of finding a candidate who fits the bill but also brings something different to our industry.

Ability Diversity

How many travel events or conferences have you attended before 2020 where you met people of different abilities, or who travel in wheelchairs, or who are otherwise challenged by mobility issues? Few if any, we’d gander.

Requiring extensive travel is not a reasonable thing to demand of new hires if you want to attract those from different backgrounds and who have overcome different challenges. If someone is passionate about learning but has not yet been able to hit the road as easily because wheelchair accessibility is still a shortcoming in our world, there is still exceptional potential in bringing them onto your team – perhaps in a content curation role.

I think of the content written by Cory Lee, a fellow member of SATW who is known for his work on Curb Free With Cory Lee. If there is anything his writing has taught me, it’s that “where there’s a will… there’s a way.” There are roles for everyone in destination marketing – we just need to be open to thinking differently.

Retaining Talent

Once you have recruited strong, diverse talent for your travel marketing job, you want to keep them engaged with the travel industry. Entry level destination marketing talent needs to receive a competitive pay, without touting travel as part of their compensation. Of course travel is a perk of working in the tourism industry, but perks don’t pay the bills. Nor do they entice entry level workers to commit to a career and grow with you once they realize the value of a work trip doesn’t always add up to the time they committed to it.

Likewise, make it clear that your agency and in-house destination marketing staff are not on call 24/7. If you run that sort of operation, it may seem powerful and impressive, but it is scaring away top talent.

By making sure the pay is equitable  and the expectations are fair, you’ll open this industry to more diverse candidates, and not just those who don’t really need the money in the first place and can accept low pay.

These are just shifts in thinking, to appeal to a broader set of travel enthusiasts, even if they are not the most traveled – yet. If the candidate has no passion for travel, that’s another story, but tempering our expectations, especially following a global pandemic, of what “travel experience” is will make all the difference.

Most of your target market is composed of multifaceted human beings, and having teams who are equally as multifaceted is the only way to connect with them successfully.

Interested in discussing your diversity hiring and talent attraction techniques to see if they are addressing the right people? DCI has more than 60 years of experience helping destinations hit the right note in every endeavor. Contact [email protected] to learn more about how we can work together towards your diversity and inclusivity goals.