I recently came back from the New York Times Travel Show (NYTTS) in New York City. It’s an annual travel conference and trade show put on by the New York Times, and it’s the first of several travel conferences that I plan to attend this year. While I found the travel conference on the whole useful, one of the main takeaways for me was the need for more representation in travel. We need to be better about bringing more diverse voices to the table.
Why I love travel conferences
I enjoy attending travel conferences. For me, it’s a great way to stay abreast of what’s new and trending in the travel industry. It’s also a great way for me to connect with members of the travel blog community, as well as meet other people in the industry.
This year, I plan on attending several more travel-related conferences, representing various aspects of the travel industry. On my plate for this year are the Women in Travel Summit in Portland, Maine, the Traverse 19 travel conference in Trentino, Italy, and the Family Adventure Summit in Ubud, Indonesia. I would love to attend more, but there are just so many to choose from. And my travel conference budget is just not that large!
Despite my enjoyment of travel conferences, there’s something that has bothered me about them over the years. And as I become more active in the travel blog community, I feel like I need to address the issue and be more vocal.
The problem with the travel blog community
There’s an odd dissonance that happens in the travel world. While we as travelers like to consider ourselves as open-minded, and, for lack of a better word, “woke”, there’s still a severe lack of diversity in travel. This is prevalent in the travel blog community and travel media.
Take a look at many lists of top travel bloggers, and you’ll see that the majority of faces are white. Nomadic Matt’s list of favorite travel bloggers features only ONE blogger of color, out of fourteen. While Forbes’ list of top 10 travel influencers from 2017 only shows one influencer of color. And she’s part of a multi-racial pair (her partner is white), not even getting her own slot.
In the travel conference arena, presenters of color are often relegated to sessions on diversity. Meanwhile, the meaty topics are reserved for white presenters. At NYTTS, I was excited to attend the “Focus on Travel Bloggers” session, presented by the Professional Travel Bloggers Association. Yet, I was disappointed when I saw that each of the panelists was a white woman. Why wasn’t there a travel blogger of color, or an LGBTQ travel blogger to diversify the perspectives? These women, though successful in their own right, certainly did not represent me.
Is it true that of the hundreds of travel blogs and social media accounts out there, less than 10% are bloggers of color, as Nomadic Matt would have us believe? Or perhaps straight white bloggers and influencers are just more knowledgeable, experienced, and better than their melanin-blessed or non-heteronormative counterparts? I know this is not the case. I know in real life there is diversity in travel. And I also know brown travelers and LGBTQ travelers exist. Many of them are amazing blogger to boot!
Addressing the lack of representation in travel
So why is there such a lack of representation in travel, within the blogging world and in travel conferences? Why, in 2019, do we still have to ask why we’re not seeing all our faces represented in travel?
When I joined of the travel blog community, I started following big name travel bloggers like Nomadic Matt, The Planet D, TravelBabbo, and Y Travel Blog. But I quickly realized that my travel experiences would never be quite like theirs. I bet when they walk down the street in Europe or parts of the United States, they don’t get side-looks for the color of their skin. And I’m sure they’ve never had someone shout “ni hao!” at them when they’re in Africa. At the end of the day, these travel bloggers represent a group of people that have historically occupied positions of privilege in this world. That legacy of privilege still resonates in how they are treated, even if they themselves aren’t necessarily rich.
For travelers of color, travelers with a disability, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) travelers, or lower income travelers, the tips and resources provided by these famous bloggers don’t always apply. It’s hard for travelers like us to find bloggers who can speak to the type of travel experiences we tend to have in the world. So rather than inspiring travel, all it does is show us that the type of travel these famous bloggers promote is unattainable. And at a more subtle level, it shows that our perspective is not worth exploring. That the only travel experiences we should aspire to have are the ones presented by these white travel bloggers.
Why promoting inclusion is important
When it comes down to it, the travel blog community is just an extension of sales and marketing. We’re trying to sell a lifestyle. We sell people on the idea of travel. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re doing something bigger, like bringing understanding of the world to others. But in actuality, the travel bloggers who make money know that they have to focus on what sells. And at the moment, what sells is what appeals to the white majority.
But I think it doesn’t have to be this way. I think we can work on promoting inclusion, and still successfully sell travel. I also think that the travel public is ready for voices that aren’t white or straight. According to a study by Mandala Research, African Americans spent over $63 billion in travel spending in 2018. And a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report estimated in 2016 that there were over 36 million travelers in the world who identified as LGBTQ. All this amounts to a lot of money that the travel industry can tap into.
It’s not enough to simply publish one blog post about people of color, or present one session on diversity and call it a day. Promoting inclusion goes deeper than that. It’s about bringing diverse voices to the table where actual decisions are made. It’s making sure that representation in travel happens at the organizer level, the board level, or the editor level.
How to ensure representation in travel
So how do we work towards ensuring more representation in travel? How can we make sure we’re promoting inclusion in travel? If you’re in a position where you can influence the opinions of the travel public (whether you’re an organizer, a writer, an editor, or the owner of an agency), you need to be more mindful of the message you’re sending out. The good thing is, it’s not as has as you might think.
Be mindful in who you showcase
First, let’s stop showcasing only straight white faces! Instead, let’s bring other voices to the table and work on more representation in travel. Last year, for my panel at the Family Adventure Summit, I intentionally chose travelers who represented different groups of family travelers: multi-cultural families, solo parent families, and families where the mother was the primary breadwinner.
This year at WITS, I’m excited to be leading a panel of family travel bloggers who represent different demographics of family travel. Bringing more diverse voices to the stage helps make the discussion much richer!
Go beyond the standard diversity in travel panel
On a related note, let’s stop relegating diversity to just one topic at travel conferences and in blog articles. Diversity and inclusion is a complicated issue. And it’s not going to be solved by one post or one travel conference session. If we really want more diversity in travel, we need to do more than just pay lip service. We need to actively work towards promoting inclusion.
Talk about the concept of privilege in travel. Address how the travel industry can do better to represent all types of travelers and families. And challenge your audience to experience destinations that are not just Europe, North America, or Australia. Conferences like WITS do a great job of making diversity part of their mission, rather than just a side topic. Other travel conferences should really take note!
Keep showing up
I recently lamented about the lack of diversity at travel conferences to a Facebook group of people of color in the travel blog community. Many of the members responded that they stopped going to events like these because of that reason. It was too exhausting to keep advocating for diversity. For them, they would rather attend conferences specific to people of color. But I think this is the wrong approach.
People of color and members of the LGBTQ community need to keep showing up in these spaces. Otherwise, nothing is going to change. Straight white bloggers and influencers will continue to be the voices of authority in an industry that is actually more diverse than that. We need to pick away at the status quo, to move towards promoting inclusion. And we need to make sure that representation in travel happens.
Don’t be afraid to apply to speak
The best thing that people of color and LGBTQ bloggers in the travel blog community can do to ensure representation in travel is to join in on the conversation. It’s cliche, but I’ll say it anyway: you can’t change the system if you’re on the outside. You’ll have more influence if you’re part of the system. So get in there and shake things up!
Throw your hat into the ring and apply to speak at travel conferences. Join professional associations and get active in those groups. Publish your own diverse list of top travel bloggers to follow. Take action into your hands and make your voice heard.
An optimistic view of the future of travel
I’m optimistic about what the future holds for the travel blog community. Representation in travel is already happening with blogs like Hey! Dip Your Toes In, Globetrotting Mama, Raising Whasians, and 2 Travel Dads. All of these bloggers have earned recognition for being great bloggers. And it’s not just because they fit a certain demographic.
Among travel conferences, more diverse voices are being included in the planning and organizing of these events. And the list of speakers at some big name conferences like TravelCon reflect a more diverse pool. We need to continue on this trajectory to bring more diversity in travel.
It’s only a matter of time before a post like this will no longer be necessary. In the future, the travel blog community and travel conferences will intrinsically be diverse and inclusive.
Are you working to bring more diversity and representation in travel? Share how you’re promoting inclusion in the comments!
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