Travel is back! As COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen around the world, travel demand is up in summer 2022. Driven by pent-up travel demand, a desire to reconnect with friends and family and re-kindle pre-pandemic holiday traditions, travelers around the world are cautiously but optimistically returning to airline and road travel.
But it’s not all good news for travel and tourism providers. Many are counting on increased 2022 bookings to offset losses incurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and consumers continue to navigate evolving COVID regulations and safety guidance, as well as the looming risks of soaring fuel prices and overall economic downturn.
To safeguard against these challenging market dynamics, many travel industry operators are seeking to expand their addressable market, in part by building engagement and inroads with younger and more diverse consumer segments.
Market research bears out the benefits of a more inclusive approach to travel and leisure. Younger generations, socially networked and willing to pay for experiences over products, now travel more than older consumers. Millennials travel more than any other generation–35 days per year in the United States, compared to 29 days per year for Gen Z, both of which are more than Generation X and Baby Boomers. The travel industry is also increasingly seeking to appeal to diverse consumer segments–driven by sizeable and expanding market opportunities—$109 billion among black travelers according to a 2019 study by MMGY Global, $211 billion among LGBTQ+ travelers according to a 2016 study by Out Now and $56 billion among Latinx consumers according to the National Tour Association.
As travel and tourism operators and destinations increasingly look to tap the power of diverse communities, there are several important considerations that should be top-of-mind.
- Authenticity is key. Increasingly, consumers expect the companies they spend with to do more than simply provide a service. Younger consumers, in particular, are more likely to hold companies they spend with to a higher standard. A study by Forresterfound that 51% of Gen Z—aged 18 to 23 years—will ensure that a brand’s corporate social responsibility aligns with their own before they make a purchase. Authenticity is built from the ground up, and companies seeking to expand into new and diverse market segments should ensure that their own workforce is reflective of the consumers they seek to engage. APCO’s Equity and Justice Practice has developed a model to help companies understand where they sit on the DEI maturity curve, which can be a useful guide for companies seeking to optimize their own DEI efforts.
- Safety is a baseline to an inclusive experience. In the wake of violence against members of the Black, LGBTQ+ and AAPI communities in recent years, safety is a critical consideration for any tourism operator or destination seeking to appeal to diverse communities. According to the international survey of nearly 4,000 Black leisure travelers by MMGY Global, 71% of U.S. and Canadian respondents felt that safety was extremely or very influential to their decision-making process. For LGBTQ+ travelers, for whom their sexual orientation remains illegal in 70 countries and punishable by the death penalty in 12 countries, travel remains dangerous even in 2022.
- Inclusivity should be incorporated from end-to-end. Tour operators and tourism destinations should consider the full experience of their visitors–from travel to lodging to food and beverage. This may mean engaging with travel and lodging partners that offer accessibility accommodations to meet the unique needs of deaf and hard of hearing (DHOH) and vision impaired travelers, ensuring the availability of inclusive dining options and ensuring diversity training across the full traveler experience.Travel and tourism have a significant economic ripple effect on communities and small businesses, and tourism operators should consider the extent to which their operations can benefit minority-owned and small businesses–or how their operations can enable travelers to expand their worldview into the experiences of diverse communities.
- Evolve services and experiences for younger and more diverse audiences. Younger and more diverse travelers book travel and consume content differently than older, white consumers. Travel and tourism operators seeking to appeal to these consumer segments must evolve their businesses to ensure the availability of mobile booking, app-based services, availability of internet accessibility and a robust social media presence and customer service capability in order to communicate effectively with these target audiences.
- Anticipate and prepare for criticism. As travel and tourism operators increasingly engage with younger and more diverse audiences, the expectations to engage in social issues that matter to these audiences will rise. The decision on when, and how, to engage is inherently complex. APCO has developed a Social Issues Framework methodology that helps companies anticipate issues and improve decision-making in the face of heightened stakeholder expectations.
At its core, travel is an inherently diverse experience. Travel provides an opportunity for consumers to stretch their imaginations, to experience communities and lived experiences that are different than their own. While travel may diversify one’s worldview, the travel industry remains overwhelmingly white – the eight largest U.S. airlines and two largest U.S. aircraft manufacturers have CEOs who are white males.
As the travel industry seeks to appeal to younger, more diverse consumers, its best path forward is to reflect the change it seeks in the world.