There’s a demographic shift taking place in the United States: By the year 2045, we’ll be a non-white majority country and the outdoor industrywill either follow suit or flounder. That fact alone should motivate companies to diversify both their internal hires and customer base, and although there's been a lot of momentum the last few months, as an industry we still have a long way to go. A new report from the Adventure Travel Trade Association lays out key findings regarding travelers of color and offers a path forward for companies looking to capitalize on change.
“Disparities in access to personal wealth and social mobility have for decades, even centuries, allowed many adventure travel destinations and their related activities to become segregated along racial lines,” writes James Edward Mills at the outset of the report, laying the ground for the racial disparities amongst skiers, kayakers, bikers, etc. “But as people of color in the U.S. and around the world have improved their economic stability and affluence, many of these activities are now within reach of a much broader cross section of the population.”
As the report highlights, there are already 22 million diverse adventure travelers out there and with a little effort our industry might expand, bringing in even more new people and building resilience in an uncertain world. “How can we make sure that all these wild and scenic places, these destination recreation areas, are not only available, but we have the ability to create a population of people who feel welcome, secure, and hopefully encouraged and inspired to spend time in these places,” asks Mills. It follows that the more people we can get involved in and caring for our wild and scenic places, the more likely that we’ll continue to have them available for generations to come.
“A free report like this is something our industry definitely needed,” says Martinique Lewis, a diversity in travel consultant and president of the Black Travel Alliance. “We've never seen these numbers before and now, as an industry, we can go about acting on them.”
The business case for diversity in adventure travel is undeniable
Key finding: There are approximately 22 million U.S. adventure travelers of color, representing $51 billion in annual revenue.
Black American adventure travelers spend $19 billion, while Hispanic, Asian, and other non-white demographics spending $16, $13, and $2 billion respectively. Overall, outbound U.S. adventure travelers of color are spending comparable amounts to white adventure travelers from the U.S. and spending more in-destination on things like dining, tours, shopping, entertainment, and transportation.
“In the travel space, for a long time if felt as if the Black dollar was not valued and that people of color were not being intentionally marketed to,” says Lauren Gay, the Black travel blogger behind Outdoorsy Diva. “This report confirms what we knew to be true all along—that yes, we do these things—and it provides ammunition to now hold brands and destinations accountable to do better.”
It should be noted that the report only accounts for respondents who took at least one international adventure leisure trip in the past 24 months and intend to take another in the next 24 months. If we were to also account for folks that were able to take just one adventure trip in that time period, overall revenue for U.S. adventure travelers of color is likely much higher than $51 billion.
“More casual adventure travelers still matter and could easily turn into avid, regular adventure travelers with the right marketing,” says Gay.
Different diverse groups prefer different outdoor activities
Key finding: Generally, U.S. adventure travelers of color are willing to try new activities; they like to participate in more than one or two when the occasion arises.
We all hold assumptions about what kind of people do certain activities, many of them informed by the media and marketing we’re fed. What this report shows, however, is that we can’t speculate about what people of color prefer. Many travelers of color are game to try new things, meaning that even if they’ve never skied or even hiked, they’re all potential customers in waiting. And since most adventure travelers of color book their paid group activities prior to arriving at a destination, companies need to account for them in their marketing from the outset.
The number one preferred “hard” activity for Black adventure travelers was mountain biking, while for Hispanics it was mountain/rock climbing, and for Asians it was kayaking. When it came to “soft” activities, Hispanics preferred bird-watching and surfing, while Asians liked to snorkel, and Black travelers took part in fishing and sailing. Across the board, hiking and camping were popular.
“This data is really awesome because we can really break it down by communities and then take that information to tourism boards and companies,” says Lewis. “You never see Black people represented on boats or any type of sailing advertising or marketing—can you imagine what a company that made that change might gain?”
Social marketing matters for diverse adventure travelers
Key finding: Social media is the biggest source of inspiration for U.S. adventure travelers of color, followed by travel-specific publications and television.
Gay started her blog, Outdoorsy Diva, because she was sick of scrolling through outdoor adventure social feeds and seeing no one who looked like her. “I was looking for representation and since I didn't find any, I decided I would become that,” says Gay.
Today, there are any number of influencers, bloggers, and content creators who identify as people of color and can (and should) be paid by companies to do the work they are already doing. As the report outlines, authenticity and transparency are what actual travelers are looking for and that only comes from actual engagement with your target audience. For a brand’s social media to not stereotype or tokenize individuals, people of color need to be involved in every step of the content creation process.
As part of her work as a consultant, Lewis is already using the report’s data to encourage her clients to connect with different affinity groups and influencers to target specific communities, underscoring the importance of word of mouth marketing. She also pushes for the organizational recommendations outlined in the report, such as recruiting new, diverse staff members. Often, that means forging relationships with historically Black colleges or other organizations involving people of color.
“I think that adventure companies need to hire somebody or get somebody on their team that looks different from the rest of their team,” says Lewis, who recently joined NOLS’ Advisory Council. “A diverse hire can speak to diverse narratives and work with influencers or people in those spaces to better market to people of color.”
As the phase goes, you need to spend money to make money. As the Adventure Travel Trade Association study clearly shows, there’s money to be made when it comes to marketing to adventure travelers of color. Companies that invest in DEI initiatives across the board will be the first to profit.