Mixed Message: Multicultural and heritage tourism is big business

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This mural is a focal point in the outdoor courtyard at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami. It’s a colorful backdrop to the stage and grounds where concerts, festivals and other events take place. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau promotes the city’s ethnic communities to grow the city’s multicultural tourism programs that support businesses, creates jobs and tell the stories of Miami’s people.

People, Places and Things To Do

Multicultural and heritage tourism continues to evolve as travelers seek new experiences

Multicultural tourism has been around for some time. It has gone by different names such as cultural tourism or heritage tourism.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines it as: “Traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.”

Whatever its name, the travel phenomenon is growing. And there’s a huge business case for positioning your hotel or hospitality enterprise to participate in the trend.

Travelers in the U.S. spend more than $170 billion a year on heritage tourism.

The majority of travelers consider themselves cultural tourists. More than half of the U.S. population included a cultural or historic visit or activity in their travels last year.

The American Bus Association reports cultural tourists take more trips, spend more and stay longer. Average spend of a cultural tourist is about $1,300 per trip, 60 percent more than a traditional domestic traveler.

When it comes to traveler demographics, nearly half of cultural tourists are baby boomers. They are affluent and well-educated and they prefer trips that are immersive, enriching and educational. Forty-percent of these travelers will pay more for lodging that offers them distinctive service and experience.

Millennials, those in their early 20s to late 30s, are a growth market for heritage tourism. The vast majority of millennial travelers want to see and experience a destination’s cultural offerings, including food, art and music. Most millennial tourists say authenticity is what they seek in making travel decisions.

Experience Seekers

Whether multicultural tourists are born in the U.S.A. or come from other countries, many will travel America seeking destinations along roads less traveled.

“People who come from overseas, Canada and Mexico, once they’ve done the big ones like New York City, the places you’d expect, they really want to go off the beaten path,” said Michael Fullerton, senior director of public policy and public affairs for Brand USA.

Fullerton spoke in July at the International Multicultural & Heritage Tourism Summit in Miami.

Brand USA is a public-private organization that markets America as a travel destination to people in other countries.

Although Brand USA messaging targets other countries, its affiliation with 900 travel and tourism organizations in America causes a ripple effect, Fullerton said.

“It’s interesting because when we were created by Congress (in 2011), we were created strictly with the purpose of increasing international visitation. So none of our efforts are focused domestically. Most people don’t know outside of the industry of our efforts because they’re not overseas seeing our efforts.”

But Brand USA shares its promotional and marketing materials with its partners in the U.S. “and they have marketed our materials use it to draw folks from other states,” Fullerton said.

In July, the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan proposal that would reauthorize Brand USA through 2027.

It’s Big Business

Organizations such as the U.S. Travel Association, AAHOA and the American Hotel & Lodging Association have lobbied Congress to keep Brand USA, especially as America’s share of the global travel market fell from 13.7 percent in 2015 to 11.7 percent this year.

Two percent may seem like a short fall, said Roger Dow, executive director of USTA, but it accounts for 14 million visitors who spend $59 billion and support 120,000 American jobs.

Statista reported in February that Spain topped the list of the 50 countries in the 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index. The U.S. came in sixth in the index, which assesses countries’ efforts to develop travel and tourism programs and create jobs.

A study by Zsuzsanna Bacsi, an economist at the University of Pannonia in Hungary, who researched 155 countries, including the United States, found the more ethnically diverse a country’s population the better it does economically.

Bacsi also found that cultural tourism is a major motivation for travel.

Native folklore and cultural traditions are often linked to people groups who preserve their culture and tradition in the host country.

Observing exotic people actually solidifies a visitor’s own cultural identity, Bacsi writes.

Travel Evolution

Cultural travelers evolve over time. Many start by visiting places – things like landmarks, monuments and buildings. Their interest grows toward cultural events such as festivals, music and art. Eventually, they want to get to know the people. To hear their stories.

Connie Kinnard, who leads multicultural tourism for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, says – like the different people groups that call Miami and Dade County home – multiculturalism is complex. But if you dig enough, you’ll unearth cultural and historical gems.

“Multicultural has various layers,” Kinnard said. “Basically, it’s the co-existence of diverse cultures. It can be racial, religious or even ethnic groups. It is an experience, the places, activities and artifacts that represent a culture. It’s a way to show uniqueness of cultures and similarities between cultures.”

With Miami’s rich cultural mix, Kinnard has a front-row seat to watch the unfolding of those layers.

“Cultural tourism really is the up and rising thing of this time,” she said. “More and more people are wanting to know about the diaspora of ethnicity of a culture. We know that because of whole importance of genealogy, people are getting into history and heritage.

“Miami represents the Bahamian culture Haitian culture, Cuban, Jamaican, African, and American Black culture. All those cultures are really, really rich in Miami and so we have made our effort and our goal to celebrate those cultures.”

The courtyard of the African Cultural Arts Center in Miami where children are introduced to and instructed in artistic disciplines. The center is also an incubator for African American artists and art organizations.

Getting Buy-in

The mission of any convention and visitors bureau is to attract visitors to a state or a city. Tourism can boost a community’s economy by growing businesses, creating jobs and attracting investment. But Kinnard said oftentimes, locals grow resentful of tourists, breaking it down into an us-versus-them scenario.

One of the goals of the Greater Miami CVB is make sure everyone feels a part of the local tourism scene. To that end, the CVB recently wrapped up a series of town hall community meetings as part of developing a new five-year strategic plan. Some of the ideas the bureau plans to implement came from residents and businesses of those communities.

On its website, the Greater Miami CVB pays homage to the city’s independent boutique hotels. Connie Kinnard who leads multicultural tourism at the CVB, said the decision behind that is to promote individualism in style and service, as well as attract higher-end customers, especially to boutique hotels that are culturally based.

Many local businesses want to be involved in the travel and tourism sector, but owners might not know how to participate. Kinnard said the bureau works closely with enterprises to help them find their cultural niche and be part of the local tourism experience.

“Businesses might be tourism businesses but need help in know how to attract visitors or be tourist ready. So we have programs in with we partner with a company such as restaurant or small-event venue with a with business management organizations that can help them in areas of social media, marketing, customer services.

“We can promote with marketing and pretty pictures all day long,” Kinnard said. “But if a visitor comes here and does not experience what they saw in a picture or video, there’s a problem.”

Though Miami is eager to grow in the management of its multicultural tourism programs, the CVB and other supporters are mindful how too much commercialism can dilute a culture.

“What we’ve found is that we have some jewels and gems here that are just natural and we want to protect and promote all that we have,” she said.

Greg DeShields heads PHL Diversity, a division of the Philadelphia CVB. The department first formed in 1987 as the Multicultural Affairs Congress. But over the past six years, it has undergone an evolution. Its modern mission is to attract meetings and conventions to Philadelphia.

The meetings industry is as multilayered as multiculturalism. It serves as a safe haven for people of ethnic minorities to gather; it promotes such edifying events as family reunions; and businesses turn to meetings to build camaraderie between leaders and the rank-and-file as well as develop new ideas. As a result, the meetings industry views inclusion and diversity as a mandate when seeking places to gather.

Just use the word multi and thinking of it from various dimensions, as our division began in 1987 focus was around African American community and it wasn’t until the mind ’90s that we expanded it to include the Latino community and then followed shortly to include the Asian American community.”

In 1997, the CVB split in two. One part became Visit Philadelphia, which focuses its promotional efforts on leisure travel. PHL Diversity is dedicated to attracting meetings and group travel.

“But in both cases our focus has been to begin on ethnic diversity of Philadelphia and dive deeper to understand the cultural nuances of each of the ethnic communities,” DeShields said.

WATCH: PHL Diversity shares its purpose in this video.

A major task of PHL Diversity is to share the mission with its local ethnic communities, as well as businesses, and to help them prepare to welcome visitors to the city, especially those who seek unique and inclusive travel experiences – which seems to be just about everyone these days.

“Due to the type of business division that we are, we build strong relationships within the diverse communities of Philadelphia. We harness those relationships in a very organized way to connect those who want to have authentic cultural experiences in Philadelphia.”

DeShields and his team help communities and their businesses prepare to cater to tourists on their terms. “It’s one thing to market yourselves as a multicultural destination but there’s an experience a traveler would like when they visit museum or cultural center or your unique restaurant,” he said.

Simple things make a big difference. Making sure a restaurant actually adheres to its advertised hours; being accessible; being technology enabled so guests can easily pay through an electronic transaction, hail a ride-sharing service from their phones or make an online reservation on Open Table. All of these things helps restaurants provide a frictionless experience for guests.

Philadelphia has a thriving gay community. The Gayborhood is a section of Center City’s Washington Square District. The city has many clubs, bars, lounges, bookstores, boutiques, restaurants and shops catering to the gay community, and is host to events, such as Equality Forum, Blue Ball, Pride Parade and OutFest, the largest National Coming Out Day festival in the world.

Hotels can help visitors feel at ease by providing information about their neighborhood so guests literally know what’s around the corner.

There are many resources businesses can call on and organizations they can collaborate with to create what DeShields calls a singular experience for the visitor.

“I think that the social and ethnic diversity is something that is constantly desired by those who travel,” he said. “It allows for that kind of forward thinking allows visitors to have better experience as it relates to a destination.”

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