Every destination has its iconic attractions – the popular sights and landmarks to which travelers flock. But beyond these mainstream choices is a bevy of diverse experiences that capture the local spirit of the destination. These experiences can take travelers off the beaten path to explore more of what makes the destination unique, from the grunge scene in Seattle to a crawfish boil in New Orleans or a Native American historical site.
For destination marketers, highlighting cultural diversity can help a destination stand out, enrich the traveler experience and disperse tourism demand to support local economic development. Further, multicultural travelers from mature markets have a higher average spend per person per night (aka, The Multicultural Multiplier). But not all travelers are equally likely to embrace multicultural experiences. Understanding the profile of the culturally curious traveler is essential to targeting the most receptive visitors at the optimal phase of the planning process.
Who is the Culturally Curious Traveler?
According to iolite research, most travelers like to experience a mix of both popular and lesser-known areas and attractions. In the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the U.K., more than half of travelers prefer a hybrid mix of activities (Chinese travelers are a little less likely to incorporate lesser-known activities overall).
However, on the spectrum between iconic and off-the-beaten-path activities, a subset of travelers skews more heavily toward diverse, multicultural activities. When asked to create a potential itinerary, this group chose a majority of multicultural experiences over iconic ones. The exercise of reviewing itinerary options generally had a positive impact on people’s desire to visit a given city, but for multicultural travelers in all markets except China, perusing the range of local options made the destination much more appealing. In the U.K., for example, 32% of cultural travelers had much more interest in visiting the destination after creating their itinerary, compared to 25% of those who chose iconic or hybrid options. The results show that providing multicultural options improved the overall impression these travelers have of the destination.
So how are these multicultural travelers different from other travelers? First, many of them have truly been there, done that. This group tends to be more worldly and well-traveled. Many have already experienced iconic travel attractions and are looking to explore local (vs. tourist) favorites. The more a traveler has traveled in general, the more likely they are to be open to multicultural experiences.
In the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom, for example, multicultural travelers were more likely to be frequent international travelers compared to those who preferred iconic activities or an itinerary evenly split between iconic and diverse options.
In addition to being more experienced travelers, the culturally curious tend to be younger. While the peak age range for interest in diverse travel activities varies by market, travelers 55 and older are general more likely to stick to a larger share of mainstream activities, while travelers middle age and younger are more open to cultural exploration.
The traveler population over the past four years has skewed male, however this trend is more pronounced among multicultural travelers. In the U.S., for example, 67% of multicultural travelers identify as male, compared to 33% female and 1% other. Many women bore a heavier burden of caretaking responsibilities during the pandemic, which may have contributed to a general reduction in travel. However, females may also feel less comfortable venturing off the beaten path, particularly when traveling internationally.
Travelers interested in multicultural experiences are more likely to skew liberal in their political views, and this trend is particularly pronounced in Canada and Mexico. However, marketing to multicultural travelers doesn’t need to delve into the political realm. Travel experience is a more important determiner of cultural curiosity, with more experienced travelers more likely to be open to something new.
One factor that does not seem to influence cultural curiosity is household income. While multicultural travelers from mature markets are willing to spend more on their trip, they do not necessarily have a higher income. In Canada, for example, 69% of cultural travelers earn less than CA$100,000 (US$79,430 at time of fielding), compared to 49% of iconic travelers. However, multicultural travelers prioritize local lifestyle and cultural experiences that are particular to a given destination – and they are willing to spend more to engage in them.
Implications for Marketing
Destination marketers can influence more experienced, better-spending travelers by showcasing the diversity of activities and attractions their destination has to offer. These travelers crave multicultural experiences, but it can be a challenge to find the best way to tourist.
Context is the key to delivering the optimal content to each type of prospective traveler. For general push marketing, iconic images are still likely to be most effective. These recognizable attractions provide travelers with a way to identify your destination, and over-the-top, aspirational images remain the best way to persuade the general traveler to add your destination to their wishlist.
The multicultural traveler, however, is likely to be more experienced with travel, as well as travel research. Multicultural content is well-suited to the research phase of travel planning, when marketers can more effectively incorporate longer-form content and storytelling to feature the diversity of the local culture. Pull media, such as websites, are great places to feature multicultural content. However, posting content is not necessarily enough; an optimized media/content distribution strategy is a critical part of getting this content in front of the right audience.