American Travelers Today

Trends / Realness
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Apr 30, 2022
Travel values may have shifted, but Americans still want to see themselves pictured in the travel industry's advertising. In reality, American travelers today are racially diverse, choosing different families, more queer and gender non‑conforming, living with disabilities, loving their bodies as‑is, and getting older with grace—so capturing a range of identities is intrinsic to authentic representation. Our VisualGPS research revealed that more than half of Americans want travel brands to commit to social causes, and visuals remain the most powerful way to communicate inclusion. At Getty Images, we are seeing far more people of a wider range of races and ethnicities, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities in our travel customers' popular visuals this year than ever before, but still, some visual myths about who travels where (and how) persist—leaving an opportunity for brands to counter those specific travel stereotypes with a more inclusive visual narrative.
Health, safety, and identity
We’ve written elsewhere about how the pandemic heightened health and safety concerns, but some American travelers always thinking about this, given that one’s identity can affect one’s travel experience. For example, Black travelers in the US have historically faced racism, and today, many use social media to share tips.1 Some Asian‑American travelers report feeling more uneasy than usual while traveling, considering the recent rise in hate crimes.2 Travelers with disabilities may be limited by inaccessible destinations, and those with mobility disabilities still report experiencing discrimination at the airport.3 And the LGBTQ‑friendliness of a destination is the top consideration for 80% of LGBTQ+ travelers, with transgender and nonbinary tourists the most concerned about safety.4

While these examples are not exhaustive, they do underscore the importance of choosing travel visuals that make previously underrepresented groups feel welcome. What’s more, our Visual GPS research found that Americans who experience bias for multiple aspects of their identity are more likely to have travel plans than the average American—a reminder that intersectional representation is always a key part of visualizing travelers authentically.
Inclusion in the great outdoors
The real‑life surge in natural escapes5 brought with it an increase in visuals showing some groups participating, but not others—meaning that there is a need to pay attention to inclusion in this area, specifically. Top travel industry visuals showing outdoor pursuits primarily show white people participating; while Black representation grew +87% from 2019 to 2021, Asian and Latinx/Hispanic people were seen up to 10x less than white people, and LGTBQ+ people and people with disabilities hardly at all. And though many hiking trails and parks are free to the public, budget transportation options such as bus or train travel is pictured in less than 1% of top visuals.

Outdoor adventure travel has historically been associated with white, male, able‑bodied people because certain activities were only open to them, but that is changing. Some organizations are aiming to diversify the ski slopes and the waves,6 and people with disabilities are taking it upon themselves to document hiking trails so that others can enjoy accessible, independent outdoor exploration.7 So, to more accurately reflect American travel today and encourage more participation in outdoor pursuits, it’s important to visualize them as inclusive and accessible.
Re‑picturing cultural immersion 
Travel has always been about discovery and connection to new places, people, and cultures, and especially after the isolation of the pandemic, Americans—younger generations in particular—are eager to leave their comfort zones and encounter new perspectives, our VisualGPS research found. 3 in 5 say cultural experiences are just as important to travel as before the pandemic, and for 1 in 5, they're even more important than before. Tour operators report that they are currently receiving more requests for cultural and educational activities, particularly from families with children who feel they missed out while school was remote.8

With this in mind, it's crucial to visualize cultural immersion in a way that is sensitive to the people and cultures being pictured. Facial expressions can do a lot of the work here: while discovery, appreciation, and pleasure are all desirable, it's important to avoid visuals which show Americans—especially white Americans—appearing to mock, belittle, or act superior to local cultures. And the type of portrait photography made popular by National Geographic often exhibits a Western gaze which can exoticize the people pictured, rather than elevate their dignity. Americans—especially historically underrepresented Americans—want to picture themselves sampling food, visiting museums or historical sites, or taking classes or tours with locals in a respectful manner that positively impacts the people and places they are visiting, too.9
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