“The purpose of this first inclusion summit was to really dig into the topic of diversity and camping and discuss how our industries can work together to continue to increase our reach within the people-of-color and other diverse communities,” said Kampgrounds of America Inc. President and CEO Toby O’Rourke.
KOA co-hosted the event along with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“We need to better understand the barriers that exist for these communities and learn how to advance the collective mission of bringing more people of all backgrounds into camping,” O’Rourke said.
Moderators for the event were Teresa Baker, founder of the African American National Parks Event and the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge; Jose Gonzalez, founder of Latino Outdoors; and Amanda Machado, a Latina writer who works in the inclusion space.
“Inclusion of minorities in the outdoors is a difficult conversation to have,” said Baker. “I have that conversation day in and day out, but it’s a difficult one to take back to your businesses and have with your co-workers.”
Recent KOA research shows 71% of all campers are white, while 9% are African American, 11% are Hispanic and 7% are of Asian descent. But, more than 50% of new campers in recent years are non-white.
Baker said her recent visit to the Outdoor Retailers Show in Denver “shocked” her.
“I was shocked with just how white it was there,” she said. “But that is an illustration of the work we have to do. That’s why I’m here today.”
Baker said minorities often don’t see themselves represented in either the customer base or in those employed by outdoor industries.
“We are here to help,” Baker said. “We need to find how we, as a collective, can come with a solution as to why the outdoor industry feels unwelcome to people of color.”
Gonzalez warned those at the summit to be hard on the problem of exclusion, and not on each other.
“Your life experience is way different than mine, and it’s easy for you to be defensive,” he said. “It’s important that everyone is seen, heard and valued.”
Machado urged outdoor industry executives at the Summit to begin to build a culture of inclusion in their businesses “from the inside out.”
“You have the ability, the resources and the assets to do something,” she said. “Problems happen between wanting to do something and committing to do something. You have to dedicate resources to it.”
Machado said those attending the Summit represented the true “customer experience” side of the outdoors for minority groups.
“There is so much work to do in this space,” she said. “Are the barriers to entry that we feel exist real, or are they just perceptions? I can tell you that these cultural barriers run deep.”
“The solutions here lie within all of us,” said Baker. “We need to find ways to get beyond where we find ourselves now.”
Gonzalez said most companies start simplistic inclusion programs by including more minorities in marketing images.
“It takes much, much more than photographs to show a company’s devotion to inclusion,” he said. “It’s time to build an industry-wide initiative.”
“This was an incredible event because we discussed ways to find common ground to discuss complex issues concerning race and culture,” said Gaylen Washington, vice president of business development for Tengo Internet.
“Diversity has to be at the forefront for all of us,” said Ann Emerson, vice president and publisher with Good Sam. “We need to find innovative ways to become more inclusive in our guest population, as well as in our own team members. I’m excited by the opportunities ahead of us as an industry.”
“The ARVC business forum, made up of CEOs and C-Level executive leaders in our industry, left this event with a better understanding of the importance of integrating diversity/equity/inclusion (DEI) into their business practices,” said Paul Bambei, president and CEO of ARVC and a co-sponsor of the summit. “The U.S. demography is changing, and we need to change with it, not only to attract people of color to our campgrounds as customers, but to broaden our campground ownership, management, and employee base as well. This summit was the first step in the right direction.”
“It matters that the industry leadership demonstrates the importance of this topic just by showing up,” said Gonzalez. “It’s one thing to be aware of what is wrong and what we aren’t doing, but it’s quite another to affirm the direction that you do want to go. We have to design tangible steps that demonstrate to ourselves and to the industry and the guests that we are going to do something about this.”
An action plan will be developed in coming weeks to chart the course of the industry group going forward.
Those attending the San Francisco Inclusion Summit included:
— Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO, KOA
— Paul Bambei, president and CEO, ARVC
— Michael Beckelhymer, vice president of operations, Highway West Vacations
— Rob Schutter, president and COO, Leisure Systems Inc.
— Ann Emerson, vice president and publisher, Good Sam
— Tessa Wiles, director of marketing, Northgate Resorts
— Nick DiBella, division vice president, Sun RV Resorts
— Larisa Drake, vice president of marketing, Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc.
— Pat Zamora, vice president of corporate marketing, Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc.
— Mike Gast, vice president of communications, KOA
— Whitney Scott, vice president of marketing, KOA
— Karen Redfern, vice president of brand marketing and communications, RV Industry Association
— Michael Happe, president and CEO, Winnebago
— Stacy Bogart, general counsel and corporate secretary, Winnebago
— Gaylen Washington, vice president of business development, Tengo Internet
— Damian Petty, agent, Leavitt Recreation and Hospitality Insurance
— Angela Hayes, senior vice president of diversity and inclusion, Brodeur Partners
— Brian Heifferon, founder, Outbound Collective