“We’re changing the world one campfire at a time,” Earl B. Hunter, Jr., the founder and president of Black Folks Camp Too (BFCT), declared as he spoke in front of the crowd at the recent Ontario Convention & CampEx 2023.
The company believes in breaking down barriers to bring Black folks to the outdoors, encouraging diversity and inclusion in the outdoor industry.
While the camping demographic has been growing to include diverse groups, these new campers are at risk of lapsing, with 53% of Black campers noting bad or uncomfortable camping experiences as potential blockers for not going camping again.
As noted by Kampgrounds of America in the 2023 KOA North American Camping & Outdoor Hospitality Report, “six out of ten Black campers and close to half of Hispanic and Asian campers have experienced instances of feeling uncomfortable or unsafe while in the outdoors.”
A Predominantly White Camping Audience
Even with new campers consisting of diverse groups, the camping population continues to be predominantly white. A 2023 Statista report revealed that in 2022, white campers constituted 61 percent of the total camping population.
Additionally, a Fast Company report underscored the predominance of the white demographic in camping, noting the historical lack of participation among people of color.
As campgrounds and RV parks increasingly focus on diversity and inclusion, the effort to broaden their appeal continues to be an ongoing endeavor.
DEI in the Outdoor Hospitality Industry
During the Ontario Convention & CampEx, an annual event that offers training, networking, and a vendor trade show for campground owners, managers, operators, and staff, Hunter Jr. addressed a gathering of private campground owners. This event, held every November, provides a platform for attendees to learn and build relationships with other campground professionals and suppliers.
Hunter Jr. shared his journey and the insights he gained about the underrepresentation of Black people in outdoor activities. His experiences have been instrumental in shaping his venture, Black Folks Camp Too, which aims to bridge this gap.
In his address, Hunter Jr. introduced the concept of Return on Inclusion (ROI), challenging the traditional industry focus on Return on Investment. He emphasized that engaging with the Black community presents a significant opportunity for growth and development in the outdoor sector.
The BFCT founder also delved into the historical reasons behind the limited participation of Black communities in outdoor activities. Hunter Jr. linked this absence to past injustices and generational fears, highlighting a significant gap in the outdoor recreation narrative.
The scarcity of Black-owned RV dealerships, campgrounds, and outdoor retail spaces was highlighted as a contributing factor to the disengagement of Black communities from outdoor activities. Hunter Jr. stressed the need for better representation in the industry to encourage more participation.
To foster inclusivity, Hunter, Jr. and Black Folks Camp Too introduced the Unity Blaze, a symbol representing a welcome to people of color in outdoor spaces. This initiative is part of a broader effort to create a more inclusive environment in camping and outdoor recreation.
Education was underscored as a crucial tool in breaking down barriers. Hunter Jr. urged campground owners and outdoor hospitality operators to not only invite but also educate potential Black campers, enhancing their engagement and experience.
In a powerful conclusion, Hunter Jr. called on the industry to innovate and adapt. He emphasized the strategic necessity of inclusivity for the industry’s future, urging campgrounds and outdoor spaces to be accessible and inviting to everyone.
He also spoke about the need to overcome generational fears and misconceptions about outdoor activities among Black communities. Creating a welcoming environment that addresses these fears is crucial for increasing participation.
The BFCT founder envisions a future where the outdoor industry thrives through diversity. He called upon industry leaders to be part of this transformative journey, making outdoor recreation a space for all.
“We have to get on our game. We have to stop doing the things we do as usual. We have to find new ways to invite and welcome folks.”