111: How to create inclusion and diversity in the tourism industry with Dr. Kiona
On this week’s episode, I speak with Dr. Kiona who is the curator of the digital publication How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch. Yes, the name is raunchy, but it’s what shot Kiona up to one of the most trusted travel experts in the game with features in Washington Post, Huffington Post, Refinery 29, and many others. This platform is unique in that it uplifts marginalized voices to tell their own stories with travel and travelers to their countries and redefines the narrative. In addition, with Kiona’s background in education, she brings education to social media to make it accessible and affordable for everyone. Listen on to find out more about Dr. Kiona and how aims to give a voice to minorities in the tourism industry.
Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m here with Kiona who is the founder of How not to travel like a basic bitch. Hey, how are you?
Hey Debbie. So good to be here. Thank you for asking me.
I am so happy for you to be here because you are such an interesting woman and character because you are posting so many things not a lot of people are not talking about. So before we get to your incredible tips and tricks for us, can you tell us a little bit more about you and while you live an offbeat life?
So my name’s Kiona and I try to refer to myself as Dr. Kiona because I also have a Ph.D. and representation with women and women of color as doctors are important. However, I didn’t go the traditional route of going into academia, becoming a professor. Instead, I have sort of turned towards my Instagram to teach and educate.
I also think you can’t learn everything from books and travel has taught me so many things from so many perspectives all around the world that I started this website that features people that I’ve met either online or in real life. And it turns the mic over to the local voices, marginalized voices, voices that you don’t hear about very often in the travel world. And I educate that way now.
It’s a very amazing niche because most of the time what you see in social media is very basic. It’s a lot of mostly white blonde women in the tourism industry who are really successful and you don’t see a lot of minorities who are in it. How did you get the idea of actually creating the basic bitch brand? Kiona:
So, I was a little bit drunk when I made the Instagram name and bought the domain. I was drinking wine with my best friend. And I was like, oh my gosh, I’m so tired of these basic bitches. I’m going to create my own called How not to travel like a basic bitch. But I just want to clarify that being a basic bitch doesn’t mean that you’re white and that you travel. I don’t want to isolate anybody from that. It’s just that it’s predominantly what I saw while I was traveling was people from anywhere in America, Canada, Europe, traveling to foreign countries and completely disrespecting people in the process.
And a lot of it came from privilege and not recognizing your privilege and using privilege as power over other people and especially locals. And so a basic bitch is basically defining you not being aware of your privilege and then asserting oppression onto other people. So I just want to clarify what a basic bitch was. But also, the travel media field is dominated by white voices. And quite frankly, when I started writing, it was an opposition to those voices.
And then I realized I was just as basic because I have, an American passport, I am no different than those people who have nothing invested in the countries that I traveled to. And the people who are going to be most affected are those who live in the country. So I decided to stop writing. I mean I write a little bit for the website still, but I just decided to stop writing and completely turn it over to locals to present their perspectives, interacting with both travel and travelers.
It’s great that you realized that because we are really privileged, even though we have brown skin and we are minorities. We’re really privileged to be here and to be in the United States and for us to also realize that even though we are not white we are still very privileged because of what we have in this country. And to give back to the people who really need their stories to be told. And you also have a nonprofit. I was looking through your website and you do have a nonprofit. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
It’s called a nonprofit, but it’s not a registered 501c. When we say nonprofit, we don’t take any of the money, not for admin fees, like nothing. But basically, it’s a healthy eating project that was set up in Guanajuato, Mexico. The difference that I feel like matters is that they invited me, they knew that I had a Ph.D., there was a social worker on the ground already working with this community and they invited me.
And because they have a high incidence of diabetes in this community, and this community doesn’t have any running water, it doesn’t have any electricity. It’s an unzoned area in Mexico that not even the Mexican government counts. So, they invited me and asked, can you teach us about eating and food? So I came, and it started off with lessons to kids with coloring sheets and basically correlating, things like this purple fruit that helps with your digestive system or this red fruit It helps with your heart and very simple food facts that are digestible.
But since then we wanted it to be completely sustainable. Since I’m not full-time living in Mexico, we have invited a nutrition professor who volunteers her time. She brings her students and they teach lessons every single week. It started off every month and now it’s biweekly.
We basically provide the funds to transport the professor, she lives 45 minutes away to provide all of the food utensils, everything that’s required to cook for that meal. And it feeds around 50 people who now attend.
And then we also give them groceries for the week so that they can go forward and cook the meals that we taught them how to cook, that will be healthy for their bodies. So that’s what the nonprofit does and the purpose was to not have, it be reliant on us as foreigners and we wanted it to be a sustainable thing. So that’s kind of why I’ve taken a step back. We do monitor it and we’re the ones that provide the money to make sure that everything is being used for the project. But other than that, it pretty much goes on its own now.
I used to be a photojournalist and I worked in a lot of developing countries and I was also photographing, natives and indigenous people and I worked with a lot of nonprofits that is not like yours. Actually, yours is way better. So if anyone wants to donate to an actual nonprofit they should definitely go there and go to your website. Because when I used to work with nonprofits, it was mostly from foreigners. They would live in that place.
They would take a lot of the money for themselves and kind of just take photos of the natives and the indigenous people and run with that. And I always felt like they were being used and that’s why I actually stopped being a photographer for them because it was very unethical and they were living in huge mansions a few miles away from the people who really needed it, who had dilapidated homes.
Meanwhile, they were all living in mansions and were taking a portion of everything that was coming in. Meanwhile, people were giving money thinking it was all going to those families. It wasn’t 100% going to them. So yours is actually what everyone needs to give to.
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Yeah, exactly. A hundred percent of the proceeds go towards them. We don’t take anything, that was mostly like a passion project, you know? I’m not going to say that we’re perfect and we’re learning along the way also. One example is, we consented all of the adults to take pictures of the children and to document the process so people could see where their money was being donated. So I think we got around $2,000 worth of donations and we just wanted to continue updating people. So they didn’t think that we’re stealing their money.
I wanted to ask you if they want to donate to your non-profit your organization, where can they go?
They can go to www.Hownottotravellikeabasicbitch.com/healthy-eating0project-Guanajuato. But there’s a tab that says nonprofits. You can also just click on that. That’s really basic. But basically we had consented for the pictures, but since then, I mean it gets, 70,000 views a month and we didn’t realize that it was going to get that much traffic.
So when we told them, hey, you know, a lot of people are looking at this, are you sure you want your picture up there? And then they got really shy and they didn’t tell us no, but it was uncomfortable. So we have since removed any photos of direct photos of their faces. And it’s something that we had to learn along the way cause we had no idea that this was going to happen.
It’s a great thing that people are actually seeing this and giving to the right cause because you have to be really educated who you’re giving your money to and if it’s actually being used in the right way. And you guys have been able to document that and then the people who are locals are the ones in charge of what’s happening and you’re just helping them organize it, which is really the best way to do it.
Let’s look into how you started this whole thing, how you started your brand and you were finally not drunk and you wanted to actually create something out of this. And like you said, you didn’t want to go into academia and you wanted to create a different purpose for yourself. What were the first steps that you took to actually realize the dream that you had to educate people through social media?
I just did it as a side project while I was getting my Ph.D. but since I graduated about a year ago and now I’ve kind of taken it more full time. And the thing is that a lot of brands and a lot of ad partners don’t want to partner with me. They think the name is way too raunchy or it’s too vulgar. And I don’t want to change it because I think it targets a specific audience. It’s a very millennial base audience.
It kind of gives you an introduction to the content you’re about to receive, the tone that you’re going to receive it in. And so I’ve struggled because I don’t really want to change it. And I think that the content is important enough that people should kind of look past that, but they don’t. So what’s really cool is that the whole thing is user funded for now. People like it so much that they contribute monthly or they contribute one time, but there are so many people tuning in that it’s funded on its own.
And you’re so unique and what you’re saying to everybody, and it may not be politically correct and it may not be to everyone’s taste, but you are very honest with what’s happening in your opinions. And a lot of people are not like that.
And especially in social media where it’s all pretty and it’s all nice and everyone just wants to put out whatever everyone wants to hear. You’re so different from that. And I think that you are going to be working with a lot of brands as you keep going who see your value and will embrace how not to travel like a basic bitch brand.
Yeah. A huge breakthrough was working with REI, which is an outdoor company and they told me we want you, we want your voice, we want however you want to present this content. This is what matters because your values align with our values. So they didn’t even tell me to change anything. They didn’t want me to edit myself. And it was a campaign for REI adventures. It ended up being really successful with about 800 people interested.
And I thought it was successful. They were really happy with the product. When you let people show up how they show up and whether it’s politically correct, whether it’s not, whether it’s what you want to hear, whether it challenges the status quo, that’s what causes people to trust you. That causes engagement, that causes loyalty when you are genuinely, authentically yourself. And some brands do value that. And honestly, I realized that those are the only brands I want to work with.
If you have to change yourself for a brand then that means it’s not going to be the right one for you. And I’m sure you’re not gonna feel good about doing that, when you are changing who you are and your voice just for a few dollars here and there because later on if you stay true to yourself, you’re most likely going to be earning more money because your audience is going to keep trusting you.
Yeah, for sure. Have you ever had to do that?
No, because actually with me, I usually pitch to the brands that I really want to work with that really align with my brand and myself and I have turned down some brands that it just didn’t make sense or they wanted something from me that I didn’t want to give. I think that’s really important to really acknowledge in this industry is that I know it’s really hard to turn down something, especially if you’re brand new because you want to start creating income.
But in the long run, if you keep doing that, it’s not going to be good for you and your audience is going to stop trusting you because if you’re just putting out content, that doesn’t align with who you are, it doesn’t make any sense.
Yeah, for sure. I’m glad that no one, I’m glad that you also stick with your values and morals. Honestly, I feel like it strengthens your brand. Like for every no, you will eventually get a yes.
And honestly, I have gotten so many no’s from so many brands that it doesn’t bother me anymore and you also get to say no, which gives you the power in your business.
Yeah, totally. It gives me some control. I feel like a lot of us don’t have control over a lot of things.
Yeah. And I know it’s hard. A lot of people are gonna listen to this and be like, it’s hard when you’re not making money and you have to turn it down. But guess what, later on, if you are able to keep your control, they will really respect you and want to work with you even more because you’re not just going to lay down and do everything that they want. Not to say that you’ll be a paint to work with, be respectful.
This is also a good point in what gives white basic influencers that aren’t challenging well, they don’t really need to challenge anything because their existence is already accepted. But people like you and I, we are challenging the norm and so it is difficult for us and those other influencers who don’t have to deal with that. So we are already starting off challenging just by existing and being alive and then to also put out content that continuously challenges the norm.
It just gives white basic influencers an edge. And it gives them more money. It gives them more opportunities and more brand partnerships, like basic sells, but it doesn’t really sell when it comes to meaningful things. So it’s just a huge discrepancy and it’s something that we have to concentrate at.
Debbie: The fact that there are so many minorities out there who need a really fresh voice, someone that they could look to that, that is not the basic traveler and someone who looks kind of like them, who understands where they’re coming from. And if you just stay true to yourself, it’s gonna take you a lot further when you do that.
Yeah, and we have so much money, I looked at a report the other day. So I’m Asian, I identify as Asian and $220 billion, Asian dollars are going into the travel industry. Same with the black travel movement. There’s just so much money to be had with POC dollars. So why are we not getting paid? Why are we not being represented? Why aren’t we getting paid for our voices and our representation? It needs to change.
But I have to say too, a lot of Asians do like to see white people. So that is also our problem because that’s what we like to see. I’m from the Philippines and I immigrated from there. And a lot of the things that they show on television from the Philippines, every time there’s a white person on film, they’re always celebrating it because they want to look like them. They want to be friends with them. They want to watch things that are with Americans and Europeans and white people. So that’s also our fault as Asians. So we need to start supporting our own people.
And I think that’s so important that you say that. It’s our responsibility as Asians to call out other Asians for that. And I don’t want to say that it’s not just the Asian community. There’s colorism in the black community, there’s colorism in the Latino community. I mean if you turn on any Telenovela, it’s only light skin actors and actresses. So it’s the same thing in every community and colorism effects, everybody. So it’s such an important thing for us to call it out. We have to stop glorifying whiteness. That’s what perpetuates the cycle of only white people getting hired.
I was talking to a few friends about this, there’s soap in Asia that makes you bleach your skin, so you’re lighter. And that is pretty crazy that that happens. You want to be the lightest that you can be because it shows that you’re wealthy, that you’re not working in the fields. And that’s also what you want to see in entertainment and in social media.
So if we keep going the way we’re going and to be proud of who we are and not because of how dark or how light we are, I think there’s going to be a change. It’s not just with black people, it’s also Asian people. It’s Hispanic people. It’s pretty crazy actually, that we do this to ourselves guys. It’s usually not white people. It’s actually us.
It’s both actually. But we can only control how we perceive ourselves. So we have to change that. It starts with us also. And, when it comes to colorism, another thing that I’m sick of seeing in the Asian community, well, I’m East Asians, I’m half Korean, but I grew up in Hawaii. I never had seen like whitening cream until I visited Thailand. I was like, what is this? Who would ever want to do this? I never grew up that way. Being tan and brown and beautiful is like always prized, living in Hawaii.
And then when I traveled to Thailand I was like, this is honestly so weird and I realized that actually Korea is one of the number one skin whitening producing places and they have all this cosmetic care. So I guess I just want to say that one, I’m tired of East Asia only being Asia. When we think of Asian it’s always like Chinese, Japanese, Korean and that is not the only Asian. That is one very, very small part of being Asian.
I mean we completely leave out central Asians, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, you leave out the Philippines and those other countries because they’re darker skinned. And for me, I feel like sometimes I’m light-skin so I get chosen, over an Indian influencer. But behind the scenes I’m always advocating yes, I get my foot in the door and it’s just to let everybody in after me, you know?
And so I’m like, you know, did you know that there’s this Indian influence or did you know that there is this Southeast Asian influencer? And companies just don’t, think about it. They check an Asian box and they’re like, okay, cool. We got like an Asian girl on there. I’m like, no. I’m tired of it just being East Asian. You need to make space for all of us. And Asia is such a large landmass and the most population. I mean there’s just so much to choose from.
You get a token black person, you get a token Latin person and then you get a token Asian person and you put them together, you should be good. And that’s the brand. We should talk to a brand, a big one, and just have all different types of Asian people from all spectrums.
Totally. Yeah. And you know what, there is no Asian travel movement. I look at the black travel movement, I’m like man, y’all are really out there. And there’s no Asian movement. You know how much our own platforms take so much of our time. But I feel like we need to start an Asian travel movement just to give representation just like those other faces that we see.
So Kiona, when you are doing all of these things, I’m sure you get a lot of backlashes because you’re very honest and opinionated, what has been the biggest setback that you have encountered and how do you usually handle it?
That’s a really good question. I mean, the one that comes up off the top of my head is like the constant rejections that I get from brands that I want to work with because I’ve used them. One is a car company that is an Asian car company. I own this car, my mom owns a car, my grandmother owns a car, every single Asian I know owns this brand of car. And I had reached out, I said, I would love to do a road trip in your car across America.
Talk about, indigenous people, talk about national parks, what we can do to save them, things like that and all in this car that is affordable. It’s eco-friendly and literally as a representation of the Asian community. And they rejected me and said that their brand is conservative and they don’t like my name. They don’t want me to associate with their car at all and that was such a blow. I was like, man, my whole community supports you and you can support us how we want to show up.
That’s really unfortunate because it’s very black and white, right? If you are not in that spectrum all of a sudden you’re taboo because that’s what they think you are because of what your name is and they don’t realize what you are really all about.
The reason why you got all of these people to read your blog to listen to you is because of your voice. And part of that is your title. And even if they’ve never read your blog or have never seen your captions on social media, that’s how you get them in. It’s very catchy. It’s great. People love it and then they stay because of what you are saying. And I think a lot of brands will probably not get that. But like we had mentioned before, the right brands will be the ones who will know and understand your true voice and the meaning behind it.
So, how I get over it is a lot of calls to friends who hype me up or people like you who say, it’s okay the right brand is coming. The support group in the community. Honestly even my followers and how not to travel are so supportive. Every time I get a rejection and they’ll send in money and you know, f them, f the patriarchy, we’ll support you. So I feel so much love from the community.
And also the fact that your viewers and the people that are looking to you are giving you money that just says it all, that usually that doesn’t happen.
Yes. Right, exactly. But I honestly feel bad, a lot of my followers are people of color or they are marginalized people and I don’t want to take money from them. So I would love to be sponsored or have a way to make education accessible so that they don’t have to pay for it. But it’s also really cool that they value it enough to go into their piggy banks and send me coffee every once in a while. So it is really cool. I just think voting with our dollars for the content that we want to see, the people we want representing us is also extremely powerful and it’s an underused tool.
How did you create income from the start and how do you continue to create income today?
I have a few sources of income and I think every digital nomad or off beater will tell you that you need more than one. Basically how I create income is when I’m home. I have a medical job that I work at. So I’m an elite sports medical professional. I basically rehab athletes back to health up back to health.
But when I’m not home and I’m traveling, I’m either sponsored on trips or I am paying with my property management company, which connects locals to basically empty spaces in their houses or if they own their own boutique hotels or whatever.
And we properly manage them and we connect them to the tourist market. So a lot of them have no idea how to use the internet or how to brand themselves or how to market themselves. They have horrible pictures taken from a phone from the nineties. So my company goes in.
When we travel, we find these people or they find us, we completely revamp their properties, bring them up to date, we take photos, we professionally list them online. And that’s another way that I make money is international property management and digital marketing. And then the other is users sending in money from how not to travel to keep it going and helping me pay my bills. And then partnerships with users who have their own businesses who want to advertise on how not to travel. So those are like the different income streams.
It’s great that you were able to create all of these different streams of income and like you said, digital nomads and location independent people. We always need income from different sources because you never know what’s going to be tapped out this month and what’s going to be coming in. So it’s always good to be prepared.
Oh my God, yes. I think January and February I almost had no income from properties because it’s winter, so no one’s traveling. And during those months, how not to travel really saved me because I have a pretty steady income from properties but not when it’s winter.
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But now because of these different incomes, you’re able to live and eat and grab a cup coffee.
I don’t want to come off as if I’m struggling. Like I’m not struggling, I’m not rich either. I still need health insurance, but I eat every day. I’m fine. I don’t want to come off like I’m in poverty or something like that. So let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
This is such a good question. And something that I’ve been thinking about a lot because I’m like, is it worth the investment? Should I just go and get a regular job? And I’m like, no, because we always are trying to fit into lanes that are made for white people and this we don’t fit.
So it’s up to us to create lanes that we can fit in. And so my legacy is to create a lane that hires POC, that hires people who value morals, that publishes educational material, that publishes videos, that publishes teaching curriculum. That is all serving the greater good of allowing people to learn about other people through their own mouths, not through a rewritten, whitewashed lens. So when it comes to, you know, marketing materials or educational materials, that would all be taught by people who are experts in that who are POC.
I would love to just encourage people to leave a legacy of encouraging people to get into Grad school, encouraging people to get into intellectual spaces then go on to influence policy. Helping people file their taxes or helping people start their own businesses. These are all things that you will learn from generations like your parents, right? If your parents don’t know how to do it. For example, my parents are immigrants, your parents are immigrants.
It is such a strong learning curve, a whole generation of a learning curve. So they can’t teach us. We have to learn and if I can pass on that knowledge and if I can mass disseminate the knowledge for other people to access and it’d be very accessible and I know where they can find it, then that is my legacy and I hope everybody starts to own business. I help gets into the school they want to go to. I hope everybody can pursue the dreams that they can without those societal barriers.
That is a great legacy to leave and you’re right, we have to do it ourselves. We can’t wait for other people to do it. And leaving a mark like that, it doesn’t have to take a lot of things. It ‘s just little things that we do that makes a difference in other people of color who can see that we’re doing something. We will also hopefully continue that legacy and it will keep going and going. And that’s going to be a great future to have for sure. So Kiona are you doing anything right now that is really exciting to you? Kiona:
There are two projects that I have kind of in the works, well maybe three but I have one that’s called the traveling along native centering indigenous voice while we walk across their lands. It’s a book. It’s about to be a year and a half in progress, but it’s around 20 indigenous authors who all told their stories of being indigenous peoples living all over the world. Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, America and how their present lives have been affected by genocide removal, current policy.
I just learned that indigenous peoples of Canada have been kidnapped, their kids are being kidnapped and put into adoption agencies. It’s still occurring today. We live in these countries or we benefit from them and we have no idea what the original peoples are going through currently and the history that has affected them leading up to it. So right now I have a book in the making. I will say that it’s very difficult to get 20 people to cooperate or turn things in on time. But it’s still in the works.
Everything gets edited and fact-checked by an indigenous researcher. And so I’m hoping that will come out for Thanksgiving 2019 and I’m hoping to get it on every reading list in the country in schools. So that’s one big project and I have been taking my time with that because I want to do it well and ethically. The second project is creating a video platform where we can hire experts to create short five minute videos on a topic that they have expertise in. And that way it can be accessible to educators who want to go on and teach that.
And it’d be extremely well-researched material. I mean, just because I’m in science and science communicators, there aren’t a lot of them. And a lot of times we don’t really know how to interpret scientific papers, but then go on to create social movements. Like veganism, what were the scientific papers behind that? What is the real information out there? And it’s just breaking scientific papers down so that it’s more digestible, accessible.
We can introduce pop culture into these lessons that it’s fun also to read and it’s not super scientific. So that’s another project that I’m working on and then I’m also working on my own a podcast, but they are only 10-minute session long sessions long and they’re basically a very well researched, topic that is presented in 10 minutes. So those are the three projects that I have going on right now.
Kiona, if our listeners want to know more about you where can they find you?
They can find me on my Instagram. @HowNotToTravelLikeABasicBitch or on my website, www.Hownottotravellikeabasicbitch.com.
Thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate all of the knowledge that you gave us.
Thank you so much for having me.
Listen to Dr. Kiona’s extended interview where she shares how not to post on social media like a basic bitch.
What you’ll find:
How to stand out in social media.
- you must show up as yourself and connect with others on the platform.
Why is it crucial to show up authentically as a Person of Color?
- representation is important so you can give other people the courage to show up as themselves.
Body shaming on social media.
- redefining the narrative and how we show up as ourselves.
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